Updated: January 19, 2021 11:14:36 am
Four Pakistani nationals being held as detainees at the Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC) in Bhuj, Kutch, in Gujarat have died since November last year. Authorities have cited “mental illness” and “respiratory failure” as prima facie causes of deaths in all the four cases. Three of the four bodies continue to lie in the morgue of a government hospital in Jamnagar.
The four deaths
* On November 4, 2020, Riyaz Faizbax (50), of Kantiyar village in Muzaffargarh district of Pakistan’s Punjab province, died after he was admitted to G K General Hospital in Bhuj following difficulty in breathing.
* On November 19, 2020, Ashiq Ali Sadiq Ali (45), another Pakistani national, died after he tested positive for Covid-19.
* Two other men, Saiyad Abdul Rahim (32) and Arab alias Arbas Misribhai Jat (60), both Pakistanis, died on December 1, 2020, and January 11, 2021 respectively.
In all four cases, JIC officers said that the Pakistani nationals were suffering from “mental illness”, and had died after being admitted to hospital after they complained of difficulty in breathing.
Why mental illness?
Some 20 people believed to be Pakistani nationals are at present being held at the JIC. All of them were detained after they crossed over to the Indian side at the land border in Kutch, or the maritime border off the Kutch coast.
According to police officers in Kutch, a large number of Pakistani nationals who cross the land border are mentally unstable, and enter India “inadvertently”. Some of the detainees at JIC can’t even say where they are from, according to officers. Officials at the JIC take these people to a medical facility for treatment of mental illness.
The India-Pakistan border in Gujarat is marked by border pillars (BPs), but they are not packed closely together, so a civilian who is not mindful may end up crossing the border without realising. Most Pakistani nationals cross the border after losing their way, officers said. In most cases they are alone; the detention of a family of nine near Rapar in 2015 was an exception.
Also, some Pakistani fishermen enter Indian territorial waters inadvertently, especially in the Sir Creek area.
Why JIC and not jail
Those who enter India without valid travelling documents attract charges under the Indian Passport Act, Passport Rules, and the Foreigners Act.
In Kutch, Pakistani nationals crossing over to the Indian side are generally detained by the Border Security Force (BSF), who hand them over to police.
Being a border district, nationals illegally entering Kutch are treated as individuals of interest by central and state intelligence agencies, the Armed forces, as well as the local police. To facilitate their interrogation by multiple agencies, these individuals are kept at JIC after a non-cognizable offence is registered at the concerned police station.
Often, the agencies conclude that the individual is not of sound mental condition. In such cases, no offence is registered, because these individuals can’t be tried in a court. So they are kept under detention at the JIC.
Also, those Pakistani nationals who are convicted of criminal cases and who have completed their prison sentences — but who are unable to return to Pakistan immediately — are held at the JIC until the two governments are able to complete the procedure of their repatriation.
Reasons for the delay
The poor mental health that many of the detained Pakistanis are in, and the fact that they are often unable to provide sufficient information about themselves, through documents or even verbally, makes verification difficult, and contributes to delay in repatriation.
An extra layer of complication is added in cases where a detainee dies.
In cases of death, the sub-divisional magistrate of Bhuj inspects the body for the inquest panchnama. After that, the body is sent to GG General Hospital in Jamnagar for post mortem examination by a panel of doctors, as GK General Hospital in Bhuj is managed by the Adani Group, and private hospitals are not allowed to conduct autopsies in medico-legal cases.
To know the exact cause of the detainee’s death, samples of the viscera are sent for forensic tests, which again, take some time.
Once all these formalities are completed, the superintendent of police, Kutch (West), in Bhuj reports the death to the state home department, which writes to the Union Home Ministry. The Home Ministry intimates the Ministry of External Affairs, which, in turn, reports the matter to the Pakistani Ambassador to India.
The Pakistani Ambassador contacts the Pakistani government whereafter a process of verification takes place on the Pakistani side. If Islamabad confirms the nationality of the concerned individual, the Ambassador conveys readiness to claim the body. Since there are no direct flights to Pakistan, bodies are handed over to the Pakistani authorities via the Attari-Wagah crossing.
Indian civilians in Pak jails
Every year, hundreds of Indian fishermen are caught by Pakistan for allegedly violating the latter’s territorial waters. These fishermen are generally held at Landhi jail near Karachi. If a fisherman dies in custody, the body is generally shifted to a morgue run by the Edhi Foundation, a Pakistani NGO.
The NGO takes up the victim’s case by contacting its representatives in India. Activists generally write to the MEA, and the MEA then proactively reaches out to Pakistani government. This ensures speedier repatriation of bodies and prisoners.
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