Sarabjit may have lived a life of trials and then cremated as a martyr on his own land, but for the family of Flying Lt Gurdev Singh Rai, the hope of him being alive has meant a lifetime of uncertainty.
A native of Chak Sarvan Nath village on Chandigarh Road, about 25 km from Ludhiana, Rai had gone missing during the 1971 war, and his kin still claim he's one of the 54 prisoners of war (PoW) in Pakistan. The murder of Sarabjit, who was on death row for spying and blasts that killed 14 people, in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail has them worried, as they believe Rai is in the same jail.
Though as per rules the Indian Air Force had declared Rai a martyr in 1975 and also awarded Vir Chakra for his bravery, the family clings on to glimmers of hope.
His nephew Sukh Kanwar Singh told HT that first in 1982 a report in a Delhi newspaper named Gurdev Singh Rai as a PoW. In 1988, an Indian prisoner Mukhtyar Singh returned from Kot Lakhpat jail and told the family that he had seen Rai there. Later, Rai's sister in London claimed to have seen Rai in a documentary about prisoners of war. The Centre also tried some diplomatic means but Pakistan remains in denial, according to Sukh Kanwar.
Unmarried and all of 19 then, Rai had joined in the air force in 1965 and in 1971 war he was tasked with destroying Pak radars. On December 5, his aircraft lost contact with the headquarters and he was declared missing. On March 25, 1975, he was declared a martyr.
Sukh Kanwar said the state government had proposed to establish a memorial to Rai, but the family refused, as they believe he's still alive, 67 years old now. A government school in nearby Heran village is named after Rai.