NEW DELHI: India reacted with anger and outrage Thursday when the body of death-row prisoner Sarabjit Singh returned home from Pakistan. The body, which was handed over to Indian High Commission officials in Lahore on completion of an autopsy after his death in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, landed at Amritsar in a special Air India plane after 8 pm.
The body was received by Preneet Kaur, minister of state for external affairs, and Sukhbir Badal, Punjab deputy chief minster. From Amritsar, the body was flown by a chopper to the Civil Hospital in Patti where a second post-mortem was conducted and later taken to his native Bhikhiwind.
The Punjab government has announced to give Sarabjit Singh a state funeral on Friday. A three-day mournign has also been announced in the state.
Expressing his grief over Sarabjit Singh’s death on Wednesday in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital where was on life support after being attacked by inmates in Kot Lakhpat Jail last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh slammed Pakistan for not freeing him on humanitarian grounds.
The prime minister said, “It is particularly regrettable that the government of Pakistan did not heed the pleas of the government of India, Sarabjit’s family and of civil society in India and Pakistan to take a humanitarian view of this case.
“May his soul be granted the peace that he could not enjoy in life. The nation shares his family’s profound grief with them.”
In the nation’s parliament, a minute’s silence was observed to mourn the death and a resolution was passed unanimously condemning the killing of Sarabjit Singh by Pakistan.
External affairs ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said, “This was, put simply, the killing of our citizen while in the custody of Pakistan jail authorities.”
Expressing his anguish over the death, BJP president Rajnath Singh said, “The level of diplomatic relations should be scaled down and for the time being Indian high commissioner to Pakistan should be called back.”
Sarabjit Singh’s family met home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on Thursday morning. They wanted him to be declared a martyr. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi also went to meet the family and expressed his condolence.
Sarabjit Singh sister ,Dalbir Kaur, said, “He was martyred for India. (Pakistan President Asif Ali) Zardari killed him because of elections. The entire country should come together. I appeal to all parties to strengthen the hands of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and home minister Sushilkumar Shinde.”
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh announced that Sarbajit Singh will be accorded a state funeral in his hometown. The state government has also announced to give Rs 1 crore to the bereaved family, apart from jobs to the two daughters of Sarabjit Singh. “We will also stand by the family for whatever help they need,” the chief minister said.
The Punjab chief minister slammed the central government for not doing enough to secure his release. “Government of India too dithered and dilly-dallied in reacting to the attack on him (Sarabjit). Was enough done to save him? Steps by government of India to secure his release earlier were weak and totally inadequate,” the chief minister said in a statement.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was even more blunt when he said that “Sarabjit’s extra-judicial killing is yet another grim reminder that expecting Pakistan to follow due process of law in any sphere is futile.”
The 49-year-old had been struggling for his life in the intensive care unit of the hospital after the April 26 attack on him by jail inmates, resulting serious head injuries. Singh’s family had returned to India on Wednesday after seeing him in the hospital.
He was given the death sentence in 1991 for a series of bomb blasts in Lahore and Faisalabad in 1990 in which 14 people were killed. His execution in 2008 was postponed. But his family maintained that he crossed into Pakistan in an inebriated state when he was just 27.