Now, Imran Warsi waits to cross the Wagah border

Now, Imran Warsi waits to cross the Wagah border

The Karachi native spent a decade in an Indian jail

For more than a decade, Imran Warsi has lived in limbo, without a sense of home or nationality. Next week, he will regain both, as police officials confirmed that he will be repatriated across the Wagah border to Pakistan and will be reunited with his parents in Karachi.

His story is similar to that of 33-year-old Hamid Ansari, who returned from Pakistan this week: a love story gone wrong, betrayal by friends or relatives who promised to help, long prison sentences, and ultimately freedom as a result of the efforts of strangers and good samaritans.ALSO READ Long road home: Hamid Nihal Ansari’s return

“I want to tell my family about all the good people I met here, who stood with me, and gave me strength. The way our media portrays India, I found nothing like that here. I only received love here,” Mr. Warsi told The Hindu on the phone. He spoke from the Shajehanabad police station, where he has been in custody despite completing his sentence in March.

A Pakistani from Karachi, Mr. Warsi married his cousin in Kolkata in 2004 after falling in love. When his visa ran out, her parents promised to help the couple get papers to travel to Pakistan, but didn’t.

Misled, betrayed

After four years, during which Imran and his wife Shaziya had two sons, Mr. Warsi says he lost patience, and was misguided by relatives into applying for an Indian passport using fraudulent papers. The same relatives then alerted the police and Mr. Warsi was arrested in Bhopal in 2008 on charges of terrorism and espionage.

The judge dismissed the charges of spying and terror, but he was convicted for serious charges under the Official Secrets Act, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In that time, Mr. Warsi never saw his wife or sons Shezaan and Qurbaan, now aged 11 and 9, nor did his family in Pakistan know of his existence.

“When I was released and telephoned home, even my mother had a hard time believing it was me. My brother said, ‘Tell us what your childhood name was (Immy) to prove it is you’. They had assumed I was dead and never coming home,” Mr. Warsi says.

However, his release from Bhopal Central prison didn’t end his problems .

The first hurdle was a fine of ₹8,000 that he was asked to deposit. He recounts how his fellow prisoners set up a collection for him — “some donating ₹5, some donating ₹50,” until they made up the fine.

Next, he was transferred to the guardianship of the police station, along with others who awaited repatriation. But given the state of India-Pakistan ties, no word arrived of when he would be able to go home. Mr. Warsi had spoken to his wife after his release, and he told The Hindu that he expected her to join him once he returned to Karachi; but she made no attempt to meet him.

Help from strangers

That was when activists like Bhopal-based Syed Abid Hussain, and Mumbai-based Jatin Desai took up his cause, with appeals of #HelpImran on social media. Mr. Hussain, who has run several such campaigns for Indians and Pakistanis stranded in each other’s jails, including for Hamid Ansari and Kulbhushan Jadhav, would take home-cooked food for Mr. Warsi, and try to connect him to officials who could help.

Eventually, papers for Mr. Warsi arrived just a day after Hamid Ansari returned to India. It is these small gestures that can create a better atmosphere for both countries, he said.

According to the latest MEA figures tabled in Parliament, there are 471 Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails while India holds 357 Pakistani prisoners. A large number are fishermen, who inadvertently trespass into each other’s waters, and women and children. More than 50 prisoners on either side have completed their sentences, yet await either confirmation of nationality or consular access to them — procedures that suffer longer delays with each downturn in ties. In the past four years, 1,557 Indians have been released from various prisons of Pakistan and 318 Pakistanis were freed from Indian jails, but officials who spoke to The Hindu say the most heart-rending stories are of people still languishing in custody.

A senior official spoke of an 18-year-old autistic boy unable to communicate, a child who joined a fishing expedition in the hope of earning a few thousand rupees and landed in a jail, a woman who attempted to drown herself and reached the other country where she was jailed as a spy, and several other women who have given birth while in prison, whose children have known no world outside.

The last meeting of the joint judicial committee of retired judges from India and Pakistan looking into prisoners’ welfare in 2013 recommended that “women, juvenile, mentally challenged, aged and all those prisoners suffering from serious illness/permanent physical disability” should be freed on humanitarian grounds, that consular access be granted to all prisoners within three months of arrest, and that those completing sentences be repatriated within a month.

None of the recommendations have been put into practice, said Mr. Desai, and only multiply the miseries of those like Imran Warsi who live both literally and figuratively in a “halfway house” waiting to go home.

Confirming the details of the Warsi case, Bhopal City Superintendent of Police Nagendra Pateria says they have now received the orders from the FRRO (Foreigners Regional Registration Office), and he will indeed return next week.

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