New Delhi: 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.
Meanwhile, 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 and the BJP called for scaling down diplomatic ties with the country. As an outraged government and political parties across the spectrum targeted Pakistan and showed solidarity with 49-year-old Sarabjit's family, questions were also raised on the future of Indo-Pak ties.
A shattered Dalbir Kaur, sister of Sarabjit, urged political parties to unite for a strong collective response to Pakistan. Kaur wanted her brother to be declared a martyr. Hailing Sarabjit as a "brave son of India", the PM said it was "particularly regrettable" that Pakistan did not heed pleas to take a humanitarian view of the prisoner's case. The prime minister underlined that the criminals responsible for "the barbaric and murderous attack must be brought to justice".
Asserting that Sarabjit's death was a killing of an Indian citizen while in the custody of Pakistan jail authorities, the External Affairs Ministry demanded that Pakistan conduct a thorough probe into the incident to ensure that those who are responsible were punished. BJP, while condemning the death of Sarabjit as a "cold blooded murder" assumed a strident tone demanding that India call back its High Commissioner in Pakistan and scale down diplomatic relations with the country.
"The Indian high commissioner in Pakistan should be called back for the time being until Pakistan gives credible assurances that it will not allow its territory to be used to promote terrorism against India and that all Indian prisoners are safe in Pakistani jails," he told reporters.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid when asked whether ties between India and Pakistan will be normal in the backdrop of Sarabjit death said, "I think it is a big question that in coming days we will have to examine and see how do we work." Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi visited the distraught family of Sarabjit at the residence of Rajumar Verka, Vice Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes. Rahul hugged Dalbir while offering his condolences.
While there was unanimity in holding Pakistan responsible for Sarabjit's death, the Indian government also came under attack from BJP, Trinamool Congress and Akali Dal for its "indifference" in handling of the Sarabjit episode.
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 Swpandeep 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