21 days after fisherman Dadubhai Makwana died in Karachi, his body reached Mumbai on Thursday, on the way to Gujarat

Twenty-one days after he died in Karachi, the Pakistani government sent the body of fisherman Dadubhai Makwana to Mumbai on Thursday evening.

It is likely to reach his hometown in Junagadh district of Gujarat on Friday.

Makwana’s travails began on September 29 last when he and others on fishing boat Devdeep were arrested by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency in Karachi for straying into Pakistani waters.

Almost 10 months after spending time in prison, Makwana, 48, died of brain haemorrhage in the Malir prison on July 4. He was set to be released in the coming two months.

Constant fixture

The delay in transporting bodies across the border has been a constant fixture of the state of affairs since the last few years.

“There is always a delay by both governments in handling this issue better. Not only does the body decompose but the family’s trauma keeps on increasing,” says Jatin Desai, general secretary of the India chapter of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD).

The drive to Makwana’s village from Mumbai is 14 hours. Since he was the bread-winner of the family, his wife and three children have been struggling since September to find ways of supporting themselves.

According to Desai, the sentence for drifting into the other side of the border is six months. But bureaucratic proceedings often cause a delay of up to two years. As on Thursday, 430 Indian fishermen are in jail in Pakistan and 170 Pakistani fishermen are in India.

Over the years, 750 boats have been confiscated by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, while 120 Pakistani boats are in custody of the Indian Coast Guard.

According to rough estimates, an Indian boat costs Rs. 40-50 lakh, and the lives of 100 people depend on it. A boat is usually used by seven or eight fishermen. Then, there are those who offload, dry and process the fish. Of the 750 Indian boats in Pakistan, 250 are in good condition.

To address the problem of delay and other issues, the governments formed a recommendatory body, the India Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, comprising retired judges from the two countries. In May, Indian judges went to Pakistan prisons, and the committee suggested that Indian boat owners visit Pakistan in September to see how many boats can be brought back to India.

“All the recommendations of the committee are good and appreciated by the governments. But neither has made any effort to implement them,” says Mr. Desai.

‘Expedite process’

Balubhai Shocha, president of the Samudra Suraksha Sangh in Saurashtra, presses for a way to expedite the process of handing over bodies from either side of the boundary. “We have been fighting to simplify the bureaucratic processes when the fishermen drift into alien waters. The trauma of losing one’s own is big enough. It is only made worse by the delay in transporting the bodies.”

In May last year, fisherman Ramjibhai Vala died in Karachi. His body reached India after 45 days. Pakistani fisherman Nawaz Ali died in the Ahmedabad civil hospital last year, but his body returned home after 25 days.