Leaving aside a glimmer of hope that continued merely for five hours on June 26, 2012, the rest 22 years have been a dark journey for the family of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh.
Sarabjit's sister Dalbir Kaur handing over passports of her family to Indian SC commission vice president Dr Raj Kumar Verka in Amritsar. HT/Munish Byala
August 28, 1990, this was the day that Sarabjit Singh, as per his family went in routine to the fields near Indo-Pak border in Khalra and never returned back.
Looking for him desperately for few days, the family reported the matter to the police after 5-6 days. And with no clues about Sarabjit, it was a letter from Singh after nine months of disappearance that shook the family, as it mentioned that Sarabjit was held by Pakistani forces and was in a Pakistani jail.
More than 22 years, things haven’t changed and it has been a story of hope and despair for the family that has struggled hard ever since Sarabjit was nabbed in Pakistan.
Led by the gritty sister Dalbir Kaur, the family has knocked endless doors met about 150 top politicians, given dharnas, hunger strikes, offered prayers but things haven’t changed.
Ever Since Pakistan’s Court had ordered hanging of Sarabjit in year 1991 for alleged involvement in serial blasts that killed 14 persons, the family has been fighting a legal battle for two decades across the border.
From meeting former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and making appeals to President Asif Ali Zardari, Human Rights activist Ansar Burney, the family has raised its voice vociferously across the fence.
Nothing changed. However, the family including Sarabjit’s Sister Dalbir Kaur, wife Sukhpreet Kaur and daughters Poonam and Swapandeep crossed over to Pakistan in year 2008 to meet Sarabjit after 18 years.
It was a 48 minute meeting and at that time too Sarabjit, who was in a solitary cell was not brought out of the cell.
As it has been a long struggle, the only hope came for the family on June 26, 2012 when news flashed that Pakistan has decided to set free Sarabjit Singh and will be walking home anytime.
Sweets were exchanged, there were drumbeats in his native village Bhikhiwind and even plans were made to welcome Sarabjit. But this jubilation shockingly turned shock when Pakistan Government after five hours announced that, it was another prisoner Surjit Singh who is supposed to be released and not Sarabjit.
As this struggle for over two decades may have given a lot of tough time to the family but one thing they have not lost is hope. But this incident where Sarabjit was brutally attacked by inmates and put him in a life threatening situation has cracked the morale of family in a big way.
Talking to HT, Sukhpreet Kaur, wife of Sarabjit said, “My elder daughter Swapandeep was two and a half years old and my younger daughter was just 23 days old when my husband suddenly disappeared. He was a farmer and the only earning hand. It was only after nine months that we came to knew through a letter that my husband was in Pakistani jail.”
Since then it has been very tough. My sister in law Dalbir Kaur has been a strong support. But bringing up two daughters without a husband is very tough in this world. I had to work in houses to keep my family moving, she added.
Definitely, the fight over two decades has put our life on a hold. But we never lost hope. This incident of attack on my husband has broken me badly. I just want to be with him and appeal to Pakistani Government that he has gone through a lot and shall be released on humanitarian grounds, she mentioned.
In shock Dalbir Kaur said, “I have fought a long battle. Numerous appeals were made and rejected but we never gave up. This attack is tough to handle. Now I just want my brother back, it can’t get worse.”
As Pakistan Court had convicted Sarabjit in a serial blast case, the family since years has been stressing that Sarabjit is a case of mistaken identity. In Pakistan, Sarabjit is mentioned as Manjit Singh, even in the FIR.
The family has sent all proofs that Sarabjit’s case was of mistaken identity but Pakistan is yet to be convinced.
August 28, 1990: Sarabjit Singh crosses over to Pakistan.
Nine months later: Family receives his letter that he was in a Pakistani jail.
Year 1991: A court in Pakistan pronounces death sentence for Sarabjit for alleged involvement in serial blasts that killed 14 persons.
2006: Sarabjit’s petition to review his death sentence rejected.
2008: Former Pakistani President Parvez Musharraf rejects mercy petition of Sarabjit.
April 2008: Family of Sarabjit meets him Lahore Jail.
May 2008: Pakistan Government puts on hold Sarabjit’s execution for indefinite period.
June 26, 2012: News of Sarabjit release flashes. Pak takes U-turn after five hours.
April 26, 2013: Sarabjit attacked in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail.