Sarabjit Pandher

Emotional reunion with family

Thanks Musharraf, Minister Burney

Two of his children coming from Italy

CHANDIGARH: After languishing in Pakistani prisons for 35 years, 67-year-old Kashmir Singh took the last step to freedom when he crossed the border at Wagah in Amritsar district on Tuesday afternoon. While political party leaders and officials accorded him hero’s welcome, it was an emotional reunion for his family.

Mr. Singh, who received a presidential pardon, had been arrested in Rawalpindi in 1973 and sentenced to death by a military court on charges of espionage.

Charges denied

Talking to reporters at the border checkpost, he thanked Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and the caretaker Human Rights Minister, Ansar Burney, for granting him another lease of life. He, however, denied all charges against him.

Punjab’s Minister for Information and Public Relations Bikram Singh Majithia and Hoshiarpur MP Avinash Rai Khanna and garlanded Mr. Singh near the gates at the zero line. Officials then ushered him into an office room of the BSF post where, away from media gaze, close friends witnessed an emotional family reunion. His wife Paramjit Kaur, physically challenged son Shishpal Singh and some other relatives had been waiting anxiously for the moment since February 28, when news of his imminent release broke.

Praise for rights lawyer

An overwhelmed Mr. Singh recalled that his children were aged six, three and one when he left India. “Had I not seen them on television last night [Monday], I would not have recognised them now.” One his sons, Amarjit Singh, and daughter Manjit Kaur are travelling from Italy to meet their father.

He said he was extremely grateful to Mr. Burney who, as human rights lawyer, spotted him in the Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore.

After a brief interrogation by intelligence officers, Mr. Singh was handed over to his family and relatives, who then left for their native village, Nangal Khiladiyan, in Hoshiarpur district in a cavalcade. At various spots en route, people organised impromptu receptions, where locals showered flower petals on him, distributed sweets and performed ‘Bhangra’ to the enthusiastic beats of the ‘dhol’ (drum).

Mr. Singh was accorded a big reception as he entered his village. He was taken in procession to the local Gurdwara and a temple. Drum beats, dancing and bursting of crackers marked the celebrations.

“Healthy and alert”

Mr. Singh’s childhood associate G.C. Bhardwaj, who retired as Deputy Director of All India Radio, told The Hindu on the phone that his friend appeared to be healthy and mentally alert. He said Mr. Singh appeared to be in a hurry to enquire about everybody he knew and was anxious to return to the village and see if the “major” landmarks still existed.

Mr. Bhardwaj, who has vivid memories of playing soccer with Mr. Singh, was among the few who relentlessly carried their campaign for his release. They began seeking justice way back in 1985 when Pakistan released Milkh Raj of Fazilka town, who also faced similar charges.

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