EXCLUSIVE: We are not on Twitter, will Sushma Swaraj still help us, ask families of men held captive in Iran

The ordinary believer may fast from dawn to dusk for the month of Ramazan, but for Noorjehan Umar Thaim the ritual of fasting has continued since her husband, seafarer and captain, Umar Salemamad Thaim (45) was put in captivity in Iran over two years ago.

She is not alone. In all, three families in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state are awaiting the return of their breadwinners. Striking, in this case, is the near absence of any meaningful response by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) especially the minister Sushma Swaraj, celebrated often for addressing the woes of those like Thaim using the micro-blogging site Twitter.
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Umar loaded his 45 metre long vessel Al Shena (registered VRL 11303) in Dubai and charted course for the Yemeni port of Aden.

Traversing the Persian Gulf in their 700 ton dhow (wooden boat built especially in Mandvi in Gujarat’s Kutch region) was a routine matter for Umar Thaim. Transporting cargo from one port to the other is what Gujarati seafarers have done for centuries. In early August of 2014, Umar loaded his 45 metre long vessel Al Shena (registered VRL 11303) in Dubai and charted course for the Yemeni port of Aden. A usual response to a storm which was gaining strength saw Umar Thaim dropping anchor close to the Iranian port of Jask near Bandar Abbas. He would regret this decision.

On the fifth day of the month, before they could pull themselves back into their journey, the Iranian authorities swooped down upon them, arresting the 12 member crew and apprehending the boat. Said Isha Thaim, “They were taken to the port of Jask further east and then put behind bars in the city of Minab”. It was not clear whether the arrest took place inside the territorial waters of Iran or outside. It was also not clear what charges were slapped against the apprehended crew.

Within months, the Iranians allowed the vessel to be taken away and also released nine of the 12 crew members. Only Umar, Ibrahim Sap (25) and Sajid Sumra (23) were held back. The families claim they neither knew the cause of the arrest or the cause of release. “I am in the business of dhows, so have my ancestors. At sea, it is common practice to seek shelter in case of a storm. We fail to understand the cause of their actions. We don’t have even a piece of paper explaining why our relatives are being held for over two years,” said Isha Thaim, Umar’s relative and the owner of the vessel. “Hum Twitter pe nahee hai lekin thoda sa Twitter hum ne bhi kiya tha. Sushmaji ka koi reply aaya nahee lekin,” he added. Isha Thaim and his cousin Ilyas Thaim have been camping in the capital for over a week, trying to get an appointment with Swaraj. They’ve enlisted support from their community, sent emails, carry a recent letter by the local BJP Member of Parliament Vinod Chavda addressed to Swaraj and are waiting. “We are yet to hear from MEA. Our families back in Gujarat have so much hope from us that they call us several times every day and ask the same question. We feel fed up that we have nothing to tell them even after spending so many days in Delhi,” said Ilyas Thaim.

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