Jail records show Goonga was 20 years old when he was arrested in 2007 for being illegally in India. His nationality is given as Pakistani. Ten years after his arrest, and eight years since the speech-impaired Goonga — no one knows his real name — completed his sentence, he continues to languish in the Amritsar Central Jail. With the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi yet to confirm he is a Pakistani, no one knows when he will be repatriated.
Unable to speak, Goonga was not able to provide an address to the police. Goonga, now 30, was arrested in Tarn Taran in November 2007 and booked under Sections 3-34-20 of Indian Passport Act and Section 14 of Foreigners Act. The charges, lawyers say, are related to violation of visa and passport rules, and not to any criminal conduct.
Goonga is not the lone Pakistani prisoner who continues to languish in Amritsar jail despite completion of his term since his country has not yet confirmed his origin.
In all, 30 Pakistani citizens are currently in the transit camp of Amritsar jail. The Pakistan High Commission has confirmed only four of them as Pakistanis. But even they have not been sent home.
During a hearing on May 8 in the Punjab & Haryana High Court on such prisoners, Additional Solicitor General of
India Satya Pal Jain told the court that “sufficient response” was not being received about the prisoners from the their governments, including Pakistan.
On a reference received from the Supreme Court in 2015, the case is registered as “Court on its own motion versus State of Punjab, Haryana and Union Territory, Chandigarh”, to proceed on issues touching the rights of the undertrial prisoners, especially women, children and mentally-challenged, and convicts.
“Nobody knows the exact number. Some just vanish, die or turn mad in the prisons in hope of getting back to their country,” said advocate Ranjan Lakhanpal, who is known for taking the cases of foreign prisoners. “Six months is the minimum and two years is the maximum punishment for the charges in such cases, but people almost never get released because no government is serious about these people.”
In 2008, India and Pakistan signed an agreement, during the visit to Islamabad of then Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee, on granting quick consular access and early repatriation of each other’s nationals in their jails.
But the process of nationality confirmation remains hostage to the hostility between India and Pakistan and the mutual suspicion that under the guise of returning prisoners, each country may push spies into the other.
Shukla Ghosh is a 57-year-old shown in records a resident of Pakistan. She has been “in transit” in the jail since 2000, when she competed her sentence of more than one year of imprisonment for being in India without any proper documents. In addition to the charges, she was also booked under Section 3 of Official Secrets Act. The records do not say why she was living in Pakistan. Her father’s name is given as Kiran Mohan.
The Punjab government, which submitted to the High Court an affidavit on 44 “in-transit” foreign prisoners, including eight from Bangladesh and one each from Nigeria, Nepal, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, Ghana and Siera Leone, has said all these cases had been forwarded to the agencies concerned for initiating the deportation process. According to the affidavit, every three months, officials from the Pakistan High Commission are given consular access to the 26 prisoners classified as Pakistanis.
Jail records for Goonga and Shukla contain no address in Pakistan, but even those whose addresses are given face the same fate.
Abdul Sharif (38) has spent the longest time in Amritsar jail. He was arrested in 1997 for being in violation of the Indian Passport Act and Indian Foreigners Act. Jail records say he is from Balochistan, but Pakistan has never confirmed his nationality.
Tanvir Ahmad is a resident of Kasur in Pakistan. In February last year, he was arrested by BSF in Mamdot area of Ferozpur district. According to the jail records, he was not just charged for being without any valid documents, but also booked for an attempt to suicide under Section 309 of Indian Penal Code . The 40-year-old completed his sentence of eight months in October last year, but Pakistan is yet to confirm his nationality.
In the list of prisoners who have completed their sentences, only two were booked under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
A 45-year-old Karachi resident, Jaffar Alam, was booked under Section 109 of the CrPC in 2011 and sentenced to three months of imprisonment as a preventive measure. Today, he continues to remain in the jail’s transit camp as Pakistan is yet to confirm his claim of nationality.
In December 2014, another deaf-mute Pakistani national, Ali Goonga, died in the Amritsar Jail after spending five years in the prison, despite just a five-month sentence. His nationality was never confirmed. For 28 days, his body remained in a mortuary of Tarn Taran awaiting sanction of burial from the Pakistani government. It never came and he was later buried in the jail premises.
Among the 30 prisoners who are from Pakistan, three have been named as ‘Goongas’ because of their disability.
Another prisoner, whose identity is unknown has been named as “Suspected Muslim” in the prison records.
With no lawyers to fight for their cases and no country on their side, the only hope for the foreign prisoners is the suo motu case on rights of prisoners that has been going on since 2015 following a Supreme Court direction.