Amir Hamza, a Pakistani fisherman arrested in Indian waters by coast guards around four years ago, was lodged in a prison at Bhuj in Gujarat. While his family in Karachi hoped that one day he would return through one of the goodwill repatriations on either side, Hamza died in jail in June.
The death certificate issued by the Gujarat government notes the date of registration of his death as September 9. However, the same certificate lists his date of death as June 13.
His mortal remains were repatriated to Pakistan three months later on September 14. His body was then taken to his home in Karachi, over 1,200km from Wagah border.
TOI has access to the documents related to Hamza from both sides. The death certificate issued by the Gujarat government’s health department mentions that Hamza died at Bhuj’s civil hospital on June 13. An emergency passport was issued in Hamza’s name by the Pakistani government to facilitate the crossover of his body from Wagah. The ministry of interior in Pakistan wrote to the prisons department in Lahore for handing over the body to the ambulance operator for taking it to Karachi.
TOI contacted his family in Karachi and spoke to his daughter-in-law Raziya Jafar as her husband, Hamza’s son Jafar Alam was out.
“We came to know about his death only a month ago. Someone, perhaps from the government, came to our house asking if we were related to Amir Hamza and said he was no more,” said Raziya.
“He was arrested four years ago. There are others like him in the jail too. Finally, when we got his body, it was strapped in such a way that we could not even see his face,” she said.
Saeed Baloch, general secretary of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, said they came to know through a clipping that a fisherman died in Indian jail. “We then started the correspondence to get the mortal remains back. The procedure can be made faster from both the sides,” he said.
There are 90 Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails and 500 Indians in Pakistan, he said.
“The entire procedure here takes too much time to ascertain the person’s identity. Hamza was a Bengali immigrant and, hence, did not even have the Pakistani identity card. Earlier, there was a judicial commission which took up such cases, but there have been no appointments since 2018,” Baloch said.
Explaining the process, Bhuj Superintendent Police Saurabh Singh said there is a laid down procedure for such cases. The matter has to be taken up with the state’s ministry of home, which takes it up with the Union home ministry. The latter then takes up the issue with the foreign country, which follows its own procedure of identifying the person and taking him/her back.
SP Singh said Hamza was the last of his batch to be sent. In some cases, the last rites happened in India itself.
Baloch said Hamza was from a poor family and could not afford the burial expenses. Three of his sons could not attend the last rites as they out fishing at sea.
Story adapted from TOI report published September 17, 2021.
27 October 2021: Updated to correct duration of delay in repatriation to three months, not four as previously reported.