For the family of 48-year-old Gurdip Singh, the last 24 hours have been a roller-coaster ride of grief and joy.
The family got a call from an embassy official around midnight on Thursday, saying Singh had been executed, 11 years after he was sentenced to death following a conviction on drug-related charges in Indonesia.
But a second phone call changed everything as the official explained Singh had escaped the firing squad. Hours later, Singh called up wife Kulwinder Kaur, who had spent the night mourning in her house in Nakodar, 28 km from Jalandhar.
“I am content and relieved now,” Kulwinder said after hearing her husband’s voice again.
Singh, a truck driver, was found guilty of smuggling 300 grams of heroin into Indonesia in 2004 and was sentenced to death in 2005. He was sentenced along with a Brazilian though prosecutors recommended a 20-year jail term for him.
His appeals against the death penalty were turned down by Banten high court and the Supreme Court. Kaur said she had requested foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to do everything possible.
Singh’s family belongs to Uttar Pradesh but Kaur and her two children have been staying in Nakodar with a steady stream of visitors expressing solidarity.
Singh had wanted to go to New Zealand in 2002 to seek employment as a driver but got stuck in Indonesia “as his agent cheated him”, Kaur said.
According to Kaur, Singh was arrested in 2004 as the agent, who belonged to Uttar Pradesh, did not give him back his passport and then “made him do the crime”. She also blamed an unnamed “Pakistani agent” for his imprisonment.
Kaur now works in the packing section of a local candy-manufacturing unit to support her family. “In the last 12 years, he used to call every two or three months with the embassy’s help,” the 41-year-old said.
She said his younger brother Gurpreet Singh, who lives in Dehradun, had met him in jail in Indonesia through the embassy two years ago.
“We married in 1995 and he (Gurdip) went back to Libya for a driver’s job after a few months of marriage.” He returned after three years before leaving again in 2002 with the aim to reach New Zealand.
Their daughter Manjot, a student of Class 11 in a local private school, said she was four years old when her father left them to earn better.
She said she wants to go to college and dreamt that her father would come to support her education.
His son Sukhbir Singh (14) never met his father as he was born after Singh left a pregnant Kaur behind to explore his chances of going to New Zealand via the Southeast Asia route.