Who is responsible for Sarabjit Singh’s fate?

Last year when Mumbai terror attack case convict Md Ajmal Amir Kasab was executed by the Government of India in a highly secretive operation, serious repercussions were feared.

A couple of months later another Pakistan sympathiser and Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru was also sent to the gallows, triggering concerns that these executions will not go down well with the radicals and Islamist fundamentalists in Pakistan.

It was feared that terror groups operating on Pakistani soil might avenge Kasab and Afzal Guru’s execution and will try to create unrest in India. Since then, the country has witnessed two bomb blasts – one in Hyderabad, and the other in Bangalore recently.

Although, the investigations into the two incidents are still on, the leads obtained so far have indicated that these blasts could be part of the pro-Pakistan group’s larger agenda to wreck havoc in the country.

A section in the national media had previously expressed concerns that Pakistan might execute Sarabjit Singh, the Indian death row prisoner who has been languishing in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail, in a similar fashion as India executed Kasab and Guru to keep the accounts straight with New Delhi.

Fortunately, Sarabjit Singh, whose case has figured in every high-level talk between India and Pakistan and whose appeal for clemency has been pending before President Asif Ali Zardari, was spared the gallows for the time being, but what happened to him in Lahore jail recently was something that his family was apprehensive of. Sarabjit himself had written to the authorities that he feared for his life in jail and also that he was being mentally tortured.

Sarabjit Singh was beaten badly by fellow jail inmates and hit with iron rods, bricks, cutters, prison plates and blades, inflicting deep wounds and severe head injuries on him after which he slipped into coma and is now battling for his life in a hospital there.

However, it is not just the case of a few notorious jail inmates beating Sarabjit Singh. There is certainly more than what meets the eye. The brutality, with which Sarabjit Singh was battered almost to death, is also indicative of the hatred and anger brewing in Pakistan for India despite concerted measures from both sides to reduce tension and improve bilateral relations. Sarabjit Singh is just a scapegoat and his fate has been caught between the problematic Indo-Pak ties.

The incident, which exposes Pakistan’s double standards, is also suggestive of a bitter conspiracy to kill Sarabjit Singh, whose mercy plea had been rejected several times by the Pakistan government in the past 22 years which he spent in prison there. For ordinary Pakistanis, Sarabjit Singh is a terrorist from India, who has been convicted by the country’s court for bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan, which left 14 people dead - one strong reason why he was battered so badly.

Whether he is actually guilty or not and whether he is the victim of mistaken identity, as his family claims, that is for the authorities to ascertain, but he certainly deserves the right to live with dignity like other prisoners.

In almost every country, the prison manual entails certain norms for treating prisoners and which are also adhered to by the jail authorities. From the humanitarian angle, every prisoner, irrespective of his caste, religion, origin and the degree of his crime, should be considered worthy of attention and care.

In the cases of high-profile prisoners on death row such as Sarabjit Singh, they are kept isolated in special barracks in jails. However, in Sarabjit’s case, he was murderously assaulted by other inmates, who enjoyed complete freedom in doing so and this raises serious questions about the security provided to prisoners like him and the environment in which they are held.

The Kot Lakhpat Jail authorities, it appears and as is being alleged, connived with their compatriot prisoners in targeting Sarabjit Singh - otherwise how could those who attacked him get access to iron rods, bricks, cutters, prison plates and blades inside a high-security jail.

Pakistan has had a history of ill-treating prisoners from across the border. But Sarabjit’s case is a different one, which calls for the need to improve the living and security conditions of inmates there. If not tackled seriously, the attack on Sarabjit Singh could have serious implications for Pakistan-India relations.

It is also high time that India talks tough with Pakistan and demands answers for what happened to Sarabjit. And Pakistan must also understand that it cannot hide behind the garb of ‘non-state actors’ for everything that goes wrong vis-a-vis its relation with India. The fact is that the Pakistani government is hand in gloves with the elements which want to derail the peace process.

So, for a consummate response to the Sarabjit incident, a thorough investigation into the attack should be carried out by the Pakistan government and the culprits should be brought to justice.

The attack on Sarabjit Singh is also a stark reminder of the deplorable condition of Hindus living in Pakistan and the discrimination and humiliation which they have to face there.

Ultimately, it is now Pakistan’s responsibility to gather the spilt beans and keep bilateral relations from deteriorating further by getting to the bottom of the case.

The incident, widely condemned by several human rights organizations from both sides, has drawn sharp reactions from political parties in India, with some terming it a conspiracy to kill Sarabjit Singh.

Though the government of India has now woken up from slumber and promised all possible help to save Sarabjit Singh’s life, the attack on him could have been avoided had there been some action on its part regarding the constant threats received by him.

If, by God’s grace, Sarabjit Singh survives, the world would probably come to know what had happened to him, but if he succumbs to his injuries, the fundamentalists will once again defeat the basic tenets of Islam, which like any other religion, preaches compassion and love. For his shattered family members, I pray to God to give them the courage to go through probably the most difficult times of their lives.