Special Report
The News on Sunday

We probably didn’t need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don’t matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, ‘vice versa’ sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.

Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were released after the talks. It is the faces of these released prisoners on our television screens and in the next day’s newspapers that shock us into doing this Special Report. The news presenters do not need to state the obvious but they do; majority of these prisoners have lost their mental balance, they announce in a mechanical way.

Beyond these news-making decisions (of releasing a few prisoners here and there) which are received with indifference at best, the process goes on, slowly, reported in a piecemeal fashion and hence failing to make an impact. We don’t know if the news that Sarabjit, the Indian prisoner on death row in Pakistan, is going to meet his sister after 21 years is part of the process that goes on in the background or is a corollary of the foreign secretary level talks.

Judging by the ordeal that his sister Dalbir Singh had to go through once in Pakistan clearly shows it is part of the process where not even an inch is granted with ease. Dalbir, who was here to meet her brother as the purpose stated on her visa, was refused permission to meet him and had to file a writ petition in the Lahore High Court to do so. Yes, it is as absurd as this.

Talking of courts, the prisoners in these two countries are made to stay in jails even after they have completed sentences on the largely cooked up charges. The Indian Supreme Court took the lead in asking the government to expedite the release of such prisoners. According to Mr Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, member Pakistani-India joint judicial committee on prisoners, the Supreme Court in Pakistan has also taken some good decisions with regard to detainees.

The vice-versa mantra has worked to the advantage of prisoners in another way. Activists and lawyers in the two countries have been working for prisoners of the other country and have managed to help release quite a few of them. All praise to them.

The prisoners’ tales are long and harrowing. Newspaper reports alone will not make the impact the way films like Veer Zaara, Ramchand Pakistani and Mammo will. Will the television images of these deranged released people shake our artistes and writers? We believe they should.

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