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Sarabjit cremated with state honours as politicians hog the limelight

CNN-IBN
May 03, 2013 at 03:39pm IST

Bhikhiwind: Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh was cremated on Friday with full state honours at his village in Bhikhiwind near Amritsar amidst heavy presence of politicians. Among those present at the funeral were Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.

The Punjab government had announced a financial assistance of Rs 1 crore for the family of Sarabjit and declared a three-day state mourning. Flags will fly half mast on all government buildings and there will be no official ceremonial functions during this period, an official spokesman said. Centre also announced ex-gratia payment of Rs 25 lakh for Sarabjit's family from Prime Minister's Relief Fund.

ALSO SEE India angered over Sarabjit's death in Pakistan, BJP targets Centre

The Punjab government had announced that Sarabjit Singh would be given a state-level funeral. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal 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.

Sarabjit Singh's sister Dalbir Kaur, who fought for Sarabjit's release from Pakistan for 23 years, performed the last rites. Grieving his death, his sister Dalbir Kaur called for snapping all ties with Pakistan.

ALSO SEE Sarabjit's body handed over to family after post-mortem

"India must give a suitable response and snap all entertainment, sporting and trade ties. There should be no dialogue with Pakistan," Dalbir Kaur said.

She also said that the Indian government acted too late. "The Indian government acted late. Something should have been done earlier," she said. "I never thought Pakistan would be so brutal. I have no information about the autopsy," she added

ALSO SEE Sarabjit murder: Indian prisoners in Pak fear for their lives

She also added that she will continue her fight for other Indians in Pakistani jails. "My fight will continue for all the other Sarabjits who are still languishing in Pakistani jails," Dalbir Kaur said.

Sarabjit's body reached his home at night via a special government plane after another post-mortem was conducted at an Amritsar hospital. Sarabjit's body was airlifted to his village and sent to Government Hospital at Patti where a team of six doctors of government-run Amritsar Medical college conducted the second post-mortem. The second post-mortem was conducted as per his family's wish to "know the cause behind his death".

ALSO SEE Snap entertainment, sporting ties with Pakistan: Sarabjit's sister

The details of the autopsy conducted in Amritsar will be revealed on Friday at 4:30 pm by the team of doctors. "We have noted the injuries. There are injuries on the head and other body parts. We'll look at the report of the post-mortem conducted in Pakistan," said Dr Gurmatjeet.

However, it is unclear if Pakistan will share its own autopsy report with India. Questions are still being raised on whether Sarabjit was taken off the ventilator without permission from his family. Doctors in Pakistan claim that he had a heart attack and only then was he taken off the ventilator.

Sarabjit, the second Indian prisoner to die in Pakistan's Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore this year, was brutally attacked last Friday last by six fellow inmates when he and other prisoners were brought out of their cells for a break.

India outraged over Sarabjit's death in Pakistan

Sarabjit'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 on Thursday. 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."

Rebutting the charge as "completely unfounded and politically motivated", Congress MP 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.

Pakistan maintains there was no conspiracy involved

Pakistan continues to maintain that there was no conspiracy involved. Najam Sethi, the caretaker Chief Minister of Pakistan's Punjab, spoke to CNN-IBN's Karan Thapar and said, "The jail authorities and administration were not expecting anything like this. There was not even a hint that such a threat might be posed. We were more worried about terrorism and attacks on the jail from the outside."

When asked if this was a conspiracy, Sethi said, "I don't think it's the case. Everything that I read on the subject from internal sources suggests that this was an act by two prisoners on death row and if you know thhe mental state or the health of prisoners on death row and their interactions with Sarabjit during the time they were together, I don't think there is iota of truth in this suspicion."

How it happened

Dalbir Kaur, who went to Pakistan a couple of times, 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.

Pakistani prisoner attacked in a Jammu jail

A day after Indian convict Sarabjit Singh died of a cardiac arrest in a Pakistan hospital following an assault by his fellow inmates in a Lahore jail, a Pakistani prisoner was beaten up by other inmates in a Jammu jail on Friday. The prisoner Sanaullah Haq was attacked by his fellow inmates in a cell of Central Jail Kotbhalwal on Friday morning.

The Pakistani prisoner is reported to have been severely injured and has been admitted to Jammu's government medical college. Officials says he is in the ICU and his condition is deteriorating.

(With additional information from PTI)

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