It was for 22 years, eight months and four days that she fought for her kid brother’s release till his body came in from Pakistan in a coffin.
For all those years, her high-pitch theatrics and deft VIP management kept the focus on Sarabjit Singh, a victim of an identity crisis — a soldier, terrorist, martyr, spy? Or simply a drunken villager who strayed across the border?
Killed by inmates in a Lahore jail, Sarabjit’s story has ended, for now. But the story of Dalbir Kaur has just begun. Is she a politically motivated sister feeding on Sarabjit Singh’s misfortune?
The truth is somewhere between her commitment to Sarabjit and what life had taught a moderately educated Dalit woman from a small town in Punjab.
There’s, for sure, something unsettling about Dalbir as she doesn’t look the stereotype of a small-town schoolteacher — she is smarter, as she entered politics to make her brother’s case heard and managed to get the media and the VIP on her side.
Daughter of a lower middle class hymn singer at Bhikhiwind in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, Dalbir became a teacher, as “I liked playing ‘teacher-teacher’ as a child”. Her next step towards a normal life was marriage with Baldev Singh of a nearby village in 1976 — “the year ‘Laila Majnu’ was released”.
But her marriage didn’t work out because she refused to have her own children as she was more attached to her brother — nine years younger than her — than anybody else.
For Dalbir, life was a series of minor revolts till August 28, 1990 when Sarabjit disappeared. Nine months on, she got a letter from him, saying he had strayed into Pakistan in a drunken state and was in a Pakistani jail. Later that year, he was sentenced to death.
Dalbir said, “That’s when I braced myself for a long fight.” Her Congress connection got her an appointment with then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, she became more active in party although she had headed the Punjab Congress Seva Dal in the late 1980s.
When her brother sent a photograph of himself in chains, asking her to get them removed, she put up quite a show in front of television cameras, threatening to hang herself if nothing was done for Sarabjit.
Since BJP MPs Avinash Rai Khanna and Navjot Sidhu got her a short stint of celebrity outside Parliament, she even joined the BJP, only to return to the Congress before the 2007 Punjab polls.
Her next move was to meet Sarabjit in Pakistan in 2008 and also some Pakistani leaders. The woman from Bhikiwind got the Pakistan government to put off Sarabjit’s hanging.
On June 26, 2012, Pakistan announced Sarabjit’s release, but backtracked and released Surjit Singh, instead. And less than a year later, Sarabjit was gone.
Dalbir didn’t show her sense of defeat. She called Sarabjit a victim of dirty politics and blamed the government. Many agreed.
But she quickly performed a perfect somersault — as life taught her a few canny moves — diverting her anger to Pakistan: “Cut off all relations. Teach Pakistan a lesson. They have more to lose.”
Her latest move — her detractors call it smart and sleek — is to float an NGO. She said, “It will also help me fund my mission to save others like Sarabjit.” But there’s more to come. Will she contest elections on a Congress ticket? She smiles. It could mean anything. (With Aseem Bassi)