Five of the six Indians set free by Pakistan on February 16 are still awaiting the much-anticipated reunion with kith and kin after years of separation, thanks to rules that seem to have pinned them down.
After these six crossed over to India through the Attari-Wagah joint check-post near Amritsar, only Ram Raj from Kathua in J&K was the fortunate one taken home by his family members. The rest have been put up at Red Cross house here, where they remain confined. Policemen have been deployed to keep an eye on them.
Visibly disturbed after years of alleged torture and confinement, all have their stories to tell, though the details are sketchy, at best.
The district administration has their addresses but, bound by rules, cannot let them walk free.
In fact, the Union Home Ministry had informed their respective states on February 10 about the impending release. But the wait for responses is still on.
A Hindustan Times team that visited the Red Cross house here found these five men sitting in the lawn, lost in thought. Sanaiser Choudhary, Hari Chand, Ghulam Nabi Shah, Meeru and Muhammad Ahmed somehow manage to utter names of their parents or their villages or how they ended up in Pakistani jails but none manages to tell all they went through.
Hari Chand, who hails from Maharashtra, said, "I visited Delhi with friends and slept at a railway station. When I woke up, my friends were not there. So, I boarded a train that took me to a border village of Punjab. I worked there for some time, before I boarded a train that took me to Pakistan."
He remembers that it happened in 2007, but that's all he can tell. "I just want to go home now," he says, before walking away.
Meeru, who correctly names his village in Odisha, can't recall when he crossed over, "Badi pehle gaya tha (I went a very long time ago)." Sanaiser merely says he is from Bihar.
It is Ghulam Nabi, from Baramula in J&K, who has the most intriguing story. He claims he worked with the paramilitary Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). "I was not well and had gone to Azad Kashmir (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to borrow some money from my uncle for treatment. I could not even meet my uncle there before the Pakistan Army arrested me."
He said that he spent five years in prison there, but can't name anyone when asked who in his family could take him home. "But I do want to go home," he said while staring into nothingness.
"We cannot let them go till someone comes to claim them. The procedure includes thorough verification," said a Red Cross official.
The RTI Cell of Punjab BJP has, meanwhile, written to the home ministry. Cell convener Manit Malhotra demanded that the Centre must ensure they were sent home at the earliest.