Some three to four years ago Dalbir Kaur was in Lahore to visit her jailed brother Sarabjit Singh. She was in Lahore. I was in Bonn. I remember interviewing her from the Bonn studio for a radio program. She sounded sanguinely hopeful about the release of her brother and expressed her gratitude to some Pakistan-based human rights activists and a few other officials.
Like Kaur, I too had not imagined such a tragic end to Singh’s story. Sadly, he is no more.
The manner in which Singh, an Indian national convicted of spying and of playing a role in the bombings that killed several people in 1990, was assaulted inside Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail can only be termed as an inhuman act. There can be no two opinions about it. Similarly, what happened to Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah Ranjay inside Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail is equally tragic and inhumane. This only highlights the security risks inside the prisons in both countries, with both India and Pakistan losing their right to claim moral high ground in relation to these two incidents.
But where Pakistan probably may enjoy a slight advantage over India is the manner in which the Pakistani state earlier dealt with Singh’s case and how it responded to the crisis after his death.
Not only had Pakistan previously allowed Singh’s sister, Kaur, to visit her jailed brother several times, the country also made adequate arrangements to hand over Singh’s body to India after his death which was the outcome of the assault on him.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited Singh’s home in Punjab and broke down while offering his condolences to Kaur. The state government of Punjab declared Singh a “martyr”. The Punjab assembly passed a resolution in this regard. Not only this, Singh’s mortal remains were cremated with full state honour and a financial assistance of one crore Indian rupees was announced for the family. These measures kick-started a debate in India, as many critics are asking questions about Singh’s “contributions” to his country India and to his state Punjab.
In Pakistan, the attack on Sanaullah Ranjay was largely seen as a tit-for-tat tactic. Ranjay, as per the details that have already emerged, was serving a life term and would often play a bagpipe during routine practices inside the prison. The critically injured Pakistani prisoner is currently undergoing treatment at the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh where his condition is stated to be serious.
The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah has assured the media that a “time-bound” enquiry will be conducted in this case.
“Certain steps have already been initiated. The jail superintendent and some other jail officials have been suspended (and) an enquiry has been ordered to be conducted by Principal Secretary Home (Department),” Abdullah was quoted by the Press Trust of India (PTI) as having told journalists in Srinagar.
But India’s record with regard to dealing with Pakistani prisoners like Ranjay, and other prisoners from Kashmir remains deplorable.
Moreover, there have been media reports quoting an unnamed source claiming that Singh was sent to Pakistan for an operation supervised by the Research Analysis Wing (RAW) — India’s premier spy and intelligence agency — but there are also some who maintain that Singh was an innocent caught in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
No parallels can be drawn between Kashmir’s Mohammad Afzal Guru and India’s Sarabjit Singh. It is common knowledge that on February 9 this year, India secretly hanged Afzal Guru who was convicted by the country’s Supreme Court in connection with his alleged involvement in the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001.
Guru’s family was not even informed about his execution at Tihar jail. All standards of fundamental rights, jail manuals, and cardinal values were breached. Not only this, the Indian home ministry did not concede to the genuine demand of the family to have Guru’s body flown to Kashmir for a proper burial in the light of religious rituals. Guru may have been sent to the gallows to “satisfy the collective conscience of Indians” but for many in Kashmir, he remains a hero.
Similar maltreatment was meted out to Maqbool Butt, founder of pro-freedom outfit Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), in 1984. Butt’s mortal remains too stay buried inside Tihar jail. This treatment poses a serious question to the “world’s largest democracy” with regard to its human rights record.
It seems a clear message for the Kashmiris that the Indian state treats them as “people belonging to an enemy territory”. That is perhaps why the independent member of J&K’s legislative assembly from Langate area of Kashmir, Engineer Rashid, had this to say: “If Indian Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and other Indian leaders pay homage to Sarabjit Singh and express sympathy with his family, they will have to give answers to Afzal Guru’s family and to the people of Jammu and Kashmir as to why Guru was martyred.”
”If Singh is a martyr in Shinde’s eyes, how is Guru a terrorist?” Rashid questioned.
Gowhar Geelani is a writer/journalist with international experience. He has served as Editor at Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) in Bonn, Germany. Previously, he has contributed features for the BBC. Feedback at (firstname.lastname@example.org).