Sarabjit Singh: The victim of political games?
After Chishty's release one would think the Pakistani government would return the favour, but fate had its own plan.
Indian death row convict Sarabjit Singh, who was attacked and seriously injured by his fellow prisoners within his barrack at Kot Lakhpat Jail on Friday, is dead. 49-year-old Sarabjit died of a cardiac arrest at around 1:00am as stated by the Press Trust of India, on its official Twitter account.
Sarabjit was hospitalised after having sustained a serious head injury, after fellow prisoners attacked him.
“Sarabjit was having tea with fellow prisoners Muhammad Muddasar and Amir, also condemned for death sentence in murder cases. They exchanged hot words with Sarabjit and attacked him with bricks and blades,” jail official Munawar Ali said.
He was convicted of alleged involvement in a string of bomb attacks in Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990 and spent about 22 years in Pakistani prisons.
Sarabjit’s family, however, claims that he was a victim of mistaken identity and had inadvertently strayed across the border in an inebriated state. For the past several years they had been running pillar to post seeking his release on humanitarian grounds.
His sister, Dalbir Kaur, who spent eight years campaigning for his release, said "My brave brother has become a martyr" and alleged Pakistan had hidden the facts of his attack and health. She urged political parties to unite for a strong collective response to Pakistan. Strong political reactions have started pouring in with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying that "Pakistan did not heed pleas of India and Sarabjit's family for taking a humanitarian view in this case." Home Minister Shinde and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi also met Singh's family in Delhi today.
I’m afraid this incident will further strain Indo-Pak relations which remain fragile ever since terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008. However, some people suspect that this has been done in view of upcoming elections in Pakistan and that Pakistanis avenged the hanging of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru in India.
I believe Sarabjit has simply paid the price for the ego tussle of both India and Pakistan. He’s been made a scapegoat to gratify two nations’ egos. But, we forget that at the end of the day he was also someone’s son, brother, and father. Today his family is in a state of shock and shattered. They’ve been the biggest losers of this ego tussle.
I have a vivid memory of my first interview with Sarabjit’s family whilst working for a news agency in 2011 at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi where his sister Dalbir Kaur and elder daughter Swapandeep Kaur were staging a protest demanding his release on humanitarian grounds. His family had recently returned from Pakistan after meeting Singh in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.
When I asked Swapandeep about her emotional reunion with her beloved father in Pakistan, she became nostalgic and began recollecting the moments she spent with her father in Pakistan.
Have you seen the sunshine and rain at the same time?
Swapandeep’s smiles and tears at that time could be compared to simultaneous sunshine and rain, with the only difference that she appeared to be more attractive. The happy little smiles which played on her visage seemed to be unaware of the tears hidden underneath her eyes. Truly speaking, once or twice she uttered with some difficulty the name of her ‘father’. She had to exert herself to speak that word out loud as if it put a burden upon her heart.
"He was ecstatic to be in my company, even though for a little while. But, I found it difficult to see him in that wretched condition… He has become so frail. It’s been 20 years since he’s been in jail. For how long will he suffer like this? Anyone who has any pity in his heart would find it impossible to endure his sufferings." Kaur exclaimed.
Two months later, I was interviewing another grief-stricken family in New Delhi, but this time from across the border. It was the family of the 80-year-old Pakistani virologist Khalil Chishty who was undergoing life imprisonment in an Indian jail and whose wife, daughter, and grandson had come to India to seek his release on humanitarian grounds.
Chishty was awarded life sentence by a court in Ajmer in 2011 in a case of murder. His 23-year-old grandson Syed Ali Ghalib Chishty, a chartered accountancy student in Karachi, recalled his emotional reunion with his grandfather in an Ajmer jail hospital.
“He is very weak and can’t even walk. At this age he needs our support and care. For the last 19 years he's been in prison.”
“India in any case will have to send back my grandfather dead or alive one day. So why don’t they send him back alive? This goodwill gesture will only improve relations between the two countries,” he exclaimed in sombre vein.
His words reminded me of Swapandeep Kaur. The similarities between these two cases grabbed my attention. Both Chishty and Singh had been languishing in Indian and Pakistani jails for the last 20 years and their loved ones had been running from pillar to post seeking their freedom. It shows despite being divided by man-made borders, our plights and sufferings remain the same. The only difference is that today Dr Khalil Chishty is with his loved ones in Karachi whilst Sarabjeet Singh is no more. He was brutally battered and killed by his fellow jail inmates.
Nonetheless, I was glad to know that Dr Chishty was acquitted by India’s Supreme Court and repatriated to Pakistan in good health. I also felt a sense of satisfaction for playing a small, albeit vital part in his release.
However, after his release Sarabjit’s family had hoped that taking note of India’s friendly move Pakistani government would make a similar fraternal gesture and repatriate him back to India. But, perhaps Providence had something else in store for him: a brutal death.
The words of Shakespeare’s character Gloucester from his play King Lear ring inside my head when I think of Sarabjit Singh’s last moments. Gloucester, on the verge of his death, says:
[Kneeling] O you mighty Gods!
This world I do renounce, and in your sights,
Shake patiently my great affliction off;
If I could bear it longer, and not fall,
To quarrel with your great oppose less wills,
My snuff and loathed part of nature should,
Burn itself out. If they live, O, bless them!
Now, fellow, fare thee well.
Fare thee well, Sarabjit Singh!
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