The never-say-despair spirit has become the hallmark of the family of Sarabjit Singh over the years. Despite the escalating India-Pakistan border tension after the killing of two Indian jawans on the Line of Control, they still hope he will soon walk free from a Pakistani jail where he has been lodged for over 22 years.
Indeed, their optimism has outlived the all-too-frequent twists and turns in the saga of the man who was sentenced to death by the Pakistani authorities for his alleged involvement in the 1990 serial bomb blasts in Lahore and Faisalabad that killed 14 people. Sarabjit, on the other hand, claims that he is victim of mistaken identity who strayed into Pakistan from his village located on the border, three months after the bombings.
Though the family acknowledges that the talk of his release in the past has been followed by disappointment, Poonam, his 22-year-old daughter, remains unfazed. In June last, news of his imminent release had been denied within hours as the Pakistani authorities said another Indian prisoner, Surjeet Singh, was being set free instead.
Despite these ups and downs, Poonam is looking forward to a reunion with her father who went missing when she was just 23 days' old.
On Friday, she was in Lucknow along with Sarabjit's sister Dalbir Kaur and his Pakistan-based lawyer Awais Sheikh for the release of Sheikh's book 'Sarabjit Singh ki Ajeeb Dastan' (Sarabjit SinghA Case Mistaken Identity).
She says all that she has as memories of her father are a 48minute-long meeting in a Pakistani jail four years ago and about a dozen letters.
Her aunt Dalbir, however, betrays some sense of disappointment over the recent border incidents when she says: “Pata nahi humare sath hi aesa quohotahai?Harbaarjabmere bhaiki rihai ki umeed jagti hai to kuch na kuchaesa ho hi jata hai…( Don't know why something ill happens everytime we have high hopes of his return?)”
But the note of apprehension does not last long. Sheikh, who has been fighting for justice for Sarabjit for four years, says, “The papers for his release are ready. All that is needed is a signature by the (Pakistan) President to free Sarabjit who has been a victim of confrontation between the two nations.” The family last met Sarabjit in a Pakistani jail in 2008 and was shocked to see the inhuman conditions in which he lived.
"He recognised me right away. I had thought he wouldn't. It was my first meeting with him. He asked me
to study hard because he wanted me to become an IPS officer," says Poonam. "We had taken baingan ka bharta, bhindi ki sabzi, gujhia, aaloo paratha and karele ki sabzi for the meeting. But when he passed us a broken bowl from behind the bars to collect his favourite food, we could not control our tears," she recalls.
Earlier too, in his letters to the family, Sarabjit had mentioned the harsh conditions he was living in. "He wrote to me…Didi, unhone mujhe zanjeeron se bandh kar rakha hai…ye zanjeerein mujhe bahut chubhti hain..mein theek se baith nahi pata, let nahi pata…," says Dalbir who has been supporting her brothers' family.
The family, along with the lawyer, is touring the country with the book which is a part of the Free Sarabjit campaign. Sheikh says, "We did a book release in Delhi and are now in Lucknow. We will move to other parts of the country. I am sure the book will help building support for Sarabjit and he will be free very soon."