New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

31 May, 2013

100 in Kerala jails under UAPA, 92 of them Muslims, rest alleged naxalites

The Popular Front of India held a massive rally in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday evening at the end of its march against the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act which began at Kozhikode earlier in the month.

PFI State President Karamana Ashraf Moulavi said at the meeting there are 100 persons in jails in Kerala under UAPA, of whom 92 are Muslims.

UAPA was invoked in the State for the first time by the last Left Democratic Front government -- against PFI members arrested in connection with the chopping of the hand of T. J. Joseph, a college teacher, for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed.

The present UDF government has slapped UAPA against PFI members arrested in connection with the case of alleged arms training at Narath as also against a group of persons arrested at Mavelikkara for alleged Naxalite activities.

All the charges levelled against the persons arrested in connection with these cases are such as can be dealt with under the IPC and other ordinary laws. Yet the police invoked the UAPA also primarily to deny the accused the benefit of bail and to evade the responsibility to prove their case in a court of law by adducing evidence against the accused.

UAPA was enacted in 1967 making use of a constitutional amendment made in 1963, in the wake of the border war with China, which empowers the state to restrict fundamental freedoms to check activities detrimental to the country's sovereignty and integrity. The government has been increasingly relying on this law after popular protests forced it to abandon the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

Since 1967, UAPA has been amended several times. After every major terrorist attack, taking advantage of the anti-terrorist sentiments of the public, the government has been making the law more harsh but it has not been producing results..  

Draconian laws are instruments of harassment rather than tools to be used to bring the guilty to book. According to official statistics, TADA was invoked against 76,000 people. Only 1.5 per cent of them was convicted. Charges under POTA were slapped against 1,031 persons. Only 13 of them were convicted.

28 May, 2013

A can of worms in cricket

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A gambling scandal which has landed a cricket team manager, three national players, a film producer and many bookies in police custody has exposed the seamy side of Indian sports.

S Sreesanth, a pace bowler who has played 27 Tests and 53 one-day matches for the country, and his Rajasthan Royals teammates Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila were arrested by Delhi police for alleged spot-fixing in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Mumbai police also got into the act and arrested Gurunath Meiyappan, manager of Chennai Super Kings and son-in-law of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President N Srinivasan, and Vindoo Dara Singh, a film and television actor.

Spot-fixing involves deliberate bad bowling to enable batsmen of the opposite team to make an agreed number of runs. Delhi police says Sreesanth received Rs4 million for conceding 14 runs in an over in a match between Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab.

The IPL, which is just five years old, is a commercial take-off from the fast-paced 20-over version of the sport which has gained currency in the recent past.

Teams earn eligibility to play by securing franchise through bidding and buy senior players in auctions. Sponsorship and television rights are sold for high prices. All of this is official. Then there is betting, which is unofficial. The annual illegal betting is estimated at $54 billion.

According to the police, the betting business is controlled from abroad. The activity apparently involves money laundering too.

When the IPL was launched in 2008, in the player auctions a spending cap of $5 million was set for each franchisee. Of the 108 Indian and foreign players on offer this year, 37 were sold for $11.87 million. Australian all-rounder Glen Maxwell fetched the highest price of $1 million.

Eight franchises were awarded in the first year. The base price was $400 million but the auction fetched $723.59 million. In 2010, two more franchises were given for $703 million. In this year’s tournament, which ended on Sunday, only nine participated.

Politicians and businessmen control the sport. Union Agriculture Minister and National Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar is a former BCCI president. Current president Srinivasan is a Chennai-based businessman, and vice-president Arun Jaitley is a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The IPL was founded by Lalit Modi, a businessman, when he was BCCI vice-president. Its current chief Rajeev Shukla is a Union minister of state, Congress general secretary and former television anchor. 

Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Shilpa Shetty and Sun TV network owner and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi’s grandnephew Kalanidhi Maran are among the team owners.

The IPL brand value, which hit $4.13 billion in 2010, is now put at $3.03 billion. The combined brand value of the teams is $325.8 million.

Till 2017, the IPL is to retain 40 per cent of all revenue, distribute 54 per cent to franchisees and pay out six per cent as prize money. It was to become a listed public company last year but this did not happen.

The IPL is all about money. The BCCI gave it the nod with its eyes on an anticipated revenue of $1.6 billion over five to 10 years, without realising it was opening a can of worms.

When a sting operation by a TV channel exposed alleged spot-fixing involving five players last year the damage was quickly controlled. The BCCI’s incestuous relationship with the IPL inhibited it from acting decisively. The government, which has granted the IPL tax exemption, also did not act.

Since two state police teams are conducting separate investigations and both have provided versions with gaping holes, the final outcome of the current scandal is open to doubt. Old-time players and cricket fans are saddened by the commercialisation and want the sport rescued. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry favours legalisation of betting.

The government is considering the possibility of bringing in a law to deal with betting in all sports. Given the political and financial clout of those in charge of sports, it may end up as an unenforced or under-enforced law. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 28, 2013.

27 May, 2013

Rights groups schedule discussion on AFSPA at Geneva

Human Rights Alert (HRA) and the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) will hold a discussion on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) at Palais des Nations, Geneva, on 29 May, 2013. 

The discussion will coincide with the report of the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to the 23 Session of the UN Human Rights Council. The report, A/HRC/23/47/Add.1, dated 26 April 2013, covers the Rapporteur's visit to India. The report deals at length the ill effects of AFSPA, upon the people of India, on the justice process in general and the possibility to resolve the armed conflict in Manipur.

The discussion on AFSPA will be held in room number VIII, from 12.00 to 14.00 hours at Palais des Nations.

Mr. Babloo Loitongbom from HRA and Ms. Neena Ningombam representing the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families' Association, Manipur, will lead the discussion. Representatives from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of India to UN in Geneva are expected to attend the discussion.

The Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families' Association is a group from the state of Manipur that has recently approached the Supreme Court of India, seeking directives to the government, requiring the Central government as well as the Manipur government, to be accountable for alleged cases of extrajudicial executions reported from Manipur.

The Association, in its writ application alleges that between 1979 and 2012 May, 1,528 persons were killed extrajudicially in Manipur. The Association has filed in court two lists, in which details of 51 cases are provided, that the petitioner allege is proof to the fact that extrajudicial execution is widespread in the state. 

The Association alleges that the draconian AFSPA is one of the reasons why such wanton misuse of authority with impunity is possible in Manipur, resulting in alarming number of extrajudicial executions in the state. Many of these cases cited by the Association have been reported globally by the ALRC's sister concern, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

The Supreme Court, after accepting the case records, constituted an independent Commission to inquire the allegations made in the writ application. The order of the Court is available here. The Commission, after inquiry has filed its report to the Court, in which the Commission has concluded that the allegations of extrajudicial executions made by the petitioner in the case are true.

For further details, please contact:
Mr. Moon Jeong Ho (ALRC representative) moonjeongho@ahrc.asia
Mr. Babloo Loitongbom bloitongbam@gmail.com

21 May, 2013

Way forward in South Asia

 BRP Bhaskar
 Gulf Today

Cautious optimism illumines Indian and Pakistani assessment of the prospects of bilateral relations under Nawaz Sharif who is back at the helm in Islamabad after 16 long years.

In 1999, as prime minister, Sharif had taken a decisive step towards improved relations with India when he signed the Lahore declaration with his Indian counterpart, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Their Lahore meeting was made possible by Vajpayee’s tradition-breaking bus journey to Pakistan.

The peace process they initiated was interrupted by the then chief of the Pakistan army, Pervez Musharraf, who first engineered a bloody conflict on the icy heights of Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir and then ousted Sharif and sent him into exile. As military ruler, Musharraf later met Vajpayee to carry the process forward but the attempt failed.

Even before the election results, which brought him to power for the third time, became known Sharif expressed his desire to make a new beginning, telling visiting Indian mediapersons he would pick up the thread from where he had left it in 1999.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, reciprocating the sentiment, warmly greeted Sharif, whose return to office marks transfer of power from one civilian government to another through elections for the first time in Pakistan’s history. However, he let go an opportunity to transform word into deed when he decided not to accept Sharif’s invitation to attend his swearing-in ceremony.

The Indian diplomatic establishment, overlooking the symbolic value of a break with tradition, advised against a prime ministerial visit to Pakistan without first preparing the ground at official level meetings.

The political climate also was not conducive for Manmohan Singh to take a bold initiative. In dealing with Pakistan, he does not have the freedom of action which Vajpayee, as leader of the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, had. Any positive gesture by him is sure to invite charges of appeasement from the BJP, which has been calling for action against Pakistan in the light of the beheading of two Indian soldiers who had strayed across the line of control in Kashmir and the fatal attack on an Indian prisoner in a Lahore jail.

Discussing India-Pakistan relations, Farrukh Khan Pitafi, a young, liberal Pakistani columnist, recently wrote: “We have spent far too much energy in trying to weaken each other. As a result, India has not been able to realise its true potential and the Pakistani state has gone soft.” He reckoned that the time between now and next year’s Indian parliamentary elections provides a window of opportunity to mend relations.

However, it is unrealistic to expect any dramatic developments. Domestic compulsions will not allow Manmohan Singh to take any initiative on the eve of the elections. Sharif, too, has his limitations.

Pakistan’s immediate need is revival of its economy, which is in a terrible state, prompting some observers to talk of it as a failed state. Improved relations with India can offer Sharif a double advantage. It can help reduce military expenditure and boost bilateral trade and facilitate inflow of investment.

However, there are elements in Pakistan which are wary of such developments. The military, which lay low during the past five years but cannot be said to have reconciled itself to the idea of civilian supremacy, will not want expenditure cuts. Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has reportedly advised Sharif to move gradually and with the utmost caution in trying to improve ties with India.

Pakistani businessmen are apprehensive of steps that may open up the possibilities of Indian economic domination. The last government decided to grant India most favoured nation treatment but was unable to take the necessary follow-up measures.

Sharif owes his electoral victory to the massive support that he and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, command in Punjab province, which accounts for more than half of the country’s population. But, then, there are limits to his hold on this province, which is also the stronghold of the army and of various extremist groups, some of which enjoy the patronage of a section of the army.

The extremists made their own contribution to the PML-N victory by sparing its men when they trained their guns on campaigners to discourage voting. However, Sharif cannot overlook the fact that the people rejected their call to boycott the poll.

India and Pakistan, which have been bogged down in Kashmir for long, may be able to find a way forward if they can work together on Afghanistan to ensure stability in South Asia after US troops pull out of that country next year. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 21, 2013

14 May, 2013

Scientists' letter to CMs voicing concern over Koodankulam equipment

The following is a letter written by a group of scientists to the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala expressing their concern about the use of substandard components in ooudankulam Nuclear Power Plant 1 & 2, and the revelation at this late stage that four valves in a critical safety system were found defective:


To: Hon'ble Chief Minister
Government of Tamil Nadu
Secretariat, Chennai 600 009;

To: Hon'ble Chief Minister
Government of Kerala
Secretariat, Thiruvananthapuram 695001
Copy: Prime Minister's Office
South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi 110011
                                                      Date: 14th of May 2013
Respected Chief Ministers:
We, the below-signed, are scientists from various disciplines who are concerned about the quality of components and equipment used at the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNP) Units 1 & 2. Our concerns arise from recent media reports about the use of substandard components in KKNP 1 & 2, and the revelation at this late stage that four valves in a critical safety system were found defective.

These safety concerns are compounded by the fact that Russian authorities arrested Mr. Sergei Shutov, procurement director of Zio-Podolsk, on corruption charges for having sourced cheaper sub-standard steel for manufacturing components that were used in Russian nuclear installations in Bulgaria, Iran, China and India.  This has led to several complaints of sub-standard components and follow-up investigations in Bulgaria and China. The ramifications of such corruption need to be taken very seriously as they have implications on the long-term safety of the nuclear plant.

As the Chief Ministers of the states hosting and neighbouring the nuclear power plant, the two of you have a responsibility to satisfy yourself and the residents of Tamil Nadu and Kerala that the plant has been constructed to the highest safety standards. Any exercise to assure oneself of the quality of components used will have to be done before the plant is commissioned. Once commissioned, the radioactive environment in sections of the plant will make it impossible to access and test some potentially critical components.

Unfortunately, as we have seen in Fukushima, there is the danger that the impact of a major hazardous event in Koodankulam may not be localized but could spread to larger regions in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala. To reduce such a risk, in the light of recent revelations, we believe that it is important to have a fresh independent and thorough quality inspection of the components used in the two reactors.

We, the below-signed, include scientists who believe that nuclear energy has a legitimate role in securing our energy future and others that believe that nuclear energy is too risky. Through this letter, we are not advocating for or against nuclear energy. All of us are of the opinion that when dealing with complex and potentially dangerous technologies transparency, honesty and a rigorous adherence to the highest quality standards are imperative.   Even the Supreme Court's recent judgment has emphasized the need to ensure the quality of components and systems before operationalising the plant.

We urge you to convey to the Prime Minister and the Department of Atomic Energy that before commissioning the reactors, they should consult independent national experts to formulate an inspection regime and carry out a full-fledged inspection into the safety of KKNP 1 & 2. Such an inspection should pay particular attention to the allegations of sub-standard equipment and components.

 Name DesignationDept/Specialization AffiliationCity
1 Atul ChokshiProfessor Materials Engg.IISc Bangalore
2 Subodh KumarProfessor Materials Engg.IISc Bangalore
3Debasis Sengupta ProfessorOceanography IIScBangalore
4Bikramjit Basu Assoc. ProfessorMaterials Science & Engg IIScBangalore
5Venu Madhav Govindu Asst. ProfessorElectrical engg IIScBangalore
6Siddhartha P. Sarma Assoc. ProfessorMolecular biophysics IIScBangalore
7Vidyanand Nanjundiah ProfessorEcological sciences IIScBangalore
8Sanjit Chaterjee Asst. ProfessorComputer sci. & automation IIScBangalore
9K.S. Gandhi ProfessorChemical engg IIScBangalore
10A.G. Menon ProfessorEarth sciences IIScBangalore
11Bhanu Pratap Das Senior ProfessorAstrophysics IIABangalore
12Vandana Shiva  Environmentalsit/Physicist NavadanyaNew Delhi
13Sushma V. Mallik Assoc. ProfessorAstrophysics IIABangalore
14C.V. Mallik Professor (ret’d)Astrophysics IIABangalore
15Rohini Balakrishnan Assoc. ProfessorEcological sciences IIScBangalore
16Mahua Ghare post-docEcological sciences Centre for Pollination StudiesKolkata
17Ravi Sankar Kottada Asst. ProfessorIMaterials Engg. IITMChennai
18 Partho Sarothi RayAsst. Professor PhsyicsIISER Kolkata
19 Shiv SethiAssoc. Professor AstrophysicsRRI Bangalore
20Meher Engineer Professor/ex-director  Bose InstituteKolkata
21K.S. Jagadish Professor (ret’d)Civil engg IIScBangalore
22 Supratik ChakrabortyProfessor  IITBMumbai
23 Deepak D’SouzaAssoc. Professor  IIScBangalore
24 MJNV PrasadAsst. Professor Materials Engg.IITB Mumbai
25 Kartik ShankerAssoc. Professor Ecological sciencesIISc Bangalore
26Dibyendu Chakravarty Scientist DMaterials Engg. ARCIHyderabad
27T.A. Abinandanan ProfessorMaterials Engg. IIScBangalore
28K.V.S. Hari ProfessorElec & comm engg IIScBangalore
29C.P. Rajendran Visiting ProfessorEarth sciences IIScBangalore
30Arijit Bishnu Assoc. Professor  ISIKolkata
31Renee Borges Professor & ChairpersonEcological sciences IIScBangalore
32Lakshmi Saripalli  Astrophysicist RRIBangalore
33Vijay Chandru Chairman and CEOManagement/Comp sci. & automation StrandBangalore
34Sumati Surya Assoc. ProfessorPhysics RRIBangalore
35Sachindeo Vaidya Assoc. ProfessorPhysics IIScBangalore
36Procheta Mallik nonePhysics noneBangalore
37Sushama Yermal InstructorBiologist IIScBangalore
38Palash B. Pal ProfessorAstrophysics Saha Inst.Kolkata
39M.S. Bobji Assoc. ProfessorMechanical Engg IIScBangalore
40Gopal Krishna NASI platinum Jubilee Senior ScientistAstrophysics TIFR (retired)/IUCAAPune
41Harish Bhatt ProfessorAstrophysics IIABangalore
42 Arati Chokshinone Astrophysicsnone Bangalore
43 Vinod JohnAsst. Professor  IISc Bangalore
44 Dileep JatkarProfessor  HCRI Allahabad
45 Anshuman MaharanaReader  HCRI Allahabad
46 Naresh DadhichProfessor  IUCAA Pune
47 Vikram VyasProfessor  Shiv Nadir Univ UP
48Krsihnendu Sengupta Professor  IACSKolkata
49Suvrat Raju ReaderPhysics TIFRBangalore
50Abhishek Dhar Professor  TIFRBangalore
51R.I. Kaveri post-docEcological sciences IIScBangalore
52Ashok Pati ProfessorAstrophysics IIABangalore
53Joseph Samuel ProfessorPhysics RRIBangalore
54Carol Upadhyaya ProfessorSocial sciences NIASBangalore
55Madan Rao ProfessorPhsyics RRIBangalore
56Sujay Basu ex-Professor/directorEnergy Jadavpur Univ/Centre of Energy and Environment ManagementKolkata
57 Prajwal Shastri  AstrophysicsIIA Bangalore
58 Anjula GurtooAssoc. Professor Management/Comp sci. & automationIISc Bangalore
59Sudhir Vombatkere Major General (ret’d)Civil engg noneMysore
      

Learning the wrong lessons

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The political leadership has developed a penchant for drawing the wrong conclusions, which does not augur well for Indian democracy.

Time was when the leadership of the Congress party, the premier political organisation, possessed the moral courage and authority to ask a holder of public office accused of misdemeanour to step down and stay out until he is cleared of all charges.

Now the party is in a debilitated state and its leadership has neither the courage nor the authority to act swiftly and decisively at a time of crisis. They vacillated for more than a week before asking Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who were caught in acts inconsistent with the solemn oath they took on assumption of office, to put in their papers.

Ashwani Kumar had summoned the officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is probing irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks, and made certain changes in the status report the agency had prepared for submission to the Supreme Court. He also got the agency to show the report to officials of the prime minister’s office and the coal ministry, giving them also the opportunity to make changes in it.

When CBI director Ranjit Sinha acknowledged in an affidavit that the agency had shared the report with the law minister and the officials and that they had made changes in it, government spokesmen sought to justify the interference in the investigation, advancing specious arguments. The law minister claimed he had only made minor verbal changes in the report.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid nonchalantly declared, “The government may be under the scanner but we have a right to find out what is happening.”

The interference of the PMO and the coal ministry constituted a grave impropriety since their acts are under scrutiny in the CBI probe. What’s more, the Supreme Court had specifically instructed the CBI not to share the report with the political executive.

While the government underplayed ministerial and bureaucratic interference in the investigation, the Supreme Court took a dim view of the situation. It described the CBI as a caged bird parroting the words of its many masters.

Pawan Kumar Bansal came under a cloud when the CBI caught his nephew Vijay Singla as he was accepting Rs9 million from a member of the Railway Board alleged as part payment of a hefty bribe for shifting him to another position, which will offer scope for collecting kickbacks in the award of contracts.

In keeping with the current level of political morality, the two ministers sought to brazen out the charges with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh extending silent support. Ashwani Kumar argued that the court’s stinging remarks did not contain any personal reference to him. Bansal claimed he had no business links with his nephew.

When the Congress won the assembly elections in Karnataka, where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s government was embroiled in serious graft charges, Manmohan Singh led an attempt to use the electoral victory to whitewash his beleaguered colleagues. He said it was a verdict against corruption, and the Congress party’s spokesmen attempted to project the Karnataka mandate as implicit rejection of the corruption charge against its own ministers.

Bansal’s continuance as minister became untenable as the CBI’s railgate investigation led to the arrest of some more persons close to him. Since the Supreme Court put off further hearing of the coalgate case until after the summer recess, the government thought there was no need to take an early decision on Ashwani Kumar’s future.

According to media reports, Manmohan Singh was forced to end pussy-footing and seek the resignation of the two ministers when Congress President Sonia Gandhi, realising that procrastination was damaging the party’s image, asked him to resolve the issue without delay. Many believe these reports are part of preparing the ground for Rahul Gandhi’s projection as the prime ministerial candidate ahead of the parliamentary elections due next year. 

It is not just the Congress party that is given to drawing the wrong conclusions from adverse developments. The Karnataka vote has dampened the BJP’s hopes of benefiting from the poor image of the scam-hit Manmohan Singh government. Its leadership appears to be looking up to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the saviour overlooking the reservations of its allies about him in view of his image as an accessory in the communal riots of 2002.

There is a rising demand to take the CBI out of the government’s hands and make it independent. This may be a case of the remedy being worse than the disease. The problem is not that the CBI is under the government but that there is a dearth of men of integrity in the agency and the government. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 14, 2013.

07 May, 2013

Demons do not dance alone

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Mutual demonisation has long been a part of the political charade of Indian and Pakistani players, particularly communally motivated elements. When their caricatures of each other come alive, the demons dance in tandem, not alone, as the lyric says.

On April 26 a group of convicts in a Lahore jail attacked and fatally injured 49-year-old Sarabjit Singh, an Indian undergoing life term in two cases. Pakistan said he was injured in a scuffle but unofficial reports suggested the attack was an act of reprisal for the execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri, sentenced to death in the Parliament attack case.

Pakistan refused Indian requests to send Sarabjit Singh home for treatment but allowed relatives to visit him in hospital as he awaited death. His body, handed over to the family, was flown to India for the last rites.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in a statement, accused the jail authorities of compromising Sarabjit Singh’s security. Not even the most naïve person could believe the assault could be executed without the knowledge and support of prison guards and the authorities, it said.

“Those in Pakistan who take pride in their vengefulness must feel some shame today, if they are capable of that,” it added. “All those elements in India who are no less vengeful, intolerant and fond of jingoism than their Pakistani counterparts would no doubt write their own script now.”

Even before Sarabjit Singh’s body was cremated in his village on Friday, an Indian prisoner in a Jammu jail attacked and critically wounded Sanaullah Haq, a 64-year-old Pakistani convict, undergoing life term there. Jail officials said the attack followed a petty quarrel but Pakistani officials referred to it as an act of revenge.

India turned down Pakistan’s request to send Sanaullah Haq home for treatment but allowed officials of its high commission to visit him at the Chandigarh medical institute where he was admitted.

Ironically, the attack on Sarabjit Singh took place the day a panel comprising five retired judges – three from Pakistan and two from India — began visits to Pakistani jails to look into the condition of Indian prisoners as part of a bilateral effort.  Pakistani authorities presented before it 535 Indian prisoners lodged in three jails. They included 483 fishermen, 11 of them juveniles.   

According to official sources in New Delhi, there are about 7,300 foreigners in Indian jails. Of them, only about 300 are Pakistanis. They include 260 fishermen.

The troubled relations between India and Pakistan and the ire aroused by the terror charges against some render prisoners belonging to one vulnerable to attacks in the other. The prolonged detention of prisoners, including fishermen who ended up in jails only because their boats strayed into the other country’s territorial waters, testifies to the inconsiderate handling of issues by officials on both sides.

The two countries are believed to be still holding several persons taken into custody during the 1965 and 1971 wars, although they do not publicly acknowledge this. Chuck Yeager, an American air force officer stated in his autobiography, published in 1984, that while on assignment in Pakistan he had seen Indian fighter pilots who had been shot down during the 1971 war.

In March 2011, at a meeting at the Home Secretary level, the two countries agreed to release civilian prisoners and fishermen who had served their jail term and whose nationality had been confirmed by the respective governments.  A few months later they exchanged lists of prisoners in each other’s custody. A bilateral mechanism has been created to update the lists periodically.

Both Sarabjtit Singh and Sanaullah Haq were convicted on terrorism charges and spent more than two decades in prison. This is a much longer period than what those given life terms ordinarily spend in jail in the two countries. Although each government claimed its convicted national was an innocent civilian who had inadvertently crossed the border, the possibility that the two were intelligence operatives cannot be ruled out.

In January, an Indian prisoner, Chambail Singh, was killed in a Pakistani jail. His body was sent to India only after two months, and that too without an autopsy report.  Sarabjit Singh’s body too came without an autopsy report. Indian doctors who conducted a second autopsy found that the internal organs had been removed.

If only the two governments learn to respect the human rights of each othe’s prisoners there will be less scope for jingoists of the two sides to cry for blood. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 7, 2013,