A cattle herder from Gujarat's Kutch district, who had inadvertently crossed over to Pakistan in 2008 and was arrested there on charges of spying, has finally returned to India after languishing in the neighbouring country's jails, officials said. Ismael Sama, 60, from Nana Dinara village in Kutch, located some 60 kms from the Pakistan border, had mistakenly crossed over to Pakistan while grazing his cattle.
He was arrested and kept in the jails of that country before he was released two days back following the Islamabad High Court's order on a plea moved by the Indian High Commission there. Sama reached Amritsar after crossing over to the Indian territory through Wagah-Attari international border on Friday, officials at Attari said.
Some of his family members also reached Amritsar to receive him, sources said. The authorities in Amritsar are completing some formalities, including Sama's medical examination, after which he would be handed over to his family, the officials said.
He was received by Fajal Sama, who runs an NGO in his village, and his relative Yunus Sama, on Saturday at the Indian Red Cross Society in Amritsar. "I had mistakenly crossed over to the Pakistan side while grazing my cattle. They called me a spy and an agent of RAW. ISI kept me in jail for six months, then handed me over to the Pakistan Army. I was in their custody for three years before being sentenced to five years in jail. Even after completing my sentence in October 2016, I was not released," Sama said over phone from Amritsar.
"I remained in Hyderabad Central Jail for seven years until 2018. Thereafter, I was sent to Karachi Central Jail along with two other Indians," he said. Fajal Sama, also a native of Nana Dinara village, said, "After his disappearance in 2008, Sama's family members had no idea on his whereabouts till 2017, and could only surmise that he might have been arrested in Pakistan, but had no documentary evidence." "It was confirmed only after another person from a neighbouring village, who was released from Pakistan in 2017, returned and told us that Sama was with him in the jail there," he said.
Journalist and peace activist Jatin Desai said that after learning about Sama's case, Pakistan-India Peoples' Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) and a local NGO started contacting the two governments and writing to the Pakistan High Commission requesting his release. "He had mistakenly crossed over to Pakistan in 2008 through the border as there was no fence then. Cattle herder would inadvertently cross over to the other side. He crossed over by mistake and was caught," Desai said.
His release was made possible after the Indian High Commission petitioned for the release of four Indian prisoners who had completed their sentences long back, he said. "When the case was heard on January 14, the court was told that three of them have already been released. As for Ismael, Pakistan's deputy attorney general told the court that he will be released," Desai said.
He said that peace activists in the two countries have been demanding that prisoners like Sama be released and repatriated on the same day their sentence gets over. "If we talk of the two countries, I'd say there is only one case, that of Hamid Ansari, who was released and repatriated on the same day that his sentence got over in 2018, and returned immediately to India," he said.
However, people are sometimes forced to languish due to delay in confirmation of nationality, he added.