IT WAS bright and sunny on the day fisherman Biswanath Roy (49) left his home in the small fishing village of Diglipur on the Andaman Island on the morning of July 31. He was off to the Kalighat jetty, along with other fishermen from his and neighbouring villages in the Nabagram area, hoping for some catch.
By mid-morning clouds had started gathering on the horizon and by noon, a storm was brewing. Recalls Mohan Sikhdar, who was with Roy, “The winds were fierce. We all started heading back. We could see Biswanath in the distance and started signalling for him to come back too. But he seemed to be adrift. It was clear that something had gone terribly wrong.”
It’s two months since, and Roy is still to get home. Stranded at sea for more than 15 days after his boat broke down, he was rescued by Myanmarese authorities and is currently at a temple of the local Indian community, waiting for papers that will bring him back to India.
He had two boats with him the day he went sailing, Roy recalls. While he was driving an engine boat, a dinghy was tied to it with a rope. Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone from Myanmar, Roy says trouble started when the engine of his boat died. He anchored the boat and tried repairing it, but failed. Then the winds picked up.
Says Sikhdar, “We knew Roy needed assistance. Along with some other fishermen, we tried reaching him. But the wind was very strong by now, and we headed back.” They returned the next day to look again, but to no avail.
Five days later, when Roy still hadn’t come back, his family approached police. On September 14, 17 days after Roy had left home, Sikhdar received a call from a Myanmarese number saying Roy had been found floating in his dinghy in Myanmarese waters and taken ashore.
Recalling a fortnight lost on sea, Roy says that for the first four days, he cooked the little bit of rice he had brought along, on a kerosene stove, and ate it with salt. When the rice ran out, he started catching fish and cooking them. But then the kerosene finished too. “I started eating the fish raw, with salt.”
On the 15th day, the 49-year-old says, weakened and barely conscious, he heard the engine of another boat. In it were men who Roy suspects were speaking Thai. “They took me in and fed me, but took all my belongings. They also told me to get into the dinghy and sail away. They wanted my boat, but I refused. Which is when they threw me into the sea.”
After the group had gone away with his boat, Roy says, he swam to his dinghy, and spent huddled inside another day and night without food or water.
It was in this condition that the Myanmarese authorities found him.
Full of appreciation for the Myanmarese, Roy says they took him to the local police station, and guessing that he was of Indian origin, contacted a Hindi-speaking resident for help. Realising what had happened, police then let Roy leave with the resident. The latter took Roy to a Kali temple in Pyapon, 60 km from Yangon, with its considerable Indian-origin population, of Tamil and Telegu descent. The area has many temples, Roy says, of Kali, Shiva and Ram.
“They look after me well here,” Roy adds. “I have been living in a hall of the temple with a teacher of the temple school. I am well fed.”
The Indian community has given Roy a phone, from which he calls his family every day. Says Roy’s son Ripon Roy, who plies an autorickshaw in Port Blair, “The last time we spoke, father started crying. The Myanmarese authorities keep asking him how long they can keep him at the temple. They have told him if the Indian authorities don’t act soon, they will have no option but to send him to prison. We’ve sent all the documents they had asked for, including my father’s PAN card, Aadhaar card, ration card. But we have not heard anything from the authorities.”
Joint Secretary, Home, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Ranjit Kumar says Roy’s papers had been processed and sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi. “The family first alerted police and police gathered all the documents. We have been following up with the Home Ministry every day. But there is a protocol that has to be followed since it is an international matter.”
Meanwhile, Roy’s despair grows. “The Myanmarese authorities say if the Indian government were to send my papers of identification and a letter asking for my return, they will immediately put me on a flight to Kolkata. It has been so many days… I have heard nothing.”
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