New Delhi: Anguished by what they say is New Delhi's apathy, Indians jailed in Sri Lanka want Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa to intervene and seek their extradition to India. A spokesman for 34 Indian prisoners -- 27 from Tamil Nadu and seven from Kerala -- said they were being ignored though India and Sri Lanka signed a pact in June on exchange of sentenced convicts.
An almost sobbing Indian prisoner told IANS over mobile telephone that while Pakistanis and Maldivians have managed to go home thanks to their governments, the Indian establishment appeared unconcerned about them. "Is it because we come from Kerala and Tamil Nadu and so no one in Delhi is interested in us?" asked the prisoner. "Yes, we committed crime and are in jail. But is there not an agreement that can take us to India?"
He was referring to the agreement Colombo and New Delhi signed during Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit to India in June that calls for exchange of sentenced prisoners between the two countries.
The plight of the Indians in Sri Lankan jails, including in Ngombo and Anuradhapura, has been raised in the Indian parliament. But the prisoners say nothing is moving in their favour.
"We are not asking for favours; we are not demanding freedom," said the prisoner. "All we are saying is implement the agreement and put us in jail in India.
"Sir, we too are humans. We also want to see our families occasionally. It can happen only if we are in India. Is that too much to ask for?" The prisoner, speaking on a borrowed mobile telephone, said he and his compatriots believed that if there was one Indian leader who could take up their cause to its logical conclusion, it was Jayalalithaa.
"The Tamil Nadu chief minister is our hope. The Indian government has let us down. The way she speaks for Indian fishermen has convinced us that she alone can provide us relief. We want the chief minister to intervene and help us," he said pleadingly.
Indians in Sri Lanka have been sentenced over a variety of crimes, including drug smuggling. At least one has been in jail for 18 long years. Many have put in about 10 years.
The prisoner who spoke to IANS said most Indians in Sri Lankan jails came from poor families and were also suffering physically and emotionally. He said that Gopalkrishna Gandhi was the only Indian high commissioner who got six Indians freed -- all females.
The prisoners in Sri Lanka say they have made repeated representations to Indian ministers and MPs, but nothing has happened. The prisoner said it was interesting that New Delhi went out of its way to ensure justice to Indians jailed in Pakistan.
"Why this discrimination?" he asked. "This is why we want the Tamil Nadu chief minister to take up our cause. We feel she can succeed where others have failed."