Sarabjit Singh gets a martyr's send-off

Sarabjit Singh, who died after a murderous attack in a Lahore jail, was cremated at his hometown yesterday amid jostling crowds of tearful mourners.

His sister Dalbir Kaur lit the pyre as thousands of people gathered to pay their last respects to the man, condemned as a terrorist in Pakistan and a martyr in India who was accorded a state funeral.

RIP: Dalbir Kaur, sister of Sarabjit Singh who died following an attack by inmates in a Pakistan prison, lights his funeral pyre at Bikhiwind village near Amritsar. Rahul Gandhi consoles Sarabjit’s sister during the last rites. Pics/AFP

Before the mortal remains of Sarabjit were consigned to flames, teary-eyed people — men, women, old and young, children and VIPs — were part of the last journey of a man who went through torture and despair for 23 years in Pakistani prisons, trying to prove that he was innocent.

State honours
A contingent of Punjab Police reversed its arms and fired thrice in the air as a mark of respect to the 49-year-old who is said to have mistakenly crossed into Pakistan in 1990. As Dalbir Kaur went around the coffin to pour water from an earthen pot, his family members, including wife Sukhpreet and daughters Swapandeep and Poonam, sobbed uncontrollably.

The man, who spent nearly 23 years in uncertainty in Pakistani prisons, in death went from being an ordinary farmer from a poor rural family to a national hero being given a state funeral. “I have lost everything. But my fight for Indian prisoners (in Pakistani prisons) will continue,” a shattered Dalbir Kaur said.

The virtual sea of humanity that thronged his funeral here shouted slogans against Pakistan and its leaders. The crowds were so thick that every vantage point — be it a wall, roof, pole, vehicle or anything else — was taken over by people.

The cremation ground proved too small even to accommodate the VIPs, media and family members. Thousands of people were held up outside the walls of the ground by a strong posse of Punjab Police to prevent a stampede.

“A majority of the people did not even know him. But they were here to recognise the sacrifice Sarabjit made for the country. This should be an eye-opener for the Pakistanis who murdered him in cold blood,” Sarabjit’s friend Balwinder Singh said.

The body, draped in the tricolour, was first kept in his house and later taken to a ground of the government school nearby so that people could pay their homage.

Punjab mourns
The Punjab government has announced a three-day state mourning. Shops and other establishments, including educational institutions in this town, remained closed yesterday. They were shut on Thursday too.  Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has announced a financial grant of Rs 1 crore for Sarabjit’s family. He said Punjab would give government jobs to both his daughters.  Sarabjit received fatal injuries in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail on April 26, when he was brutally assaulted by fellow prisoners with bricks and plates. He had been arrested in Pakistan since August 1990. Pakistan accused him of being an Indian spy and of carrying out bomb attacks there. His family insisted he was an innocent man. 

VVIP mourners
Among those who placed wreaths on Sarabjit’s coffin were Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur, Akal Takht chief Gurbachan Singh and Punjab’s cabinet ministers. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who had met Dalbir Kaur in New Delhi on Thursday, walked up to the cremation ground and placed a wreath on the coffin. He stood next to the coffin for a while with other leaders. 

Tweet talk
@PritishNandy Arrival of Sarabjit’s body bag becomes a tamasha for politicians and VIPs to exploit. Is this what grief is all about?
@Hardip_nirvana Death of Sarabjit is not a death of one person; it’s a death of freedom. Helpless nation and individual struggle. Pity.
@TusharG Sarabjit’s Murder proves that Pakistan is ROGUE, can’t call it a State. We punished Kasab, they murdered Sarabjit, Not comparing the 2.
@ashokepandit Visuals of Sarabjit’s family and entire village in tears is a big slap on the politics of our country. SHAME
@heyyparth Sarabjit and Sanaullah are victims of the hate politics our political elite has been playng with people on both sides of the border for years 

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