Hamid Ansari is back home. Let not celebrations over his homecoming make it difficult for other Indians to return from Pakistan

For the sake of Indians still languishing in Pakistani jails we need to be careful about how we project Ansari’s story.

 |  3-minute read |   20-12-2018
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Hamid Ansari returned to a tumultuous and teary welcome from family and friends. Having been incarcerated in a Pakistani jail for six long years on charges of espionage, Ansari is a free man now.

“I am Hamid Ansari and I am not a spy,” said the 33-year-old in jest.

The young man’s homecoming is a moment for celebration not just for his family, but for people across India because he offers a story of endurance, hope and a happy ending.

Love-struck, Ansari reportedly crossed over to Pakistan from Afghanistan on November 12, 2012, to meet a woman he had befriended on social media.

He was arrested immediately after his arrival. In 2015, Ansari was handed a three-year sentence by a military court for possessing a fake Pakistani identity card. Ansari’s jail term ended on December 15. His repatriation came after the Peshawar High Court gave the Pakistan government a month’s deadline to complete the process.  

Ansari has made it back home. Many do not.

It is for the sake of the Indians who are still languishing in Pakistani jails that we need to be careful about how we project this homecoming story.

While those who manage to return home have nothing to fear now, messages of hate only go on to make the return of the others more difficult.

As many as 471 Indians are currently in Pakistani jails.

With relations between the two countries hardly showing any signs of improvement, we do not know how many will actually be allowed to return home to India.

pak-690_122018030121.jpgHunderds of Indians are stuck in Pakistani jails. (Source: Reuters/Picture for representation.)

India hasn’t forgotten the story of Sarabjit Singh, who had served 22 years in a Pakistani prison at the time of his death in 2013. Lodged in Kot Lakhpat jail, Sarabjit Singh was severely beaten by his fellow prisoners on April 26, 2013. He died a week later, after being kept on life support at Jinnah Hospital.

Only Singh’s body returned to his family in India. 

The heart, kidneys and stomach were missing from the body, the autopsy report found.

sarabjit-690_122018025654.jpgHospital staff, airline and security officials move the body of Sarabjit Singh from an ambulance to a cargo office at Allama Iqbal International Airport — before Sarbjit finally came home. (Source: Reuters)

It wasn’t just the blows served by his fellow inmates that killed Sarabjit — the politics of hate simmering between India and Pakistan had a pivotal role to play in his death.

The list of people who have died in Pakistani jails is a long one. In many cases, even the bodies weren’t returned to the families. Getting people back from Pakistani jails to their families here in India is diplomacy’s biggest challenge.

Reckless statements and celebrations can make it very difficult for others.  

In 2012, Surjeet Singh returned to India after being in a Pakistani jail for 30 years. No sooner did he enter Indian territory, Singh admitted he was a spy.

surjeet-690_122018030316.jpgSurjeet Singh with his family members at the Wagah border. (Source: India Today)

Freedom from a Pakistani jail for any Indian must feel like coming upon a freshwater stream in an arid dessert. It is understandable for the person to be overwhelmed and say a lot of things that make for poor diplomacy.

It is, however, not understandable for the media to project the likes of Ansari as cases to show the ‘ugly side’ of Pakistan.

Since his arrival, Ansari has said a lot of things about the torture he faced in our neighbouring country. But using that to project the ‘evil state’ makes it much more difficult for those fighting a desperate battle for freedom in Pakistani prisons.

Diplomacy demands a lot of concessions to achieve its larger goal.

The larger goal here is to ensure that Indians in Pakistani jails, including hundreds of fishermen who entered Pakistani waters simply because humans have not yet been able to draw borders on waters, get back home to their friends and families.

Ansari is back home. He should work towards ensuring he can get on with his life.

The state, on its part, must focus on how to get back the others.

Also read: Keep it cool: With Pakistan, India should never confuse deep friendships for the deep state


Vandana Vandana @vandana5

Author is assistant editor DailyO.

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