Kashmir Singh comes in from the cold

March 4th, 2008 - 7:24 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Jaideep Sarin
Attari Border (Punjab), March 4 (IANS) Former soldier Kashmir Singh came in from the cold Tuesday and credited his wife for his return to India after 35 years in Pakistani jails. “I am very happy to be back in my country. My wife (Paramjit Kaur) deserves the credit for trying hard to secure my release and waiting all these years to see this happen,” Singh said after entering India at the border between India and Pakistan here.

He was equally thankful to Pakistan’s caretaker human rights minister Ansar Burney for getting him pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf and for getting him released from the death row of Lahore jail.

Pakistani security forces arrested Singh in Rawalpindi in 1973 on charges of spying. He was sentenced to death but that was later reduced to life imprisonment. His stay in various Pakistani prisons seemed unending as he spent 35 years there.

Singh told reporters there were several Indian prisoners languishing in Pakistan’s prisons and that the government should do something to secure their release too.

A Sikh by birth, the bald man with a grey beard crossed over the international border on foot amidst clapping from both sides.

He blinked at the dozens of TV microphones shoved at his face, thanked everybody and embraced his childhood friend.

His reunion with his family was a more private affair - Border Security Force officials insisted that he meet his wife and son inside their office complex, despite the entreaties of the media persons present.

As a result, the cameras, and the world, missed the opportunity to see the re-union of Singh, 70, with his 65-year-old wife. They had had a love marriage nearly five decades ago.

Later though, Singh was brought out garlanded with his wife, relatives and the politicians in tow for a photo opportunity.

Earlier, as he walked out of Pakistan, a teary eyed Singh was seen off by Burney amidst clapping from scores of people. Punjab minister Bikram Singh Majitha and Hoshiarpur MP Avinash Rai Khanna were the first to greet him on the Indian side.

Singh waved back at his Pakistani friends as he crossed the zero line.

For Paramjit Kaur, the wait at this border post for the last three days had seemed as long as that of the last 35 years. The family had got the news of Singh’s release last week and reached here Saturday to welcome him.

However, they had to return from here to Amritsar city, 30 km away, every evening, as Singh’s release and arrival at the border were delayed. The formalities for his release and return had to be completed.

“Sadda banda sadde kol aa gaya, saanu badi khushi haigi. Asi Pakistani mantra (Ansar Burney) de bade shukarguzr haan ke unhane eh mumkin kitta,” an emotional Paramjit Kaur said. (We have got our man back, we are very happy about it. We are thankful to the Pakistani minister for making his release possible.)

“We had lost all hope of his return. At one stage, we presumed him dead also. We are so happy that he is returning to his family and grandchildren,” Kashmir Singh’s son Shishpal, 40, told IANS here.

Shishpal was only five years old when his father went missing in Pakistan. His brother and sister, both settled in Italy, will be returning home this week to meet their father.

Both sides of this border post saw frenzied media activity, with Kashmir Singh’s release being seen as symbolic of the current bonhomie between India and Pakistan.

Such a release has never happened before and has rekindled hopes among scores of other families in India whose relatives are still lodged in Pakistani jails. Nearly 2,000 Indians are believed to be languishing in Pakistani jails presently.

Similarly, one of the last questions a Pakistani journalist asked Kashmir Singh before he crossed over was: “Will you ask for Pakistani prisoners in India to be returned?”

“Yes,” he replied.

Dalbir Kaur, the sister of Sarabjit Singh, another Indian sentenced to death in Pakistan, was also present when Kashmir Singh arrived here.

After a debriefing session with the Indian security officials, Singh and other family members headed to Sikh holy city of Amritsar, 30 km from here, where he prayed at a shrine and then moved on towards his village Nangal Choran in Hoshiarpur district, 150 km away.

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