Whether he was a spy or a farmer who had crossed the border innocently – Sarabjit Singh has become a martyr in his death at the hands of criminals in a Lahore jail.
Dalbir Kaur,the feisty sister of the 49-year-old Singh,his wife and two daughters,may have lost their battle to bring him home back alive but his death has brought into sharp focus the suspected role of state agencies and non-state actors vis a vis India.
Sarbjit family says he had crossed the Indo-Pak border inadvertently in an inebriated condition 23 years ago.
He was arrested in Pakistan by the army in 1990 by the name of Manjit Singh.
Accused of being an Indian spy,he was charged with plotting a series of bomb blasts in 1989 at Lahore and Multan,convicted and was sentenced to death.
Sarabjit was tried by several successive courts and was awarded death penalty. His trial was based on a confessional statement which the Pakistani authorities claim he gave during the course of the investigation.
However,Sarabjit said during the trial in court that he was a farmer on the Indian side of the border and strayed into Pakistan while he was drunk.
A few years ago,his elder sister Dalbir Kaur mounted a valiant but unsuccessful bid for freedom for Sarabjit Singh. She joined hands with civil rights activists in Pakistan like Asma Jehangir and Ansar Burney,made trips across the border almost appeared to succeed. Mercy petitions were filed with President.
But Sarabjit,a death row convict in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail,could not survive the attack by fellow prisoners in what is believed by some as a revenge against the execution of Mumbai terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab in India last year.
Kaur was joined in Pak by Sarabjit Singh’ wife Sukhpreet Kaur (around 45) and two daughters Swapandeep Kaur and Poonam,both in their mid twenties.
The two daughters were minors when their father crossed over to Pakistan and had his first glimpse in 2008 when they went to Pakistan with their mother and aunt.
Dalbir Kaur,who went to Pakistan a couple of times,visited her brother in Kot Lakhpat Jail two years ago.
Earlier Kaur had visited Pakistan on April 23,2008 along with her husband Baldev Singh,Singh’s two daughters Swpandeep Kaur and Poonam,Singh’s wife Sukhpreet Kaur.
Swpandeep Kaur got married while her father was in jail. His wife Sukhpreet Kaur is an employee in the Guru Nanak Dev University here.
Dalbir Kaur said that her brother Sarabjit Singh had inadvertently in a state of inebriated crossed over to Pakistan and reached Kasoor district of Lahore in Pakistan in June 1990.
She claimed that he had crossed over from the Khalra Border Sector located near their Bikhiwind village. In 1990 there used to be no fencing on the Indo Pak international border as it is now.
Dalbir Kaur said she received a letter from Sarabjit in 1991,one year after he was jailed,stating that the Lahore police had framed him in the series of bomb blasts cases that rocked different provinces of Pakistan.
He was arrested on the fake name Manjit Singh instead of his real name Sarabjit Singh as he had no documents with him to prove his identity when he had crossed over to Pakistan.
However,on March 9,2006,a two-member Supreme Court bench of Pakistan had dismissed Singh’s petition against the sentence for his alleged involvement in carrying out four bomb blasts at Lahore in 1990 that killed 14 people.
Sarabjit was lodged in Kot Lakhpat Jail and was set to be hanged April 1,2008 but the authorities put this off after the then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sought to examine the issue following clemency appeals from India.
So far five clemency appeals were filed for Sarbjit Singh. The fifth appeal that was filed last year included a document with the signatures of 100,000 Indians.
Sarabjit Singh had sent several letters to his family through his counsel Awais Sheikh who visited India frequently.
In one of the letters to Sonia Gandhi,Singh alleged that he was being maltreated in the prison in Pakistan,being served unhygienic food that was not fit to be eaten.
Last year he alleged that he was routinely ill-treated and taunted by jail officials and complained of lack of medical facility.
In 2006,Kaur attempted suicide to mount pressure on the Indian Government to get his brother released. With timely intervention of doctors,she was saved.
Later,she met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking help.
In between,she replaced advocate Abdul Hamid Rana fighting case of Sarabjit Singh in Pakistan because he sought Rs. 10 Lakh to pursue the case. She then engaged another advocate Awais Sheikh.
Kaur also brought the case of her brother to the notice of Asma Jahangir.
On the recommendation of the Congress President Sonia Gandhi,the Punjab Government led by the then Congress Chief Minister Amarinder Singh gave a job to Sukhpreet Kaur.
Pakistan’s human rights activist Ansar Burney,against whom Dalbir Kaur today levelled allegations of demanding money,also worked on her behalf to secure the release of Sarbjit Singh.
In 2009,Swapandeep Kaur,daughter of Sarabjit Singh apprehended threat from her foster mother (Dalbir Kaur) for marrying a non-Jat Sikh.
Then the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP),Tarn Taran,to grant police protection to Swapandeep Kaur who had petitioned the High Court seeking security after marrying Sanjay,a Jalandhar based resident. Later,the matter was resolved amicably as all miss-understandings were cleared within the family.
Last week,Sarabjit was attacked by fellow jail inmates in Lahore and inflicted fatal head injuries with sharp edged weapons. He succumbed to his injuries in the wee hours today.