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Kot Lakhpat to Kot Bhalwal


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Saadat Hasan Manto should have been around to chronicle the latest tragedy in India-Pakistan relations. Ordinary mortals can’t really capture the inherent capabilities of the two sides to spite each other. You need a Manto.

Just when you think that the two countries couldn’t sink any lower, they pull off a surprise. Defenseless prisoners, sitting ducks in Indian and Pakistani jails, are the new frontier in the never-ending “war” between the two countries.

The murderous attacks on Sarabjit Singh (Indian prisoner in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail) and Sanaullah Haq (Pakistani prisoner in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail) were despicable acts perpetrated by people whose humanity quotient isn’t really there to be measured.

Sarabjit is dead and Sanaullah critical.

But is this about the two of them? Or is it about national egos aroused by base television channels and newspapers? Does anyone really care about poor Indians and Pakistanis living in prisons in their own countries, who are probably being bashed up and tortured even as you read this?

Our prison systems must compete for the bottom slot. Our jailers and guards must compete in being negligent, brutal and corrupt. So, the question needs to be asked. Again and again: what is this really about?

In the case of Sarabjit Singh, his sister Dalbir Kaur must get the credit for making her brother’s incarceration an issue in India. She lobbied politicians and governments and fought long and hard for justice.

Her comments about a top Pakistani leader being involved in her brother’s brutal murder are out of order. But, do read what the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had to say about Sarabjit’s death:

Not even the most naïve person can believe that a prisoner like Sarabjit in a death cell inside a jail can be targeted in such a brutal assault by prisoners without the knowledge and support of prison guards and the authorities…It was no secret that Sarabjit faced more threats than other prisoners on account of the charge that he was convicted of and yet his security was so completely compromised…Those in Pakistan who take pride in their vengefulness must feel some shame today, if they are capable of that. Those elements in India who are no less vengeful, intolerant and fond of jingoism than their Pakistani counterparts would no doubt write their own script now.

In the din of madness, one can only be thankful for groups like the HRCP, who are brave and courageous to speak the truth.

In India, Sarabjit’s death was an occasion for Pakistan-bashing. The media, exceptions honourable as ever, went ballistic. The contours of the new frontier were bared in graphic form.

And, the Indian government – both at the Centre and the State succumbed.

It’s possible that Sarabjit’s case was that of mistaken identity. It’s also possible that he did whatever the Pakistani State charged him with – setting off bombs that killed 14 persons in 1990. It’s also possible that he worked for an Indian intelligence agency.

We will never know the truth. Other than saying that Sarabjit wasn’t guilty of the crimes he committed, Delhi hasn’t said anything about him.

But in death, Sarabjit received a state funeral from the (Indian) Punjab government headed by the Akali Dal. His family, the Centre announced, would receive cash compensation.

The Akal Dal attacked the Congress party for letting Sarabjit die in jail, the Congress defended its record and politicians of all hues were present at Sarabjit’s funeral. As election time approaches, the two Akalis and the Congress will use the Sarabjit case against each other.

And, as most commentators on television went for Pakistan after Sarabjit’s death, few spared a thought for the many Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails. What message was the hysterical coverage sending out to other jail inmates? What’s another murder when you are already convicted for another? Or you are on death row?

Just as the Pakistani state and jail authorities failed to protect Sarabjit, the Indian state and jail authorities failed to protect Sanaullah. To my mind, both failures are equally reprehensible. Let’s not weigh them on our nationalist scales.

Sanaullah is in a critical condition, let’s pray he survives. But Sarabjit is gone.

One can only hope and pray that no other prisoner in either India or Pakistan meets their fate. But, as we know, neither country is really interested in the welfare of their own poor citizens – inside or outside jails.

So nationals of the “enemy other” don’t have much hope, do they?

Earlier, there were just allowed to languish in jails, now they are targets for attack. ————————————————————————————————————————————————

Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.

———————————————————————————————————————————————— The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan. He tweets @abaruah64.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (57) Closed

naveen May 06, 2013 05:25pm

I fully agree with your comments

Indian May 06, 2013 05:35pm

Completely agree with you sir,very well written candid article. Hats off to you sir. :)

raja hindustani May 06, 2013 11:33pm

Please do not kill people in either side to satisfy our ego. Let's value human life.

Time now for both Pakistan & India to behave like more mature nation.

saass May 07, 2013 01:15pm

its a tit for tat!

Naga May 09, 2013 11:03am

Man is born with closed eyes. Man lives mentally blind by religion, culture and politica biases. With closed eyes man dies. Only answer is - learning the art of questioning and objective observation.

Seedoo May 07, 2013 12:33am
By asking such a question, you are actually justifying it. It is not that Pakistan is always the one who starts it, it is that you only hear about it when Pakistan is the one to start it. Stop living in a fools paradise.
Raj May 07, 2013 01:43am
Probably hatred level is little higher on that side, though it is there on both side.
ambi May 07, 2013 01:20am
It has the connections tracing back to what has happened on LoC during the past few months and the recent executions of the convicts in India. Let's not be discrete about this. All these are inter-connected chain of mutual assured dessication (MAD). Yes, things are condemnable, but to say that one doesn't know the men (both in India and Pakistan) behind this game is an intellectual dishonesty.
Khan May 07, 2013 05:22am
Truth is out read Hindustan times sarbAjeet was an Indian spy and was on a terrorist mission and was caught while fleeing admitted by Indian authorities. The blame is on Pakistan due to attack on him and dilly dallying on executing the court order for hanging him. Had the Pakistani authorities hanged him long back he won't become a martyr from a terrorist.
Khan May 07, 2013 05:24am
Last year 4 Pakistani prisoners died in Indian jails most of them poor fisherman I can't blame you for your ignorance most of the Indians are raised on Pakistan and china bashing this is how they grow up
Saira May 07, 2013 12:41pm
Why a terrorist in Pakistan is a hero in India?
Peace be upon us May 07, 2013 06:33am
To me, if one starts a fight, he should not complain or decide on how the fight should end. None of this would have happened if Pakistain would have done the basic thing of protecting Sarabjit. Pakistan has always started a fight and is always the first one to complain.
Shah May 07, 2013 06:02am
You are asking the worong question. The right question is why did Indian RAW agency sent this man to Pakistan to set off a bomb and killing 14 people! Hindustan Times ran a story yesterday confirming he was a RAW agent.
Shah May 07, 2013 06:00am
Sarbajit Singh was not innocent! He was a terrorist working for the Indian RAW agency who killed 14 people. Hindustan Times ran a story yesterday confirming he being a RAW agent.
Done given up May 07, 2013 12:24am
Thank you Amit for not sugar coating it and telling it like it is,good example for other writers
KKhan May 07, 2013 12:24am
So Pakistan is playing victim again?
Done given up May 07, 2013 12:22am
Its very unfortunate that our countries continue to show no progress after all these years.At the same time,people from both the countries need to realize that we the Pakistanis and Indians live along side each other,here in the U S we shop together,we eat together,we watch movies together,a lot of my dear friends are Indians and we have no problem with each other.Both my doctors are Indian,I have learned so much about history from DR.Naini,he is my fathers age and I respect him a lot.All that is possible because we don't care what religion the other believes in,we have respect for one another,our kids play together,shoot we watch cricket together.Now why can't the people living in Pakistan and India do the same? We are all human first and everything else second,we all bleed the same.I think the biggest problem maybe the governments,the politicians and of course the religious leaders(cons)
SUNIL May 07, 2013 12:02am
Very sad. Killing of person on death row by fellow inmates is indefensible The possibility of inmate violance should have been anticipated in case of Sanaullah Prisoners on both sides should be released promptly and the red tape cut. Got to be humane.
Fazal Karim May 06, 2013 09:42pm
Is it possible to get state honor for a mistaken identity? Will government of India ever investigate this aspect and come to conclusion. It is impossible to believe that just sixty years back India and Pakistan were one country and now they blood thirsty.
Vivek Raj May 06, 2013 09:13pm
Seems you have not lost anyone to Pak-sponsored terror.
Shah May 07, 2013 05:57am
Sarabjit Singh was a convicted man found guilty of terrorism, setting off a bomb and the murder of 14 people. Hindustan Times ran a story just yesterday confirming he was a RAW agent sent by the Indian government agency to commit the horrific act he was found guilty of in the first place. His death sentence should have been carried out a long time ago but our ever incompetant government and judicary could not do their job. The attack on Sanaullah Haq apart, it is very interesting to see how a terrorist murder is given state honour by the Indians.
K.A.Muhammad, K'chi. Pak. May 07, 2013 02:34am
K.A.Muhammed, Governments, both in India and Pakistan seems to believe that morality has no place in Politics of Power, therefore, Power Politics ought to be conducted on the Law of Jungle. Do you really think and believe that what you have said and written above is beyond capability of either of or both the governments to analyze the cause and draw a logical conclusion! How much more of Death and Destruction the 21st. Century is going to cause to mankind by mankind is indeed beyond comprehension!.
Raj May 07, 2013 01:42am
Who says Sarabjit didn't have any threat, while his lawyer already conveyed the threat? Moreover another guy Chamel Singh had already died in Pakistan jail. India appealed for Sarabjit because people believed he was framed, this case without the clear cut witness and contradictory role of cops was considered different in India from other India / Pakistan cases. This kind of murder of anyone anywhere is bad.
S krish May 07, 2013 01:58am
Mahgul you seem to be unaware of the petitions made by Sarabjit about his fearing for Life and also he had given specific information. And even going by Pak media reports the attack has been organised by jail authorities and some groups. Just two months back another prisoner was attacked and killed - how long should Indians keep forgiving. Is there no end for provocation from Pak side.
Rahul May 07, 2013 05:15am
Agreed with Mahgul....
khalid May 07, 2013 10:22am
India is not a soft target. It plays its part very well indeed.
Peace Only May 07, 2013 02:53am
No matter how much you are ashamed, you are in a small minority... Wait a few more days and there will be another hateful Bollywood movie, that will fuel more hatred, than the love you show, in the heart of Indians for Pakistan.
Vivek Raj May 06, 2013 08:57pm
Writing such articles is the easiest thing to do,when one is not responsible for Nation's betterment or security.
Chandralekha May 07, 2013 01:35am
Good piece of writing. Humane thing to do now : India should sent back to Pakistan all Pakistani prisoners, and. Pakistan should send back to India all Indian prisoners.
saeed Ghani May 06, 2013 05:30pm
Amit - Thanks for writing this article, no tit for tat always peaceful dialogue help, love peace and India and Pakistan are not working for their poor people. Both countries should take lesson and stop sending cross boarder spying, this 100% correct Surbjeet is spying agent, but he did not deserve this fate of death. These agencies pick up poor people for this job and than forget therefore not helping. Please write on this subject no body should agree on spying each other countries. PEACE LOVE, my sincere and good wishes to Indian nation.
rohan May 06, 2013 05:33pm
This is how a pakistani is brainwashed
Baighairat Kafir May 06, 2013 05:55pm
Attack on Sanullah was done just to make a point to barbaric Pakistanis. If you will do it, so can we - better not do it again. It had to be done to prevent more Sarabjits in Pakistan.
Chaman May 07, 2013 12:30pm
Sarabaji or Sanaullah, two humans brutalized, one dead and one in a critical condition. What a shame. I hope the perpetrators of these heinious crimes are tried and punished. That will be the the only way to send a message to the world that such inhuman conduct is neither condoned nor accepted by the authorities in both the countries.
rehan May 06, 2013 04:38pm
two failed countries--after the partition...they do not know the value of human rights and humans in generals.. in capable people and politicians at top positions must resign.
Ashok Pandey May 07, 2013 02:55pm
I salute you Amit for getting this article. Gone are Gone.. Sad and Pity... But atleast for mankind and above the hollow pride.. Please...Please.. lets have teh prisoners out of jail.. They have had more tahn what they should have.. and stop fighting your war with the death of these prisoners.
Ali May 06, 2013 11:02am
Well said....
pushkar May 07, 2013 08:06am
Attack on Mr. Sanullah, is incorrect, however, emagine if Indians start reacting like Tit for Tat, in this manner and every manner, where would Pakistanis go? Indians are known as soft target in entire world and Pakistanis are known as notorious elements. I as Indian always believe that some day Pakistan will understand ground really an will start taking true actions for friendship with India though it seems impossible at this time. The inly way out
malaydeb May 06, 2013 11:05am
The primordial animal still resides among us. We have not evolved much in thousands of years.
Pankaj May 06, 2013 11:07am
Not justifying attack on pakistani prisoner in India, why is that Pakistan is always first to start such incidents?
mahgul May 06, 2013 11:28am
Attack on Sarabjit was not anticipated, but on Sanullah was very much apprehended...... Pakistani jail authorities kept sleeping because there was no alarm. Even many at jail might not know that he had threats. But Indians kept on sleeping even after a big bang for such incidence as happened with Mr. Sanaullah.
Imran May 06, 2013 04:06pm
Great logic man. Well done.
haris May 06, 2013 12:44pm
Absolutely Right
khanm May 06, 2013 12:55pm
How long the innocent people will suffer in India and Pakistan.... is there ever going to be peace... i guess not ...we are the creation of hate not love..... The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace. let us move on with peace and leave hate behind
Cherian (Melbourne) May 06, 2013 01:00pm
Despite my seething anger towards Pakistan state for failing to protect Sarabjith, I am ashamed at the reprehensible counter attack towards a Pakistani prisoner in an Indian jail. I sincerely hope and pray for the latters recovery. Two wrongs doesn't make a right.
Susan May 06, 2013 01:14pm
Amit, Thank you for an article that considers with clarity different ways of looking at something. Such a breath of fresh air and authenticity in the midst of the horrible madness in the media in both countries and narrow fixed views of citizens. I value what you have written - thank you. I feel very encouraged to read the report of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Arun May 07, 2013 12:15pm
'Two failed countries'???? Nah, not cool. Khaya peeya kuch nahin, glass toddha 12 aane? Kyun Pakistan ke saath India ki bhi bill phad rahe ho? Be it a Failed State or a Global Superpower, to reach either of the two one nation has to either deform or reform to extremes of the spectra. India, inspite of its population stats, has always remained a frontrunner when it comes to providing cheap labor offshore business hubs, never proclaimed itself a Hindu or Muslim nation, since it inception. I say this here because there exists a popular myth that India is a Hindu state. Double check it, key 'Communal Violence Bill' on Google & you'll know what the state of affairs in India is as far as Minorities are concerned. Might sound weird, but Mr.Zaid Hamid had once said 'secularism can only be attained by the West, not us here in the Asian sub continent.'
Prasad May 06, 2013 01:46pm
Please dend back Sanaullah to Pakistan, let him live (hope he surives the attack) with his family for the rest of the life. The punishment he received until now is more than enough!
shera May 07, 2013 11:00am
Hahhaha u read hindustan times in pakistan lol no one reads it india itself ...and the article u said never written from HT so wake up ...n stop lying
does it matter May 07, 2013 03:41pm
aren't you doing the same??
Ram May 07, 2013 03:22pm
an eye for an eye left entire world blind in deed
Hrleen May 07, 2013 07:55pm
There are no such report published in Hindustan Times that claim Sarabjit was an Indian agent in Pakistan. On the other hand most newspapers carried out reports of him being implicated in false cases and not getting a fair trial.
Hrleen May 07, 2013 08:07pm
His conviction was questionable. Hanging him would have led to scrutiny of his case by International bodies and that would have embarrased Pakistan. It was less out of goodwill, and more out of covering up concoted stories that Sarabjit was not hanged.
whatasilliness May 07, 2013 11:46pm
It is actually a justification of a fact. Really it is only you who thinks that we hear only about it when Pakistan is the one to start it. Stop living in a mirage full of denials.
naveen May 08, 2013 07:37am
Did you read the news or you are spreading the rumors ?.Plz provide the date/ edition no etc As i could not find the article you are mentioning in Hindustan times
naveen May 08, 2013 07:48am
The Honor was given Because INDIA loves and respect its OWN people - Sarabjeet suffered a lot- this honor was given to an him to help alleviate his family's and others peoples suffering who empathized with him .
naveen May 08, 2013 07:49am
it was a an anticipated and planned attack- as he and His lawyer were saying for a long time that his life is in danger
Susan May 08, 2013 08:14am
Vivek, For many of us who havent lost people to terrorist attacks in India, it maybe difficult to comprehend the anger, loss and no closure or healing. But more attack and more anger and more jingoism whipped up by a pathetic media in both countries is not the answer. All of us are capable of a more compassionate and creative response - and there are many ways to move ahead if we would only look beyond what comes to us by habit and ego.