Every now and then, hundreds of fishermen are arrested for straying astray – outside the maritime boundaries of India. Many are released, many are not. Here is one such story!
This is a letter of a fisherman written to his brother from a jail in a foreign country.*
I don’t know how to begin writing this letter. I don’t think it will ever reach to you…
How are you? How is everyone else? I do not have the courage to write to Reshma… what will I tell her? That I left her all alone in a house she had just come to, two days ago? That her husband of two days is a criminal, a spy? I am broken, bhai. They don’t believe me. I keep screaming my lungs out, I keep telling them that I am only a fisherman but they beat me because they think that I am a spy.
I want to tell you what a happened that day so that you don’t feel ashamed of calling me your brother. I was very happy that evening. My life was a season of love because of Reshma in it – I was behaving just like any other recently married man would behave. Her face kept flashing in front of me all the time while I sat in the boat driving into the Arabian sea. I wanted to catch a lot of fishes to show her that I was good at my work. I wanted her to be able to brag about me to her friends. So I ventured into deeper waters to cash more fishes.
I saw two other fishing boats ahead of me but other than that the sea was completely silent. I could only hear the ripples and the wind. I threw the net in the water and waited…it had been twenty minutes. I began sensing something was amiss as the other boats around me were no longer in sight. The water currents began getting stronger…my boat began losing control. I pulled up the net with all my might and saw that I had caught a good amount of fishes. So I decided to come back.
I tried to turn on the engine of the boat but it wouldn’t budge. My heart started beating quickly as the strong currents were swaying my boat away and the engine had failed to start. I had lost my way, I think. I couldn’t navigate. The only fear that kept haunting me was that I didn’t want to be arrested by them like others from our village…I felt so helpless. It was barely a 15 minutes when I saw a boat with men in uniform and guns. I had crossed the maritime boundary line. I knew my life was over – it was all over.
They put me in a jail – in the same jail where hundreds of other fishermen like me had languished. But I don’t know why they thought I was a spy – they didn’t ever give me a reason. Was it because I was alone? Why would I cross the maritime boundary line if I was a spy? Wouldn’t I have a gun? I don’t know what to do…I am scared, bhai.
There are so many others like me here…they barely give us anything to eat. They beat us like we were not humans but stones with no life inside. All this because I was born a few kilometres way from them – but I was innocent. I couldn’t do anything – I tried to stop the boat from straying away. I am sorry to leave you all alone there. I don’t know if I will ever see you all again and if I do, I might not be the same person whom you knew. I keep wishing that this is a bad dream…but it isn’t. I am sorry to have let you down.
Today is the first time in my life and I am thankful that our parents are not alive to see this.
It’s so dark in here…I feel so alone. I miss you. I want to come back home. Please take me home!”
He was let off three years later in a program that the two countries arranged to encourage bilateral ties. He was not a spy, the courts had ruled. But he had lost his sanity. He was not the same person anymore and had scars that would never heal. He did not die – but he did not live as well.
Every year, scores of fishermen stray away into waters of another country and are either shot or arrested. ISRO is in the process of making a navigation app that helps the fisherman to know the maritime boundaries. International Maritime Boundary Line is often not demarcated and sometimes it is undecided due to disputes between countries. This is an appeal to help these fishermen from dying while they are still alive.
*Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.