BIKHIWIND (TIP): The mortal remains of Sarabjit Singh, which were brought to his village here 23 years after he inadvertently crossed over to Pakistan, were consigned to flames on May 3 afternoon with state honours. Draped in the tricolour, the body of Sarabjit Singh was taken to the cremation ground from the village school in a procession. Sarabjit’s family members performed his last rites. Union minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur, an MP from Patiala, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, his deputy Sukhbir Badal and a number of leaders attended the last rites of Sarabjit. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also attended the funeral of Sarabjit Singh. The government had announced a state funeral and also a three-day mourning as a mark of respect to Sarabjit, besides financial aid and government jobs for his family. The village with a population of around 11,000 and located about 36km from Amritsar, is in a state of mourning since Thursday with residents gathering near the house of the family after the news of the Indian prisoner’s death spread.
Shops and commercial establishments in this area have also remained shut. The village witnessed angry protests with locals raising anti-Pakistan slogans and burning effigies. Officials of the district administration had made arrangements for the state funeral in the outskirts of Bikhiwind. A large posse of police personnel were deployed. Meanwhile, a second autopsy was conducted on Thursday night by a team of six doctors at the government-run Amritsar Medical College to ascertain the cause of Sarabjit’s death. The first postmortem was carried out at the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore. Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has demanded an independent probe by an international agency into the circumstances leading to Sarabjit’s death. According to his family, Sarabjit had inadvertently crossed the zero-line near here in an inebriated state while working in his fields which run along the border. Sarabjit was arrested in 1990 by the name of Manjit Singh by Pakistan army in 1990. He was accused of being an Indian spy and was charged with plotting series of bomb blasts in 1989 at Lahore and Multan. He was tried by courts and was awarded death penalty. Sarabjit’s trial in Pakistan was based on a statement which Pakistani authorities had claimed was given by him during the course of investigation. However, Sarabjit had said during his trial in court that he was a farmer on the Indian side of the border and had strayed into Pakistan while he was drunk, a stand which was also taken by his family members. His 54-year-old sister Dalbir Kaur had unsuccessfully led a campaign to secure Sarabjit’s freedom. She was joined by Sarabjit’s wife Sukhpreet Kaur (around 45-year-old) and daughters Swapandeep Kaur and Poonam, both in their mid twenties.
The two daughters were minors when their father crossed over to Pakistan and they had their first glimpse of their father in 2008 when they went to Pakistan with their mother and aunt. Dalbir Kaur had gone to Pakistan a couple of times as part of her attempts since 1991 to get her brother freed. Sarabjit, the second Indian prisoner to die in Pakistan’s notorious Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore this year, was brutally attacked on Friday last by six fellow inmates when he and other prisoners were brought out of their cells for a break. Sarabjit was convicted of alleged involvement in bomb attacks in Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990 and spent about 22 years in Pakistani prisons. His mercy petitions were rejected by the courts and former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. The previous Pakistan Peoples Party-led government had put off Sarabjit’s execution for an indefinite period in 2008.