The incident on Tuesday night in which 101 Indian fishermen were captured by Pakistani Marines off the Jakhau coast is not the only one to happen in recent months. In fact, what is unusual about Tuesday’s incident is that the Pakistanis allowed 84 fishermen to return and arrested only 17.
In the past eight months, personnel of the Pakistan Marine Agency (PMA) have captured 450 Indian fishermen and seized 150 of their boats, i.e., one boat every three days. And all the 450 arrested fishermen are still in Pakistani jails.
Their ferocity has intensified in the last one week after the Indian Coast Guard captured 3 Pakistani vessels and arrested 21 fishermen in Indian territorial waters.
The Indian Coast Guard had captured 3 boats and arrested 21 Pak fishermen near Jakhau on February 9 this year. Possibly in retaliation to that incident, two speedboats of the PMA intercepted 18 fishing vessels off Jakhau in Kutch on Tuesday and arrested 17 Indian fishermen and seized 17 boats. However, the PMA personnel allowed 84 fishermen to return to India.
Manish Lodhari, secretary of the Gujarat region of National Fish Workers’ Forum, said that all the boats were from Porbandar and were out on high seas for fishing for the last one week.
“They were near the international maritime border when they were stopped and arrested. According to our information, the Pakistani officials have arrested only the young among fishermen as they can work in their jails,” Lodhari said. He added that this incident could be in retaliation to the Indian Coast Guard’s recent arrest of Pakistani fishermen.
Lodhari further said that the 450 fishermen and 150 boats captured by the Pakistanis since the beginning of the current fishing season are still in their custody.
“Our fishing season starts from August 15. In the last eight months, they have captured 450 fishermen and 150 boats. We have complained about these incidents at various levels with the Indian government,” he said.
“Even the World Fish Workers’ Association office in Karachi has made several representations to the Pakistan government but there has been no change in their attitude,” Lodhari added.
He further said that Indian fishermen sometime unintentionally wander across the international border and into Pakistani waters.
“But our intentions are never wrong. Yet the Pakistanis keep our fishermen in jail for two to three years before freeing them to return to India. The seized boats, however, are never returned,” Lodhari said.
However, the Gujarat government blames the policies of the Centre for the fishermen’s capture.
Babu Bokhiriya, minister for water resources, agriculture, animal husbandry and cow protection, alleged that this had been happening because of the policies of the central government.
“The state government approaches the central government every time fishermen are illegally arrested by the Pakistanis but nothing is done about it quickly. The fishermen do get released after some time but their boats are never returned. The seized boats are eventually used for activities directed against India,” Bokhiriya told DNA.
Meanwhile, the released fishermen have also expressed surprise that they were allowed to return to India.
“We were lined up on every boat. They took photographs of each one of us. Then they detained some on the basis of their physique and built and allowed 84 of us to go back,” said one of the released fishermen, Dayabhai Bariya.
He further said that there were 18 boats which had left from Porbandar on February 7 for fishing near the Jakhau port. All were intercepted by the PMA on Tuesday.
“PMA personnel started with firing in the air and asked us to stop. All our papers were in order; yet they arrested us. Later, they allowed 84 of us to return. It seems they were more interested in our boats as they had seized all but one of our boats,” Bariya said.
It may be recalled that the Pakistan government had released seven fishermen from jail earlier this month. These fishermen were captured in 2010 by PMA.