22 yrs gone, Laxmi still awaits husband's return

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Barmer, Aug 29 (UNI) Laxmi (45) of Chohtan decorates lanterns and lamps with her artistic paintings and glass carvings to manage her household needs single-handedly in the absence of her husband Bhag Singh, who is languishing in a Pakistan jail for the last 22 years.

Bhag Singh strayed into Pakistan across the border inadvertently while grazing goats near his village in Chohtan region of the district.

He had left behind at home besides Laxmi, their daughter Kanku (10), sons Pratap (8) and Arjun (3). With support from her brothers Prem Singh and Leel Singh, Laxmi braved hard times single-handedly by earning livelihood through her paintings and carvings and bringing up her children.

Now, Kanku is a 32-year-old housewife, Pratap, a driver and Arjun, a truck cleaner. They have only faded memories of their father.

Laxmi is not the only one who has been facing hardship for no fault and undergoing a miserably long waiting period for family reunion. Several others, including Raji Devi (40), Hanifa (45), and Shafiyat (25) have passed several years awaiting release and repatriation of their husbands, who have been languishing in Pakistan jails for period ranging between 8 and 25 years.

Hanifa's husband Jamaluddin of Banda village in Jaisalmer district was arrested by Pakistan rangers while collecting fire wood at the Indo Pak border along the Ramgarh region about 24 years ago. His jail term has also been reportedly completed, but release and repatriation could not be taken up in wake of the procedural delays.

Hanifa worked as a labourer to earn livelihood to bring up two sons and as many daughters.

Raji's husband Bijaram Meghwal was also picked up by Pakistan rangers 10 years ago when he inadvertantly crossed over to catch his cattle. His 10-year-old son Roopa Ram is yet to see him. Bijaram's jail term is over, but he is still in Karachi jail awaiting release after completion of the due formalities by authorities in both countries.

Thar Jagruk Nagrik Much, a Barmer based NGO, has been making efforts for the early release and repatriation of such prisoners. A delegation recently met Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria and Rajasthan State women's Commission Chairperson Tara Bhandari seeking their intervention for the early release of these prisoners.

Visit of a seven-member Indo-Pak Joint Judicial Committee to various jails in either countries last week however, has brightened prospects of their early release.

UNI SS ATI RK/HS1336

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