New Delhi: Sarabjit Singh's death following a brutal attack in a Pakistani jail triggered protests across India on Wednesday, with people hitting the streets in Jammu, Punjab, Bihar and Kolkata. A candlelight vigil was held in Jammu. In Kolkata, people burnt effigies of Paksitan president Asif Ali Zardari while in Patna, BJP workers shouted slogans against the UPA government and the Pakistani establishment.
The news of his death also led to a political slugfest with the BJP blaming "weak" foreign policy and "diplomatic failure" of UPA, a charge dismissed as politically motivated by Congress which accused opposition of shedding crocodile tears.
Condemning the incident, BJP President Rajnath Singh said, "...Congress-led UPA government has tarnished the image of India at the international fora and has sent the message that India is a weak nation. "It has given rise to the perception in the world that whatever activities take place against India, it will not even react to them."
Protesters hit the streets in Kolkata, Patna, Punjab and Jammu, where a candlelight march was held in memory of Sarabjit Singh.
Rebutting the charge as "completely unfounded and politically motivated", Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said that the BJP and the NDA have "no right to make these charges" as they did not raise Sarabjit's issue even once when they were in power at the centre.
He said that though he is of the firm belief that the issues of foreign affairs should not be seen from UPA versus NDA perspective, he is compelled to make the point as BJP was levelling allegations. "The NDA government could not ensure even consular success to Sarabjeet," he said.
Dikshit added that while the NDA government never mentioned it even once during the meetings with Pakistan leadership when they were in power, it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who for the first time took up the issue in a meeting with the Pakistani leadership in New York. Union Minister Manish Tewary also hit back at the opposition party saying it was seeking to politicise even something as tragic as the death of an Indian citizen who has been brutally murdered.
"I would like to respectfully ask the BJP what they did when they were in power. They are shedding crocodile tears now, but did not even lift a single little finger to even provide consular access to Sarabjit," he said.
Sarabjit's body flown to Amritsar, taken for autopsy
The special Air India plane carrying Indian death row convict Sarabjit Singh's body landed in Amritsar on Thursday evening at 7.50 pm. Sarabjit's body was received by MoS External Affairs Preneet Kaur and Punjab government officials.
A few hours after landing, his body was flown in a Indian Air Force helicopter to his ancestral village Bhikiwind and taken for autopsy.
The body will be cremated with full state honours in Bhikhiwind on Friday.
PM demands justice from Pakistan
India erupted in anger over the barbaric attack on Sarabjit in a Lahore jail that led to his hospitalisation and subsequent death. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanded justice from Pakistan.
"I am deeply saddened by the passing away of Sarabjit Singh. He was a brave son of India who bore his tribulations with valiant fortitude," the prime minister said in a statement.
The Prime Minister demanded that "the criminals responsible for the barbaric and murderous attack on Sarabjit must be brought to justice".
Ties with Pak will continue: India
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday ruled out internationalising Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh's death following the brutal assault in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail even as 215 fishermen and 55 other Indian nationals continue to languish in Pakistani prisons as of January 1, 2013.
MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin while addressing a press conference on Thursday in New Delhi said, "India and Pakistan are wedded to bilateralism and we will follow this pattern." He went on to give details about Indians still suspected to be in Pakistani jails. Akbaruddin said that the two countries exchange lists of prisoners belong to each other on January 1 each year.
The MEA spokesperson's statement came just hours after External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid indicated that the ties were likely to be hit. "I think it is a big question that in coming days we will have to examine and see how do we work."
How it happened
Dalbir Kaur, who went to Pakistan a couple of times, visited visited her brother in Kot Lakhpat jail two years ago. Earlier Kaur had visited Pakistan on April 23, 2008 along with her husband Baldev Singh, Singh's two daughters Swapandeep Kaur and Poonam, Singh's wife Sukhpreet Kaur. Swpandeep Kaur got married while her father was in jail at Lahore and her younger sister Poonam is also of marriageable age. His wife Sukhpreet Kaur is an employee in the Guru Nanak Dev University.
Dalbir Kaur said that her brother Sarabjit Singh had inadvertently in a inebriated state crossed over to Pakistan and reached Kasoor district of Lahore in Pakistan in June 1990. She claimed that he had crossed over from the Khalra Border Sector located near their Bikhiwind village. In 1990 there used to be no fencing on the Indo-Pak international border as it is now.
Dalbir Kaur Sarabjit Singh received a letter from Sarabjit in 1991, one year after he was jailed, stating that the Lahore police had framed him in the series of bomb blasts cases that rocked different provinces of Pakistan. He was arrested on the fake name Manjit Singh instead of his real name Sarabjit Singh as he had no documents with him to prove his identity when he had crossed over to Pakistan.
However, on March 9, 2006, a two-member Supreme Court bench of Pakistan dismissed Sarabjit's petition against the sentence for his alleged involvement in carrying out four bomb blasts at Lahore in 1990 that killed 14 people. Sarabjit was lodged in Kot Lakhpat jail and was set to be hanged April 1, 2008 but the authorities put this off after the then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sought to examine the issue following clemency appeals from India.
So far five clemency appeals were filed for Sarbjit Singh. The fifth appeal that was filed in 2012 included a document with the signatures of 100,000 Indians. Sarabjit Singh had sent several letters to his family through his counsel Awais Sheikh who visited India frequently. In one of the letters to Sonia Gandhi, Singh alleged that he was being maltreated in the prison in Pakistan, being served unhygienic food that was not fit to be eaten.
Last year, he alleged that he was routinely ill-treated and taunted by jail officials and complained of lack of medical facility. In 2006, Dalbir Kaur attempted suicide to mount pressure on the Indian Government to get his brother released. With timely intervention of doctors, she was saved. Later, she met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking help. In between, she replaced advocate Abdul Hamid Rana fighting case of Sarabjit Singh in Pakistan because he sought Rs 10 Lakh to pursue the case. She then engaged another advocate Awais Sheikh.
Kaur also brought the case of her brother to the notice of Asma Jahangir. On the recommendation of the Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the Punjab Government led by the then Congress Chief Minister Amarinder Singh gave a job to Sukhpreet Kaur, the wife of condemned prisoner Sarabjit Singh. Pakistan's human rights activist Ansar Burney, against whom Dalbir Kaur today levelled allegations of demanding money, also worked on her behalf to secure the release of Sarabjit Singh.
In 2009, Swapandeep Kaur, daughter of Sarabjit Singh apprehended threat from her foster mother (Dalbir Kaur) for marrying a non-Jat Sikh. Then the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Tarn Taran, to grant police protection to Swapandeep Kaur who had petitioned the High Court seeking security after marrying Sanjay, a Jalandhar based resident. Later, the matter was resolved amicably as all misunderstandings were cleared within the family.
Last week, Sarabjit was attacked by fellow jail inmates in Lahore and inflicted fatal head injuries with sharp-edged weapons. He succumbed to his injuries in the wee hours on Thursday. His family met Sarabjit as he lay comatose inside the ICU of Jinnah Hospital in Lahore. They returned to India on Wednesday, a day when India asked Pakistan to move Sarabjit to a third country, if not India, for better treatment.
Sarabjit will be cremated with full state honours: Punjab government
The Punjab government on Thursday announced that Sarabjit Singh, an Indian prisoner who died in a Lahore hospital after a brutal attack on him, would be given a state-level funeral after his body is handed over and brought back to India. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, in a statement, said that Sarabjit Singh would be given a state-level funeral after his body is brought back to India. He expressed anguish over the death of Sarabjit.
Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal also announced that both daughters of Sarabjit Singh would be given government jobs.
With additional information from PTI and IANS