Sarabjit's daughter and sister watching news on TV at their residence in Jalandhar on Friday. Pardeep Pandit/HT
Indian death row convict Sarabjit Singh, assaulted by inmates at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail, remained critical and comatose on Saturday as his family in India prepared to leave for Pakistan after their visas were confirmed.
Doctors at Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital said the 49-year-old’s condition had improved slightly but he remained critical and the next few days were crucial. They said they were unable to operate at this stage and were waiting for him to stabilise. Singh — on death row for 22 years — is on life support with serious head injuries.
His sister Dalbir Kaur, wife Sukhpreet Kaur and daughters Swapandeep and Poonam will leave their Amritsar home for Pakistan on Sunday. The Pakistan high commission has granted them visas for 15 days “to Lahore and Nankana Sahib on priority basis”, the mission’s spokesperson in New Delhi said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed the attack “very sad” and minister of state for home affairs RPN Singh said the Centre had lodged a protest with Pakistan’s foreign office. “We want an explanation… It is Pakistan’s responsibility to ensure Indians in their jails are safe,” he said.
Sarabjit Singh's daughter Swapandeep Kaur and his sister Dalbir Kaur break down after hearing the news about an attack on him in Kot Lakhpat Rai Jail in Pakistan, at their residence in Jalandhar. HT/Pardeep Pandit
“My father had written to us saying he was being mentally tortured and given poison. Ever since Afzal Guru’s hanging, he claimed he was in greater danger and an inmate had threatened to stab him,” Swapandeep said. The family demanded a change of hospitals too, saying “we have come to know Jinnah Hospital is not fully equipped to handle such cases”.
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid said India would offer Pakistan any assistance it may need in treating Singh while continuing to push hard to bring him home.
Indian high commission officials are at the hospital and in regular contact with the medical board, government sources said.
They also said India had asked Islamabad to enhance Singh's security several times, the last request being made recently in light of the execution of 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab and Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. Last month, another Indian prisoner, Chamel Singh, had died under mysterious circumstances in the same jail.
There are around 220 civilian prisoners and 400 Indian fishermen behind bars in Pakistan.
The attack on Sarabjit came on a day when two retired Indian judges — part of a joint judicial committee to ensure humane treatment for prisoners from the two countries — visited a Karachi jail.
MA Khan and AS Gill are expected to travel to jails in Lahore and Rawalpindi over the next few days.
Taking the opportunity to hit out at the government, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi said, "The Sarabjit issue should not be seen in isolation. Incidents such as the Italian marines, the beheading of our soldiers (by Pakistani troops) or China's misadventure on our land are ample proof of the failure of the UPA's foreign policy."