After languishing for five years in a Pakistan jail, Madhya Pradesh’s runaway lad Jitendra Arjunwar finally sees hope of returning home. India acknowledged his citizenship on Thursday, clearing the decks for his homecoming, an official at Indian high commission in Islamabad confirmed to TOI.
“India has informed Pakistan foreign office that Jitendra is Indian. They have requested that he be taken to Lahore so that he can be repatriated to India,” the officer said.
The news cheered India-Pakistan peace activists, who have been trying to reunite Arjunwar with his family.
But the 22-year-old at the heart of all this is so ill that he could barely smile. There were reports that he may be counting his last breaths. TOI has footage of Jitendra being shown a video message of his mother at Malir district jail in Karachi on Thursday. He seems frail and leans on crutches as he looks around in a daze.
A patient of sickle cell anaemia, Arjunwar is alive today only because of medical assistance given to him in Pakistan, barrister Haya Emaan Zahid, who saw him in prison, told TOI. When Zahid’s colleague, advocate Altaf Khoso, told Jitendra that he was going home, he looked shocked and then happy.
Khoso showed him a video news report that included quotes from his mother. “He recognized her. But when we told him that his father has passed, he broke down,” Zahid said. “Mujhe jaldi ghar bhej do (please send me home fast),” he murmured.
Jitendra, who is from Seoni in MP, had drifted 25km inside Pakistan in search of water and was arrested on August 12, 2013. His prison term ended in 2014, but he continued to be in Pakistan because the process of his identification dragged on.
“He cannot walk unassisted or speak properly. Jail staff said he got regular blood transfusions. It’s a miracle he has survived all these years,” said Zahid, member of the committee for Welfare of Prisoners. “Malir jail authorities sent him for blood transfusions once a month. Still, he is sinking. Perhaps he will revive once he reunites with his family,” Zahid added.
Karachi jail officials had no option but to lay him as a ‘nationless’ permanent fixture in the medical ward. “If he cannot be send to India by road we will try to arrange for a flight,” she added.
Journos and social activists blurred borders for Jitendra
While Jitendra Arjunwar languished in Pakistan, the Madhya Pradesh government and Centre weren’t proactive in seeking his release. It was left to senior journalists and social activists in India and Pakistan to bring him home.
TOI carried a series of reports and pressed for the ailing youth’s freedom. Pakistan human rights activist and former federal minister, Ansar Burney, was among those who took up his case in 2013. Pakistan-based rights activist Ali Palh joined the fight but couldn’t continue when Jitendra was shifted to Karachi jail from Sindh.
He was almost forgotten till Bhopal-based activist Abid Hussain Sayed started a campaign in October 2017. His tweets under #HelpJitendra grabbed attention on both sides of the border, and Pakistan’s renowned journalist Beena Sarwar and Jatin Desai, activist of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace & Democracy (PIPFPD), took up the cause.
“Pakistan and India must get out of this horrible cold war mentality and develop humane systems to help their vulnerable citizens. In Jitendra’s case, this has taken nearly 4 years. His prison sentence was of one year but he remains incarcerated because of the delay in verification of his nationality. Just because he is poor, there were no high-level orders to expedite the process,” Beena Sarwar told TOI.
“Conditions for prisoners in our region are terrible to begin with. It’s worse for prisoners from the other country. They are treated as enemy agents, denied access to lawyers and social workers, and have no relatives or contacts who will visit them in prison to ease their time.”
In response to an RTI query by Desai, the Indian High Commission in Pakistan said Jitendra had been provided consular access. Desai sent a memorandum to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale on March 5, and coordinated with Seoni SP Tarun Nayak to speed up the process of verification.
“We have been demanding that nationality must be confirmed within 90 days of consular access. Poor prisoners are suffering because of insensitive attitudes of authorities. Jitendra must be brought back immediately and compensated,” Desai told TOI/
The government should take action against those who failed to verify Jitendra’s nationality for three years, added Desai.
Seoni SP Tarun Nayak wrote to MEA on Wednesday, verifying Jitendra’s nationality.
“I have sent the verification letter in response to a correspondence from the foreign affairs ministry that came around two weeks ago. We have verified that Seoni is his birth place and have prepared a report on lines of Indian citizenship Act,” Nayak told TOI.
“I am very happy that he is coming home. We will give him all support,” said Sayed.
Investigative journalist P. Naveen is Assistant Editor, Times of India, based in Bhopal, Madhya. Email: [email protected]