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'Does our government even know that we are prisoners?'

December 24, 2012 17:33 IST

India is one of the few friends Iran has in the world.

So how come 29 Indian fishermen have been detained in an Iranian prison for over two months?

A Ganesh Nadar reports from a village in Kanyakumari district.

Poothurai is one of those typical villages that dot Tamil Nadu's coastal districts.

What makes Poothurai unusual is the fact that four residents of this large-ish village in Kanyakumari district have languished in an Iranian prison for over two months now.

The four young men are among the 29 Indian fishermen detained by Iranian coastal security in October for trespassing into the Islamic Republic's waters.

On October 10, the 29 Indian fishermen, employed by a Qatar-based company, were picked up by the Iranians for straying into Iranian waters.

While 26 of the fishermen are natives of various villages in Kanyakumari district, two of them hail from Kerala and one lives in Puducherry.

Along with these fishermen, another 32 Indian fishermen, employed in the United Arab Emirates, were also detained on the same charge.

***

The family of Christuraj, one of the men imprisoned in Iran, lives in a temporary shelter provided by the Tamil Nadu government. The family home was destroyed last month by inundation from the sea.

Seven human beings live in this small shelter. Antony, Christuraj's father, has three daughters and three sons. Christuraj, his youngest child, is 25 years old.

When a neighbour informs Antony that a reporter from Mumbai has come by, the family quickly tidies up their tiny home. Antony begins to wail and starts beating his head. "It was my greed. I should never have sent him there," he cries.

Christuraj studied up to Class 6, gave up his education, and started fishing on the boats which operated from his village harbour. He had been working as a fisherman for more than a decade when the family heard of a lucrative opportunity in Qatar, work on fishing boats operating there.

"The agent who recruited my son is married to a girl from this village," explains Antony, "that is why I readily agreed. He would earn ten times more than what he earned fishing here. It would have helped him get a nice girl when it was time for him to marry."

"The first time I sent him abroad and see what happened," the father wails in distress.

The other three men from the village in Iranian custody, along with Christuraj, are all young, aged below 25, adds Antony.

While his youngest daughter stands by silently, tears in her eyes, another daughter Selvarani angrily tells this reporter, "You know how many times I visited the collector in the past two months. I have met so many officials. They just take our petition and say 'We will send it to Delhi'. I don't think they do anything at all."

"Five boys from our village went there," Antony adds. "One boy returned because he did not like it in Qatar. The other four are in jail. I hear their boat has been seized. The agent's relative came and took my son's passport number and identity proof. He said he needed it for his return ticket, but nothing has happened."

"Three weeks back," says Selvarani, "my brother called from someone's mobile phone and said they would be released soon."

Last week, the family was told Christuraj had not yet been released from the Iranian prison. Selvarani said she spoke to a captain of one of the fishing boats seized by the Iranians.

When Rediff.com called the captain, he spoke to this reporter in Tamil. "We are on an island," he revealed. "We cannot go and meet the sailors in prison. We are not allowed to leave this island."

"We have been here for two-and-a-half months. The Indian embassy has not contacted us. No one has done anything to release us. Two boats from Dubai were also seized by the Iranians. Their government intervened and got them released. Our government (the Indian government) has not done anything."

"Does our government even know that we are prisoners?" he asked.

"The government of Qatar has not done anything and our boat owners have not come to see us," the captain added, appearing to have given up hope of an early release for him and his men.

The fishermen and their boats were detained on Iran's Ikkish island. The 32 Indian fishermen employed in the UAE were released after the UAE government intervened with the Iranians.

Twenty-two of the 29 Indian fishermen from Qatar were recently moved to Pandramas prison. Seven captains of the fishing boats have been held on Ikkish island for further interrogation.

The Iranians are apparently refusing to release the Indian fishermen since Qatar has detained some Iranian boats.

A Ganesh Nadar in Poothurai, Kanyakumari