Sarabjit Singh — the impoverished family man from a Punjab village, the death row prisoner who languished for 23 years in Pakistan, the man who in death became the latest bone of contention in India-Pakistan ties — who died yesterday after being brutally assaulted by fellow prisoners in Pakistan, was of all these.
On April 30, 2009, Sarabjit was scheduled to face the gallows but his hanging was postponed indefinitely. Four years and two days later, he died in Pakistan, not from the noose but after being brutally assaulted by fellow prisoners at the Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore.
The 49-year-old was declared dead by doctors in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, six days after he was attacked on April 26, marking an end to his family’s sustained efforts to save him from gallows and secure his freedom.
Sarabjit was all of 26 years when he was arrested inside Pakistan in August 1990 and later charged with being an Indian spy. He spent the next 23 years in Pakistani prisons and was subjected to torture — the biggest one being the proverbial Damocles sword of death penalty hanging over his head. A sustained campaign by his spirited sister Dalbir Kaur in the last few years gave some hope that Sarabjit would avoid the death penalty. But that was not to be. His family, especially sister Dalbir Kaur, approached everyone they could. But Sarabjit was not lucky enough to return to Indian soil alive.
The family met him briefly in jail in April 2008 after a gap of 18 years. He saw his grown up daughters for the first and only time. This week, the family met him again — but he had slipped into a deep coma and probably never even knew.
There was a brief, tantalising moment of hope. In June last year, reports said the Pakistan government announced that he was being released. However, in a flip-flop, the Pak authorities clarified that it was not Sarabjit but another Indian prisoner, Surjeet Singh, being released. “We felt cheated. Celebrations had started in our house and elsewhere. But he was not released,” Dalbir Kaur said.
A resident of Bhikiwind township Sarabjit came from a poor rural family. His family claimed that he had crossed over into Pakistan in an inebriated state and that he was neither a spy nor a terrorist. They said that his was a case of mistaken identity.
But the investigation agencies, especially the police, in Pakistan termed him an Indian spy and charged him with involvement with two bombings in Lahore and Multan in 1990 which left 14 Pakistanis dead. After being convicted by various courts and awarded death penalty, Sarabjit’s sentence was upheld by the Pakistan Supreme Court and his hanging was confirmed for March 31, 2009.
Following the intervention of the Indian government, his execution was postponed to April 30 and thereafter indefinitely. His sister Dalbir Kaur, provided various documents to Pak authorities to prove his innocence and even a video recording of Pakistani national Salim Shaukat who had admitted to a private TV network that he was forced to give witness against Sarabjit. All of those efforts, it seems, went waste. It will be the final farewell when Sarabjit’s body journeys back home.
Cremation in hometown
sPunjab: Sarabjit Singh will be cremated in his hometown Bhikhiwind in Punjab’s border district of Taran Taran. His family, which was in Delhi, reached Bhikhiwind by helicopter yesterday. Scores of local residents gathered at the helipad to meet them and walked with them to their house. Angry residents held protests and kept the entire town shut. Shops and educational institutions also remained closed in protest.
Media informs family
Lahore: The family of Sarabjit Singh first learnt of his death through a media report, his family said. Dalbir Kaur, sister of Sarabjit , said that the family had not been officially informed about his death. She said she received report of her brother’s death on Geo TV. Sarabjit’s family, including his two daughters, returned to India on Wednesday through the Attari border from Lahore, where they had gone to meet him.
@PMOIndia He [Sarabjit] was a brave son of India who bore his tribulations with valiant fortitude.
@SushmaSwarajbjp It is a cold blooded murder. This is not the way civilised nations behave.
@Javedakhtarjadu Some day I may forget Kargil but will never forget Sarabjit’s murder. It is an act of extreme meanness by a very petty minded establishment
@DILIPtheCHERIAN Pak patients in droves saved daily in India’s hospitals ! Sad inequity
@FarOutAkhtar With Sarabjit's death, Pakistan has painted itself a heartless villain, even in the most forgiving Indian's eye. Unforgettable insensitivity. RIP
@sonamakapoor I feel betrayed as an Indian.