May 11, 2021 4:18:54 am
AS LAST rites of Ramesh Sosa, the fisherman who died in a Pakistan jail and whose mortal remains were repatriated 42 days later, were being performed in his native village of Nanavada in Gir Somnath, Rasila Sosa, a distant relative of Ramesh, stood at the gate of her home facing the road, seemingly lost in thoughts.
She had passed the day, doing hair of her five daughters, cleaning grain, and in between trying to get updates on Ramesh. The middle-aged woman’s husband Mansing was part of the fishermen’s group caught by Pakistan the same day as Ramesh and has been in jail since.
In another part of the village, Rekha, her elderly mother-in-law Prema and women of the neighbourhood were forlorn. “The tension is too high to bear. I can’t comprehend why one should be forced to remain in jail even after fully serving the sentence,” says an illiterate Rekha whose husband Ramsinh was captaining fishing trawler Sadhna. Ramesh and four other fishermen on board the vessel when it was apprehended by Pakistan in May 2019.
Emotions ran high in at least 10 other Nanavada families whose members are lodged in Pakistan jails after being caught by Pakistan for allegedly crossing over to the Pakistan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), the notional maritime boundary line at the Arabian Sea whose alignment both India and Pakistan dispute, while fishing. News of Ramesh’s death had started doing rounds in the village a couple of days after the 36-year-old fisherman, died in a Karachi jail on March 26 this year.
But Ramesh’s family members, including Rasila, tried hard to prevent it from reaching Ramesh’s wife Ranjan and their three children as they were not sure when Ramesh’s mortal remains will be repatriated.
Ratandas Makwana, a fisherman from Nanavada died in a Pakistan jail on February 8, 2016 but his body was handed over to his family on April 14 that year. Vagha Chauhan, a fisherman from Dandi village in neighbouring Una taluka died in a Pakistan jail on December 22, 2015 but his mortal remains were repatriated only in April 2016.
After officers of the Gujarat fisheries department visited Ramesh’s home on April 8 this year to verify his nationality, Ranjan went to Rasila’s home. “She came running and enquired why they wanted documents of her husband… I had to lie to her that it was for Ramesh’s release and that they had collected documents of my husband also,” Rasila said. Rasila and Rekha say their husbands completed their prison terms almost two years ago.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is raging and who would not be worried about one’s loved ones during such times. If Pakistan allows them to board their boats, they would sail back to Gujarat and both governments would be saved the trouble of arranging for their transport,” says 42-year-old Rasila.
The Gujarat government pays Rs 9,000 monthly ex gratia to the kin of fishermen caught by Pakistan for the first time. But Rasila is not entitled for that as Mansing was caught in 2015 as well. “He was released after 11 months. After that, he quit fishing for three years. But as there was little other work and we needed to finance our children’s education, he decided to go to the sea again… as luck would have it, he was caught on his maiden trip,” Rasila rues.
Their eldest daughter, Tejal (26), a post-graduate in Sanskrit, has started working in a ceramic factory in Morbi. Their four other daughters and son Sond Deep (17) are studying. “What is the point in arranging for repatriation of bodies,” asks Mansing’s younger brother who runs a general store in the village.
Balu Sosa, the community leader who runs an NGO — Samudra Shramik Surasksha Sangh, says as landholding in Nanavada is limited and other work hard to be found, fishing is lucrative for its 3,000 residents.
Chirag, Ramsinh’s 20-year-old son who joined the Indian Army last year, says, “Yes, the village has benefited financially. But families have suffered also.”
His mother agrees. “Fishing is proving to be risky, in fact the riskiest of all,” she says, wondering: “How my husband would be doing in these times of disease and deaths. How does one know when they have stopped even delivering letters.” Chirag says his family received the last letter from Ramsinh in July last year. While Ramsinh was caught for the first time in 2019, his two elder brothers, Mahesh and Soma, were caught by Pakistan in 1993 and were released subsequently. Soma is now a farmer while Mahesh is still a fisherman.
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