May 8, 2021 5:54:50 am
At around 3 pm on Friday, 18-year-old Asmita returned home from their agricultural farm in Nanavada village in Kodinar taluka of Gir Somnath district, somewhat hazzled. “Rambhai Bambhaniya is telling me that my father is dead and was asking if his body has arrived,” Asmita told her mother Ranjan.
The mother wasn’t prepared to believe what her young daughter was saying. “But then, she started wailing and I noticed she was serious,” Ranjan says.
It was this moment that members of fisherman Ramesh Sosa’s family had been waiting for the past 42 days to break the news. “I told Ranjan that what Asmita said was true and that Ramesh’s body is arriving by evening,” Dinesh Parmar, husband of Ramesh’s sister Aruna, said.
“I was not prepared to believe what Asmita and Dinesh were saying but I had no other option when other people also started telling me that my husband had died in a Pakistan jail,” says 36-year-old Ranjan.
As the news spread in the village, family members started gathering in Ambedkar Chowk in the evening, waiting for the 36-year-old fisherman’s body to arrive. A wailing Ranjan sat in the lobby of her home, with Aruna and Asmita joining her. Ramesh’s two sons, Vimal (16) and Vivek (14) sat in the community hall in front of their home, with elders consoling them.
Ramesh, the only son of Tabha Sosa of Nanavada village, was apprehended by Pakistan in May 2019 for allegedly violating territorial waters of Pakistan while fishing on board fishing trawler Sadhna at the Arabian Sea off Kutch coast.
Ramsinh Sosa, the captain of the boat, and five other fishermen were also apprehended by Pakistan that day. A Pakistan court convicted them and sentenced them to imprisonment till July 2019. However, Ramesh was never granted consular access by Pakistan despite India and Pakistan having signed an agreement to grant such access to each other’s nationals within three months of their arrests. He continued to languish in Landhi jail in Karachi even after completing his sentence. His nationality was verified only after he died in jail on March 26 this year, reportedly due to a cardiac ailment.
Jatin Desai, former general secretary of the Indian chapter of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), first learnt about Ramesh’s death and informed his family members through Balubhai Sosa, a local activist and community leader.
“But there was no certainty as to when we would get his body. We knew women would cry uncontrollably once they learn about Ramesh’s death and then situation can be very difficult to manage. Therefore, we had to keep the news a secret,” Parmar, who works as a labour supervisor in a private firm in Surat, said.
Parmar had brought Aruna to Nanavada on April 30 after getting news that Ramesh’s mortal remains were likely to be repatriated within a few days. “But he never told me that my brother was no more. He brought me here telling me Covid-19 cases are rising in Surat and that it would be safer to spend a few days in Nanavada,” Aruna, Ramesh’s younger sister wailed, adding, “I had seen my brother three years ago. My parents were blessed with a son late in their life. Now, both my father and brother are gone…”
Ramesh’s mother had died a few years ago while his father died after a brief illness in November 2020. On April 25, Ranjan’s father Soma Vadher also died due to illness.
“On the day of Holi, I saw news stories about my father’s death doing rounds on WhatsApp. For five days, I thought this could be rumours or fake news. But then, a few elders confirmed to me that it was true but advised not to tell my mother,” says Vimal, a Class 11 student.
As she waited to see her husband for the last time, Ranjan rued, “I never knew fishing can be so risky. Even if I did, could I have prevented him from taking up that job? What other work is available here?” She had taken over farming their two bighas of land after Tabha’s death.
Since confrimation of Ramesh’s arrest by Pakistan, the state government has been paying the family a monthly compensation of around Rs 9,000.
Ramesh’s uncle Bhagwan was among the mourners on Friday but his son Hari was away fishing at the Arabian sea. “Save odd jobs at agricultural farms, there is no work here. Groundwater is salty so agriculture is not rich either. There is no option other than fishing. We are not literate… My son Hari, who is a polio survivor, has been working on board fishing boats for the past 15 years and has been caught thrice by Pakistan. Yet, he continues with his work,” says Bhagwan.
On Thursday, Pakistan handed over Ramesh’s mortal remains to Indian authorities at Wagah-Attari border in Punjab. A team of fisheries department officials received the body and brought it to Ahmedabad by air on Friday morning. From there, Ramesh’s body was brought to Nanavada by road. Ranjan, Aruna and children were wailing and waiting till nightfall.
When the ambulance carrying Ramesh’s coffin finally arrived at 8 pm, Ranjan, Aruna and Asmita barely got to see his face. The family decided that only three would get to offer their last respects as locals gathered and maintaining social distancing was getting difficult. Within minutes, the body was cremated.
Bhagwan says that Nanavada has around 250 families and almost each has at least one member working as fisherman. Balu Sosa says as many as 15 men from Nanavada are lodged in Pakistan jail.
“We thank the government for repatriating Ramesh’s body in such a short period,” Balubhai Khoda Sosa, a distant cousin of Ramesh, said. But he was cut short by another member of the extended family, saying: “What is there to be thankful about? Ramesh had completed his prison sentence one-and-a-half years ago. Had government acted proactively, he would have been alive today and we would not have been waiting for his coffin.”
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