Kashmir Singh reaches home in India-Pakistan love storyMarch 4th, 2008 - 10:23 pm ICT by admin
(Night Lead, Changing dateline)
By Jaideep Sarin
Nangal Choran (Punjab), March 4 (IANS) In an unprecedented sub-continental love story, teary-eyed former Indian soldier Kashmir Singh returned to India and was reunited with his family after spending nearly 35 tortuous years in Pakistani prisons on charges of spying. Even as he walked through the Attari land border, leaving behind a country that jailed him and kept him in solitary confinement, Kashmir Singh appeared to hold no grudge against his tormentors. He waved to the large crowds of Pakistanis gathered at the border to see him off.
Once he set foot on Indian soil, there was loud clapping. Officials warmly received the bald 70-year-old Sikh who embraced Islam during his confinement.
He then moved through the media scrum to enter a room where he had a private and emotive meeting with his wife and a son. He also embraced a childhood friend, G.C. Bhardwaj.
Both Kashmir Singh and his wife Paramjit Kaur, who he said should be credited for working tirelessly for his release, profusely thanked Pakistan’s caretaker Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney for securing him the freedom he had never thought would be possible one day.
“I am very happy to be back in my country. My wife 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 Attari border.
A former soldier, Kashmir Singh was arrested on charges of spying in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi city in 1973, just two years after a war between India and Pakistan led to the creation of Bangladesh.
He was sentenced to death but that was later reduced to life imprisonment. His stay in various Pakistani prisons seemed unending as he spent a gruelling 35 years.
Once Burney began to work for his release, President Pervez Musharraf pardoned him.
Kashmir Singh told reporters there were several Indians languishing in Pakistani prisons and that the Indian government needed to do something for them.
His reunion with his family was a more private affair. Border Security Force (BSF) personnel insisted he meet his wife and son in 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 Kashmir Singh with his 65-year-old wife. They had had a love marriage nearly five decades ago.
Later though, the man came out garlanded with his wife, relatives and the politicians in tow for a photo opportunity.
Hours later, Kashmir Singh set out for his ancestral home, via the Sikh holy city of Amritsar where he prayed at a Sikh shrine, reaching Nangal Choran village, 20 km from Hoshiarpur town, in the evening.
By then, he was overcome with emotion. Men, women and children poured out of their houses to give a rousing welcome to their hero. Drums were beaten, crackers were burst and there was plenty of bhangra.
A visibly happy Kashmir Singh commented that much had changed since he last saw the village in 1973.
“This is a new house which my family has built. The one in which I lived is behind it,” he said after reaching home.
People also lined up both sides of the roads leading to the village from the Chandigarh-Hoshiarpur highway.
Kashmir Singh’s family had got the news of Kashmir Singh’s release last week and reached the border Saturday to welcome him.
“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. We are so happy that he is returning to his family and grandchildren,” Kashmir Singh’s son Shishpal, 40, told IANS.
Shishpal was only five years old when his father went missing in Pakistan. His brother and sister, who live 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 in Pakistani jails.
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,” the man replied without hesitation.
Dalbir Kaur, the sister of Sarabjit Singh, another Indian sentenced to death in Pakistan, was also present when Kashmir Singh entered India.
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