Residents of Bhikhiwind remember Sarabjit Singh as a cheerful young man fond of wrestling,and in many ways as just another youth belonging to one of any of the poor families in this township in Tarn Taran,50 km from Amritsar.
He was my childhood friend and a good wrestler, says Satpal,who runs Pehalwan Dhaba on Khalra Roan in Bhikhiwind. We used to spent most of our time together. We went regularly to the akhara where wrestlers contest,but once he went missing I could no longer bring myself to go there.
Satpal choked on his words: He never hurt anyone…. he helped anyone who asked,despite being poor.
In June 2012,Bhikhiwind had burst crackers in anticipation of Sarabjits release. We also distributed sweets after those incorrect reports that he was being released by the Pakistan government. Today we have woken up to this news, Satpal says.
Mahal Singh too describes Sarabjit as a nice man and recalls how all of Bhikhiwind stood by the family since the news of his arrest. Gurbir Singh is too young to have met Sarabjit,his uncle,but has heard from his elders how cheerful he was. Harjinder Singh,the sarpanch,echoes many others in their description of Sarabjit: as simple as any other man,no rivals,and totally family-oriented.
Residents have been crowding the house since the news came. The family fought so hard for his release, says Dilbagh Singh. All of it went waste.
Over the years,Sarabjits hometown had witnessed several protests on his behalf,while his sister took the movement beyond Bhikhiwind and eventually to Pakistan. The attack on him last month,too,had sparked protests with locals raising anti-Pakistan slogans and burning effigies. They had also observed a bandh in protest against the attack.
On Thursday,after news of the death broke,shops in Bhikhiwind once again downed shutters while residents burnt effigies.