Umm Al Quwain: Iftar was just a few minutes away and an elaborate spread was on the tables. But food was the last thing on the minds of people huddled around.
Little Mohammad’s (name changed) eyes were fixed on glass doors that led to the main hallway of the Umm Al Quwain Police Punishment and Correction Centre, where the banquet was set up and every time the doors swung open he jumped in anticipation.
When finally his father walked in, he ran, the way children run to jump into the widespread arms of their fathers.
Shouts of “baba, baba” echoed the hall and as people’s fathers, sons and daughters, brothers arrived, families erupted in joy. A flurry of emotions followed.
We have been working with Pure Gold Group to settle many cases and they have been doing a great job in helping people start a new life. Today’s Iftar programme is another example of their service to these helpless families.
The intensity of the longing was obvious from the lengths of the hugs. Fathers, sons and daughters clung to each other as if they were trying to freeze themselves in that moment forever, somehow trying to make it last longer, somehow wishing the time could be set on a pause.
These were the inmates and their families meeting for an Iftar meal at the Umm Al Quwain Police Punishment and Correction Centre, courtesy the generosity of Pure Gold Group and it’s philanthropist chairman Feroz Merchant.
As the diners settled for this chance gathering, one they had not thought would arrive at that hour in that shape, the time for iftar beckoned to the sound of Azan for magrib prayers, letting these families share a meal together after a long time.
Some inmates had been behind bars for months, some longer and some just a few weeks, but days and months spent torn apart from loved ones always seem longer, hence the meal must have tasted sweeter.
As the 20 odd families tucked into the sumptuous buffet, for the next couple of hours there were no inmates and families longing to meet their loved ones; there were no jailers and no prison. Everything was forgotten, the trials and appeals, sorrow and agony, guilt and regret, all of these were put out of the mind.
Along with the meal, dollops of love, care and bonding were served and everyone readily dug into these, famished as they were for so long.
Slowly smiles gave way to laughter, jokes were shared as most families do over dinner and the sombre mood gave way to boisterous banter.
We have been doing this for more than 10 years now and this year we are targeting the repatriation of around 1,000 more prisoners. Apart from that, this Ramadan we are also uniting inmates with their families for one Iftar meal as our new programme of tolerance and kindness.
Children could be seen climbing on the heads and shoulders of their dads and mothers could be seen driving some sense into the heads of their young inmate sons. There were young couples cosying up as well, catching up on lost time, it was no less than a date for them. Though, not an ideal setting for a romantic date, they would take anything, given the lack of alternatives.
Though, the media invited for the Iftar were not allowed to speak with the inmates or their families, there was hardly any need felt to ask them any questions. How they felt that evening was obvious to all those who were present, their faces shared their stories more than their words would do.
The Iftar meet was organised as part of Indian businessman Feroz Merchant’s initiative to reach out to the “forgotten people,” as he likes to refer to the inmates.
Since 2008, Merchant has been helping inmates languishing in jails with financial and civil cases, clearing their debts before putting them on flights back home. So far, he has reunited around 15,000 people of different nationalities with their families.
“We have been doing this for more than 10 years now and this year we are targeting the repatriation of around 1,000 more prisoners. Apart from that, this Ramadan we are also uniting inmates with their families for one Iftar meal as our new programme of tolerance and kindness. This was our first successful event and we are looking to host more of these in other emirates soon,” said Merchant, who attended the Iftar and interacted with inmates and senior police officials.
Col Saif Salem, head of Umm Al Quwain Central Jail hailed the idea of the family Iftar for the inmates: “We have been working with Pure Gold Group to settle many cases and they have been doing a great job in helping people start a new life. Today’s Iftar programme is another example of their service to these helpless families. It’s great to see inmates sharing quality time with their families and their children enjoying their company, thanks to Pure Gold.”
This year, Merchant has set aside a budget of Dh1.5 million for his prisoner relief mission, part of which will help at least 600 inmates celebrate Eid Al Fitr with their families.