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AFP
September 6, 2010
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Fishermen’s release

Sports

AFP
September 6, 2010

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The welcome sight of Indian fishermen released from our jails crossing the border into their homeland was long overdue. Equally overdue is the release of Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails. Both sides have used these fisherfolk, none of whom has ever been convicted of anything other than not knowing precisely which bit of the sea they were sailing on, as pawns in the countries’ ongoing struggle with one another. The fisherfolk have not set out to land themselves in jail in the other country, to see their boats confiscated and then to rot by the quayside, and to be worried about the anguish of their families who know little of the fate that has befallen them. All they have been trying to do, as they have for centuries, is eke a living from the sea. Their small craft are not equipped with sophisticated navigation aids, they steer by the stars–or a compass if they are really lucky. Finding themselves on the wrong end of a Pakistani or Indian coastal patrol boat was not what they had in mind when they cast off earlier in the day.
It is to the credit of the government that it has finally expedited the release of 442 Indians who have completed their sentences. After the release of another batch of 101, the last batch of 141 was released on Saturday —leaving 108 still in custody either pending trial or having uncompleted sentences. There are 155 Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails, 80 of whom have completed their sentences. A number of prominent Indians sent a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Aug 30, asking that there be a reciprocal release. Neither side has anything to gain by the detention of these men. Both sides might do well to consider a development programme for their fishermen that would equip them all with a GPS, deliver the training on how to use it and thus keep all out of harm’s way. Meantime, both sides need to take a long, hard look at the value of detaining straying fishermen. It is time to move on to bigger things and leave behind

petty territorialities that have little significance in the wider picture.

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