This March, as Pakistanis cheered their cricket team in their big match against India at Mohali, thousands of miles away, a man from Mohali was freeing two Pakistanis from the jaws of death.
SP Singh Oberoi was submitting pardon money to a court in Sharjah to free a group of 10 men — two of them Pakistani — from the jaws of death. “I was paying money to save eight Indians. How could I leave the two Pakistanis in the same group?” he asked.
This was not the first time this Indian helped a Pakistani prisoner escape the gallows. Oberoi, a Dubai-based businessman, has been promoting his own brand of ‘Aman ki Asha’, working tirelessly to help those embroiled in death cases in the UAE. Whether the worker happens to be Indian or Pakistani doesn’t make a difference to him.
Currently, he is pursuing four cases in which six Pakistani blue—collar workers have been charged with murder. He is paying pardon money (diya) to earn their freedom.
The death sentences for two Pakistanis — Mohammed Ansar Chaudhary from Azad Kashmir and Sahid Hussain Ifthreen Rana from Multan — have already been waived by a Sharjah court. These men, along with eight Indian Punjabis, were involved in bootlegging, which led to the murder of Pakistani worker Mumtaz Yousuf. In some labour camps on the outskirts of Dubai, procuring and selling liquor is a flourishing, albeit illegal, trade. Different groups of workers operate in their own areas, and understandably, one group doesn’t allow the other to enter their area. But trouble erupts when this unwritten rule is breached. Intrusions lead to clashes and violence. When the fight becomes really brutal, deaths occur, as on this occasion. Though the Dubai police keep a close eye on such activities, these incidents have been fairly common.
Oberoi has submitted pardon documents in another case in which two Pakistani workers, alongside a Bangladeshi and seven Indian Punjabis, have been charged with the murder of an Indian. As of now, Oberoi has paid Rs18 lakhs as pardon money to get the three Pakistani prisoners released.
So did the idea that these men belong to an ‘enemy’ country cross his mind? “I never think like that. My focus is on saving human lives, whether Indian or Pakistani. These men are victims of circumstances, driven to such crimes by poverty and desperation. They come from lower middle class families and take loans to travel abroad to make a living,” says Oberoi. He offers help to those who have no one else to fight their cases. “To help someone in distress is being human. I value the common heritage of the neighbouring countries, especially in Punjab on both the sides, people have similar eating habits, language and lifestyle.”
Though he helps Pakistani prisoners, he has never received support from Pakistan’s embassy. “I have never been contacted by the Pakistani embassy for any of these cases and I have never approached them either.”
In Mumtaz Yousuf’s murder case, Oberoi says it was not easy to convince Mohmmad Yousuf, the victim’s father, to pardon the murderers of his 23-year-old son in exchange for Diya. “It took me seven months to convince Mumtaz Yousuf’s family,” says Oberoi who arranged for the visas, air tickets and accommodations for Mohammad Yousuf and his relative Kashif Imran in Dubai. “Mohammad Yousuf stayed here for two months attending court hearings but wasn’t ready for a compromise.”
Oberoi then tried to convince him that if he accepted the blood money he could prevent 10 families — the families of the accused — from going through the pain that he had been through. “I told him that the money could never bring his son back but it would certainly help Mumtaz Yousuf’s seven siblings and secure their future. Eventually he agreed,” says Oberoi.
On February 1, 2011, Oberoi and Mohmmad Yousuf appeared in court and the jury was informed that he is ready to pardon all the 10 men. “It was an agonising decision; I don’t want these families to experience the pain that I’m going through,” Yusuf told the court. The jury accepted the request and the verdict was finally delivered on March 27, when the death penalty was waived.
Oberoi has come to the conclusion that blue -collared workers, both from India and Pakistan, are victims of adverse circumstances: “Most of these crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol. I do not blame the boys. They come after paying so much money to agents. It is the economic condition of these workers that force them to get on the wrong side of the law. Most of the time, they fall in the trap of making easy money without realising the gravity of the situation,” he says. At the same time, Oberoi maintains that he only helps those who are stuck in unfortunate circumstances and do not have the resources to save themselves. “I can never think of helping those involved in rape, drug cases and intentional murder cases.”
Oberoi also says that the Indian and Pakistani embassies are doing whatever they can to improve the situation despite limited resources and manpower. “We must realise that, because of the number of Indian and Pakistani workers in the UAE, it is impossible to monitor each and every case. My experience is that whenever anything comes to their notice, they do try their best to help workers.”
In this respect he believes that Indian and Pakistani communities in the UAE have a larger role to play in helping such people. “Besides creating awareness about life, laws and conditions in the UAE, I think communities here should arrange orientation courses back home to help those planning to come here,” he says.
Local communities can also pool in resources and help in fighting cases where workers have been wrongly implicated or in cases where they know for sure that they are innocent. “The real problem is communication and lack of knowledge of local laws.”
However, Oberoi has only praise for the Dubai and Sharjah police authorities who have always supported him. “They are very cooperative and whenever I visit a jail to meet the accused, they support and respect me. They only want to carry out justice.”
WHO IS SP SINGH OBEROI?
SP Singh Oberoi originally belongs to Mohali, Chandigarh. He is chairman and managing director of Apex Group of Companies. Back in India, Singh is involved in several humanitarian activities in Indian Punjab and organises mass marriages for the less privileged. He has sponsored more than 6,000 marriages — approximately 4,000 Sikh marriages, around 2,000 Hindu marriages and 160 nikahs as per Muslim traditions. He also sponsors underprivileged students in Punjab, pays their full expenses from 10+2 years of school, 4 years of engineering and then secures jobs for them in Dubai. Apart from running the NGO Esoterics Foundation, working on various environmental awareness programmes, Oberoi is constructing a charitable school and hostel for children with special needs in Patiala.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 15th, 2011.
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