Missing for 11 years, they return home tired, sick
In June 2001, eight young men including Billal Hossain and Alamgir Hossain of Khajura village set out in a trawler from Kuakata beach to catch fish in the Bay.
Since then, their families or friends never heard from them until Billal and Alamgir, and Abul Kalam, another fisherman missing for 12 years, reappeared at the village in May this year.
Presuming that they were lost for good in the sea, the families had given up hope long ago while their wives left to remarry elsewhere.
Returned home tired and sick, Alamgir and Kalam have lost their ability to speak while Billal tried to narrate in broken language whatever he recalls of their ordeal for over a decade.
"In the afternoon on the first day of our journey, a terrible storm blew eight of us into the sea from the trawler. When the storm subsided, we landed at Patabunia in India where police arrested us and sent us to the jail,” Billal said.
“After two years, a cunning trader arranged our release on bail. He engaged us in forced labour for meagre wage first at his saw mill and later at a fish depot. They gave us two bowls of rice a day which we had to eat with dry chilli,” he said.
In the jail, Billal and Alamgir met Kalam, another fisherman of Khajura village.
"One day as we were making a move to break free, a gang of five to six men captured us and forcibly injected something into my neck. I lost consciousness and cannot recall how we made way to home,” Billal said.
He could not say what had happened to the rest of his companions over the years.
His mother Laily Begum said when she saw Billal walking near the house on May 15 she immediately recognised him to be her lost son.
“I checked his identification mark on the cheek and cried out in joy. My only son Billal, then 22, was married for two months before he went missing. He also served as the lone earning member of the family but now he is not fit to work. He needs medical treatment,” she said.
A relative spotted Alamgir, now 44, when he was wandering in Pathorghata upazila under Barguna district early May. Informed, Alamgir's father Shafiuddin rushed there and brought his son home. Alamgir has two children.
On May 12, a fellow fisherman identified a disoriented Abul Kalam at Char Doani Bazar, about 100 kilometres away from his home.
On information, Kalam's family members brought him home.
Kalam, now 29, was also married for two months when he went missing.
Shahjahan Gazi, 40, Abdus Sattar, 30, Abul Kalam, 30, Sattar, 32, Amir Fakir, 45, Jalil, 42, Babul, 40, Dulal, 35, Jamal, 38, and Khalil, 42, are among many fishermen who have remained missing for years in Kuakata, locals said.
The government should take initiative to find out the people still detained in India, said Shahjahan Akhand, a construction contractor in Kuakata.
Dr Md Salim Matubbar, junior consultant of Patuakhali General Hospital, said the returnees need immediate medical check-up to know about their physical condition and consequent treatment, especially in view of their memory loss.