NEW DELHI (TIP): The body of Sarabjit Singh was brought back on May 2 evening in a special aircraft sent by India. Two Indian diplomats accompanied the body, which was received at Amritsar airport by Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. Following an autopsy in Amritsar, Sarabjit will be cremated in his village Bhikhiwind on Friday with full state honours extended by the Punjab government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Sarabjit a “brave son of India” and said it was “particularly regrettable” that Pakistan did not heed pleas to take a humanitarian view of his case. Sarabjit, who was assaulted in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail by fellow inmates on April 26, died at 1.30 am India time on May 2 after a “cardiac arrest”, according to doctors at Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital.
The death row prisoner was reported to be in a “nonreversible coma” and close to “brain death” on Wednesday. Punjab announced financial assistance of Rs 1 crore for the family, and declared state mourning for three days. The state government has already announced government jobs for Sarabjit’s daughters Swapandeep Kaur and Poonam. A devastated Dalbir Kaur, sister of Sarabjit, called for her brother to be declared a martyr, and asked all political parties to unite for a strong collective response to Pakistan. The Prime Minister said that the criminals responsible for “the barbaric and murderous attack must be brought to justice”. The Indian government demanded that Pakistan conduct a “thorough probe” and ensure punishment for those responsible. “This was simply the killing of an Indian citizen while in the custody of Pakistani authorities,” Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said in a statement. “The attack highlights the need for concerted action by Pakistan to safeguard Indian prisoners in Pakistan.” Parliament observed two minutes of silence in memory of Sarabjit.
Both Houses adopted a resolution expressing Parliament’s “deep sense of shock and sorrow”, and condemning the “inhuman treatment” meted out to Sarabjit. The resolution hoped that the culprits would be brought to book. BJP president Rajnath Singh condemned the “cold blooded murder” and demanded that India call back its high commissioner in Pakistan and scale down diplomatic relations. Asked if normal ties with Pakistan were possible in the wake of Sarabjit’s death, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid 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 Rajkumar Verka, vice-chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. Rahul hugged Dalbir as she wept, and offered his condolences.
In Lahore, police added murder charges to the FIR registered against two death row prisoners, Amer Aftab alias Amer Tambewala and Mudassar, who had been booked earlier for the attack on 49-year-old Sarabjit. Najam Sethi, the caretaker chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province, assured Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal that Sarabjit’s murderers would be brought to justice. The Indian envoy met Sethi on a scheduled visit to Lahore. Sethi also ordered a judicial enquiry and directed officials to ensure that the probe was completed in 15 days. The inquiry will be conducted by a high court judge, state-run Radio Pakistan reported. Sarabjit’s body was handed over to the Indian High Commission after an autopsy at Jinnah Hospital.