- Kirti Kolgar
Ground Floor of Lahore Central Jail. Partially dark. Awful silence. The silence was broken and the prison bars sounded ‘than than’. Like the sound of children hitting a xylo phone with a stick, the Pakistani jailer hit the bar with his baton. Only Sarabjit Singh, who was sleeping soundly in the corner of the bathroom-sized room, did not hear the sound. ‘Is this Nerapethal dead?’ Suspecting that, the jailer hit Sarabjit with the same stick. Sarabjit shook his cupped hands saying ‘Mother’. Virtue had life! “Ootho ootho… tumhare behan tume dekhne aa rahi hai,” he said and left.
‘Antoo Akka is coming to see me…’! That was the first time Sarabjit’s dry lips parted with pleasure. I do not remember the date when I fell into the hell of prison. He had no physical evidence left to say that I am Sarabjit. The skin is dead and peeling. Bones peek out. It’s been a long time since a dirty shirt has been torn. The eyes are sunken in the face. In mature hair, Avat’s young man Sarabjit’s Raj Kapoor style is missing. The jaws that used to grind the sugarcane of the Punjab field easily like a mill, all those jaws are shaking violently. Putting force on the waist and rising slowly, he looked at his face in the bucket of water that was beyond the bars… So many wounds, what a silver beard!
Akka should not be sent like that. She should be served tea. Sarabjit’s joy is indescribable. He brushed his teeth with his crooked index finger like the hands of a leper. Using the same water in the small bucket, he prepared to make tea. The jailer had put the stove outside the wire, pulled the stove close to him with all his might, slowly opened the bag of sugar hidden inside the neck of the washed kerchief and boiled the tea. After decades, her elder sister, who came to see her, saw Sarabjit’s ugly condition and Reiji was not born. After drinking the tea made in that dirty water with pleasure, “My stomach is full” she said with a sigh!
Sarabjit tried to hide by tea saying, “I am fine, nothing happened to me sister…”. Sarabjit never came to India. His life was lost in a Pakistani jail. It got dirty there.
Fortunately, 8 ex-Navy officers have now been released from Qatar’s jail. His escape from crucifixion is indeed a diplomatic victory for us. The shocking fact is that more than 8 thousand Indian prisoners are spending their days in fear in the prisons of 89 countries of the world. In his eyes, there is both the fear that one day we too will become Sarabjit, and on the other hand, the confidence that we will get out of jail like these ex-Navy officers. Their fate also depends on our diplomacy.
8437 Indian prisoners in foreign jails!
According to the Ministry of External Affairs as of 2023, there are 8437 prisoners of Indian origin in 89 countries of the world. Among these are convicted criminals and under-trial prisoners. However, this number could be higher as some countries do not share information about prisoners to maintain privacy.
- 55 percent of these prisoners are in the prisons of the Gulf countries! More than 4,630 Indians are behind bars in a total of 6 Gulf countries.
- The United Arab Emirates held the highest number of Indian prisoners at 1,966.
- 22% of the total number of Indian prisoners are imprisoned in our neighboring countries like Nepal, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.
- Although there are Indian prisoners in western countries too, the number is very less.
Why are Indians jailed in Gulf countries?
In the case of Qatar, 8 former army officers were accused of spying for Israel. However, despite this serious charge, Indians are caught in cases related to drug and alcohol related offences. In these Muslim-dominated countries, alcohol consumption and intoxicants of any kind are prohibited. Also, Indians who go to Gulf countries for work sometimes fall prey to financial fraud. Most of them are less educated. The UAE government said that they are in a position where they are unable to present any additional evidence.
Arrested in neighboring countries for small mistakes!
It is a big headache for the Indian government that the people of Gadhihalli are being jailed in neighboring countries for small mistakes. Eg: India has a long border with neighboring Nepal or Pakistan. There are no permanent fences in many places. There are also cases of many herdsmen crossing the border in search of their goats. Indians are being arrested due to lack of evidence in such cases. Fishermen are facing the same problem in the matter of maritime boundary. Such prisoners are targeted for investigation whether they are spies or not. The investigators decide to release the prisoners only after they are satisfied with their statements. However, this process takes a few years.
India’s savvy diplomacy that reduced the number of prisoners
Not only Qatar, India’s Ministry of External Affairs is seeing continuous success in providing continuous evidence regarding the prisoners, to prove their innocence. From Bangladesh to Qatar, India’s diplomacy has won.
- According to Indian government data, Bangladesh held 893 Indians as prisoners in 2007. By 2009, this number had fallen to 338. By 2023, there will be 60 Indian prisoners in Bangladesh jails! In the last 5 years, Indian prisoners have been released in several batches from Bangladesh.
- Badavairi Pakistan is now not taking a tough stance on the issue of Indian prisoners as before. In 2007, there were 655 Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails. In 2019, this number dropped to only 48. However, the number of Indian prisoners there increased to 524 and 701 in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Then by March 2023, the number of Indian prisoners in Pakistan will be 51!
- However, in Nepal this number is opposite. 1222 prisoners from border village of India are serving sentence in Kathmandu Jail.