Surjeet Singh (69), walked to freedom on Thursday after spending over three decades in Pakistani prisons, saying the release of fellow prisoner Sarabjit Singh was delayed due to resistance in various sections of the Army, ISI, civil groups and media in that country and the extra hype created around the issue back home.
Clad in a white kurta pyjama and sporting a black turban and a flowing grey beard, he crossed the zero line at the Wagah-Attari joint check-post along the India-Pakistan border in Amritsar at 11:30 a.m.
Surjeet, a resident of Phidde village of Ferozepur district, had an emotional reunion with wife Harbans Kaur, son Kulwinder, daughter Parminder, grandchildren and some villagers. He was profusely garlanded and welcomed back with the beat of the “dhol” (traditional drum).
Later, he paid obeisance at the Golden Temple.
After Surjeet went missing in 1982, his family gave up hope.
A Pakistan court awarded him the death sentence in 1985 and it was commuted to life term in 1989. Even that sentence was completed in 2005.
In a brief interaction with reporters, Surjeet said the confusion about Sarabjit’s release was borne out of the Urdu script, where both names are written in identical manner. He advised Sarabjit's family to avoid creating any further hype, if they wanted to secure his early release.
Surjeet said he met Sarabjit once every week in the Kot Lakhpat Jail, where they were lodged. Sarabjit was in good health despite prolonged solitary incarceration in the condemned cell. The jail authorities treated the Indian prisoners as per rules.
Accepting that he crossed into Pakistan as a spy, Surjeet was sore that the authorities disowned him after his arrest.