Indian prisoners await repatriation from Sri Lanka

New Delhi, April 11 (IANS) The last 11 Indians in Sri Lanka’s main prison are praying that they be repatriated to India soon, after 20 fellow prisoners finally flew home last month.

The nine men and two women in Colombo’s Welikada prison want Indian authorities to speed up the legal formalities so that they can be moved to Indian jails to complete their sentences.

Of the 11, one man has been in Welikada for 19 long years. The least time an Indian prisoner has spent in the jail is seven-and-a-half years.

All the Indians jailed in Sri Lanka are from poor families, dominantly from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and were mainly accused of smuggling drugs and other contraband to Colombo.

One of the 11 prisoners is reportedly from Mumbai.

“Like the others, we too want to go back to India,” one of the prisoners told IANS over telephone from Colombo. “If we get into Indian prisons, our families will be able to come and meet us.”

Another prisoner added: “We are told that papers related to our transfer have been sent to India and these are struck there.”

According to the Agreement on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons between India and Sri Lanka, the transferred prisoners can complete the remaining part of their sentence in their home country.

In early March, 20 Indian prisoners — six from Kerala and 14 from Tamil Nadu — left Welikada jail for home after red tape slowed down their shift to India by months.

The repatriation involves, besides the Sri Lankan authorities, the Indian diplomatic mission in Colombo, the external affairs and home ministries in New Delhi, and the state governments concerned.

As the earlier repatriation got delayed, the issue was repeatedly raised in the Indian parliament.

“All the formalities have been done at our end,” one of the prisoners said. “We don’t want our repatriation to get unduly delayed as it happened in the case of those who were sent back earlier.

“This is our worry… We appeal to Indian officials to kindly speed up the process.”

Most Indians in Welikada, built in 1841 and the largest prison in Sri Lanka, have a healthy respect for their prison officials even as they have seen harrowing times.

Until 2009, when the Tamil Tigers were crushed by the Sri Lankan military, people caught smuggling drugs were often linked to the separatist group.

All the Indians had a narrow escape when a major riot in the Welikada prison in November last year killed some 30 people and injured many others in clashes with security forces.

The prisoner added: “It was a really scary experience. We have seen a lot here. We just want to go back to India.”

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at [email protected])

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