Five years after he inadvertently crossed over to Pakistan, across the Rajasthan desert into Sindh in search of water, Jetindaera Arjanwara will be sent home May 4.
A patient of sickle cell anaemia, a blood disorder that requires regular blood transfusion to stay alive, 21-year-old Jetindaera will be taken from Malir jail in Karachi to Wagah border, Indian High Commission officials in Islamabad told The Indian Express.
Officials will provide him an emergency passport, enabling him to cross back into India. Indians returning from Pakistan usually spend hours being debriefed by Indian intelligence agencies, but in Jetindaera’s case, because he is so unwell, it is still unclear whether the Red Cross will be allowed to take charge and have him screened for treatment.
Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria said all care would be taken to repatriate Jetindaera back to Amritsar, from where officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Punjab government will send him home.
“This new element of positivity is very welcome. Both countries are already working on repatriating prisoners in each other’s countries, especially those who are ill or mentally unstable. We have formed doctors’ teams and have now sought visas in this regard,” Bisaria said.
Jetindaera’s case comes close on the heels of 23-year-old Dalwinder Singh being handed back to the BSF on Sunday, after he had inadvertently crossed over last March at Kasur’s Ballanwala village on the other side of the border. He served his year-long sentence and was sent back by Pakistan over the weekend.
Jetindaera was not so lucky. He was picked up in 2013 and taken to Hyderabad juvenile jail in Pakistan’s Sindh province. Soon after he had completed the customary jail sentence a year later, jail officials brought him to the notice of barrister Haya Zahid who was inspecting sanitary conditions in provincial jails as part of a government-mandated committee.
“Hyderabad prison officials in 2014 brought Jatin to the office where I was having tea and flagged the issue of him being a juvenile,” Zahid told this reporter on the phone. “They wanted him repatriated. All I remember is that the boy kept staring at his feet, he never made eye contact. He must have been 15-16 years old,” she said.
For the next four years, through the highs and lows of the India-Pakistan relationship, Jetindaera became another statistic — one of 58 Indian civil prisoners that Pakistan says reside in its jails, forgotten by mostly everybody (India has 56 Pakistani civil prisoners in its jail, the Supreme Court was recently told.) Until Zahid, once again, spotted him in February 2018, on one of her many rounds, this time in Malir jail in Karachi.
“I had gone to inspect the medical ward in Malir jail when the medical officer on duty brought Jetin’s case to my notice. He explained that he had sickle cell anaemia, an uncommon blood disorder that causes red blood cells to break down which is what gives them their sickle shape. They had run tests to figure out what it was and had been giving him blood transfusions just to keep him alive,” Zahid said.
“I realised that it was always officials lower down in the hierarchy that highlighted his story and refused to let go,” she said.
By now Jetindaera was seriously ill. Doctors in Malir jail insisted his condition be brought to the notice of the Pakistani government as well as Indian officials.
Indian officials said the problem of repatriating prisoners in India and Pakistan becomes especially complex because people look so much alike and speak similar languages. The question of verification of nationality becomes more complicated because both nations and their bureaucracies hardly talk to each other.
So until an Indian civil prisoner’s label in a Pakistani jail is changed from “Believed to be Indian” to “Known to be Indian,” he cannot be sent back home. That change must begin in the district where the person hails from — in Jetindaera’s case, Seoni district in Madhya Pradesh — when the superintendent of police must send a report saying that the missing person in the Pakistani jail is, indeed, the missing person in question.
Soon after Haya Zahid brought back Jetindaera into the human rights limelight in February, Jatin Desai of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace & Democracy (PIPFPD) in March sent an RTI request to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, which confirmed it had sought and had been granted consular access to the young man. Desai then sent a request to External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj as well as Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, coordinating all the while with Seoni SP Tarun Nayak, to expedite the youth’s return.
By early April, the Indian High Commission in Pakistan confirmed that Jetindaera was “Indian, not Turkish.” They formally asked for his repatriation.
When Pakistani activists met Jetindaera, informing him that he may soon be going home, they found him to be extremely weak. One of them told him that his father had passed away, another showed him a video clip of his mother, pleading that her son be brought back. “Mujhe ghar bhej do,” Jetindaera told them.
Earlier this evening, Qalandar Khan, Section Officer (India-II) in the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad sent a “most immediate fax” to the Home Secretary in Karachi, saying that the government had “decided to release/repatriate Jetindaera Arjanwara s/o Ishura Parshad, an Indian prisoner (civil) on 4th May 2018.”