Indian activists are pressuring their government to promptly release the body of Nawaz Ali Jat, the 32-year old Pakistani fisherman prisoner who died in India on September 8, 2012.
Information about Nawaz Ali’s death was received in Pakistan just a couple of days ago (reported by Jan Khaskheli in The News, Sept 27, 2012). Nawaz Ali and three of his relatives, Usman Sachu, Zaman Jat, and Usman Jat, went missing following the cyclone that hit Pakistan’s coastal areas in May 1999. Their families gave them up for dead but their hopes were rekindled after getting a letter from them in Sabarmati Jail in Gujarat, India.
Most fishermen arrested by the security agencies of the other country are charged and convicted for illegally crossing the maritime border. The convicted fishermen in this case were shifted to Central Prison, Rajkot.
Nawaz Ali became ill and was sent to the Kidney Hospital at Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad, where he passed away on September 8, 2012. Since then, his body has been kept in the hospital mortuary.
According to Mumbai-based freelance journalist and activist Jatin Desai, who has been following this case for some years, the Gujarat government sent faxes to India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) with copies to numerous officials on Sept 8, Sept 10, Sept 15, and again on Sept 21.
The MEA reportedly informed the Pakistan High Commission more than 10 days later, on September 26. It was only after that, that news of the fisherman’s death was conveyed to his family.
Nawaz Ali’s mother-in-law Mai Bhagi has been raising their case at various fora. She has also met Desai and other Indian activists several times, including, most recently, when the Mumbai Press Club delegation came to Karachi in November 2011.
After his Pakistan visit in 2007, Desai asked Indian officials about Nawaz Ali and the other fishermen arrested in 1999. He was told, “We do not have any Pakistani fisherman arrested prior to 2000.”
“I had no answer for Mai Bhagi when I met her again in Ibrahim Hyderi in November,” he writes in an email. “Now, we need to expedite the return of his body, even though it is already late. We need to be sensitive to the deceased and his family members.”
Desai, who is also the joint secretary of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy and a bureau member of South Asians for Human Rights, has emailed the MEA to urge them to send the body immediately to Pakistan, despite the delays that have already occurred.
In a letter dated Sept 27, 2012, to Ranjan Mathai, Foreign Secretary, Ministry for External Affairs, Government of India, Desai writes: “His family and Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) want his body to be sent to Pakistan for burial. I personally know Nawaz’s mother-in-law Bhai Magi.
“I met her thrice in Pakistan and every time she requested me to look into Nawaz’s case and see that he and others are released. I did get in touch with the MEA few years ago but did not succeed.
“As you are aware, Mr. Rambhai, an Indian fisherman, died in Karachi on May 28 2012 and his body was sent to Mumbai on July 9, 2012 after concerted efforts by his family members, media and civil society. We sincerely feel that the body of the Nawaz Ali should be handed over to his country for burial.”