Emotions ran high at the Attari border as Surjeet Singh stepped onto Indian soil after spending over 30 years in a Pakistani jail on Thursday, and promptly admitted that he had indeed been sent to spy for India.
Freed Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh, escorted by Pakistani security officials, waves before leaving Pakistan for India at the Wagah border. AFP/Arif Ali
Surjeet served a life term following his arrest on charges of spying in the 1980s in Pakistan. In 1985, he was given the death sentence, which was commuted to life imprisonment in 1989 by then Pakistan President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
Minutes after returning, at a press meet, Surjeet was asked about the reasons for which he went to Pakistan, and he first said, “Why do you people want me to speak about such things?” Pressed, he revealed that he had gone for “jasoosi (spying)”. He named the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) as his handler, and then said the army had sent him.
Promptly, border officials took him away to complete formalities, and he left with family and friends for Golden Temple in Amritsar.
During the press meet, to a question on the Sarabjit-Surjeet mix-up, he said that similar Urdu spellings of the names had led to the confusion.
Earlier, it was around 11.30am when Surjeet, wearing a white kurta-pyjama and sporting a flowing beard and black turban, was spotted on the Pakistani side by the large crowd on the Indian side that included his son and daughter.
Tears flowed as he walked towards the white line that separates two countries separated at birth. After thanking the Pakistani border officials, Surjeet was finally home. His son Kulwinder and daughter Parminder, who literally had to introduce themselves to their father, welcomed Surjeet with garlands and tearful hugs.
As he walked along further -- fuelling the euphoria with a beaming smile and waving to friends, family and the around 100 people from his native village Phidde in Ferozepur -- the melee got to loud and officials from the Border Security Force (BSF) whisked him away into a room for a while.
After he re-emerged, things settled down a tad, and sitting on a chair facing a battery of cameras, Surjeet finally answered the typical first question on how he was feeling: “I feel the way any man would feel after meeting his children and coming to his homeland after 30 years.”
On his condition in jail, he said, “A prisoner is a prisoner, you see. But I want to make one thing clear: Indian prisoners face no special problems in Pakistani jails. They are given facilities. They all are fine. Those who require medical attention get it. Yes, some are mentally upset; but they don’t face any overt problem.”
Then came the question and his concern for Sarabjit, and in the end he revealed that he was indeed a spy.
At the border to receive her husband, Harbans Kaur could not meet him at the border due to the rush. But her happiness knew no bounds: “Our family has gone through a lot. The kids were too young when he left. But today all the pains have vanished.”
After learning the he had been given the death sentence, which was later commuted to life term, the last time the family heard from him was in 2005, when another released prisoner Gurjit Singh brought a letter that said he was fine. Son Kulwinder said, “I was two years old when my father left. It is like seeing him for the first time in my life. I can’t explain the joy.”
Daughter Parminder said, “My mother played a big role in single-handedly bringing us up. I was 12 years old when my father left.”
A tale of two prisoners
| Surjeet Singh released