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07 May, 2013

Demons do not dance alone

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Mutual demonisation has long been a part of the political charade of Indian and Pakistani players, particularly communally motivated elements. When their caricatures of each other come alive, the demons dance in tandem, not alone, as the lyric says.

On April 26 a group of convicts in a Lahore jail attacked and fatally injured 49-year-old Sarabjit Singh, an Indian undergoing life term in two cases. Pakistan said he was injured in a scuffle but unofficial reports suggested the attack was an act of reprisal for the execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri, sentenced to death in the Parliament attack case.

Pakistan refused Indian requests to send Sarabjit Singh home for treatment but allowed relatives to visit him in hospital as he awaited death. His body, handed over to the family, was flown to India for the last rites.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in a statement, accused the jail authorities of compromising Sarabjit Singh’s security. Not even the most naïve person could believe the assault could be executed without the knowledge and support of prison guards and the authorities, it said.

“Those in Pakistan who take pride in their vengefulness must feel some shame today, if they are capable of that,” it added. “All 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.”

Even before Sarabjit Singh’s body was cremated in his village on Friday, an Indian prisoner in a Jammu jail attacked and critically wounded Sanaullah Haq, a 64-year-old Pakistani convict, undergoing life term there. Jail officials said the attack followed a petty quarrel but Pakistani officials referred to it as an act of revenge.

India turned down Pakistan’s request to send Sanaullah Haq home for treatment but allowed officials of its high commission to visit him at the Chandigarh medical institute where he was admitted.

Ironically, the attack on Sarabjit Singh took place the day a panel comprising five retired judges – three from Pakistan and two from India — began visits to Pakistani jails to look into the condition of Indian prisoners as part of a bilateral effort.  Pakistani authorities presented before it 535 Indian prisoners lodged in three jails. They included 483 fishermen, 11 of them juveniles.   

According to official sources in New Delhi, there are about 7,300 foreigners in Indian jails. Of them, only about 300 are Pakistanis. They include 260 fishermen.

The troubled relations between India and Pakistan and the ire aroused by the terror charges against some render prisoners belonging to one vulnerable to attacks in the other. The prolonged detention of prisoners, including fishermen who ended up in jails only because their boats strayed into the other country’s territorial waters, testifies to the inconsiderate handling of issues by officials on both sides.

The two countries are believed to be still holding several persons taken into custody during the 1965 and 1971 wars, although they do not publicly acknowledge this. Chuck Yeager, an American air force officer stated in his autobiography, published in 1984, that while on assignment in Pakistan he had seen Indian fighter pilots who had been shot down during the 1971 war.

In March 2011, at a meeting at the Home Secretary level, the two countries agreed to release civilian prisoners and fishermen who had served their jail term and whose nationality had been confirmed by the respective governments.  A few months later they exchanged lists of prisoners in each other’s custody. A bilateral mechanism has been created to update the lists periodically.

Both Sarabjtit Singh and Sanaullah Haq were convicted on terrorism charges and spent more than two decades in prison. This is a much longer period than what those given life terms ordinarily spend in jail in the two countries. Although each government claimed its convicted national was an innocent civilian who had inadvertently crossed the border, the possibility that the two were intelligence operatives cannot be ruled out.

In January, an Indian prisoner, Chambail Singh, was killed in a Pakistani jail. His body was sent to India only after two months, and that too without an autopsy report.  Sarabjit Singh’s body too came without an autopsy report. Indian doctors who conducted a second autopsy found that the internal organs had been removed.

If only the two governments learn to respect the human rights of each othe’s prisoners there will be less scope for jingoists of the two sides to cry for blood. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 7, 2013,

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