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Sarabjit Singh’s Death: Changing Parameters Of Martyrdom

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By Abhimanyu Kulkarni:

Listed below are some of the definitions of martyr that I came across :

One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle
One who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce religious principles
a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs

Sarabjit Singh died of cardiac arrest at Jinnah Hospital on 2nd May. This was a week after he was assaulted by other inmates in a Lahore Jail.


Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal described Sarabjit Singh as a “national martyr”. He also announced that the Indian death row prisoner, who died in Pakistan, will be given a state funeral. Being the son of an army officer, I might be a little biased here — but referring to a prisoner who wandered across the border in a drunken stupor, as a martyr, seems far-fetched to me. This indirectly compares him with all the soldiers who have given up their lives willingly.

When I hear the term ‘Martyr’, some of the names that come to my mind are Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekar Azad, Wing Commander K Nachiketa (Vayusena Medal recipient , held Prisoner of War during Kargil War), 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal, Captain Vikram Batra, Lance Naik Karam Singh (all recipients of Param Vir Chakra). These are but just a few out of the thousands who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of the nation. Who were more concerned about their brethren then themselves. When General Manekshaw died, none of the ministers or chiefs turned up.

On the night of 28 August 1990, Sarabjit was arrested by Pakistani border guards in an inebriated state on the Indo-Pakistani border near Kasur. He was initially arrested on the charges of illegally crossing the India-Pakistan border. But after eight days, the Pakistani police charged him with being involved in the 1990 terror blasts at Faislabad and Lahore. He was convicted in Pakistan as ‘Manjit Singh‘ , evidence of which is still missing. In 1991, Sarabjit was given the death sentence under the Pakistan’s Army Act. His sentence was upheld by the High Court and later by the Pakistan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed his petition to review his death sentence in March 2006 as Sarabjit’s lawyers failed to appear for the hearing.

Whatever transpired in this case is politically and morally wrong, but I fail to see how it classifies him as a martyr. He and his family have suffered a lot, and I’m glad to see that the government is giving them full support and assistance. Prakash Badal has also announced that Punjab government provide jobs to both the daughters of Sarabjit.

Sarabjit singh was an innocent Indian who was wrongly accused and ill-treated by Pakistan. But, does that turn him into a national martyr ?

You must be to comment.
  1. Achilles Rasquinha

    The death of an innocent man. True said, it provides a shame to those who sacrificed their lives if he is termed a martyr. He was just innocent. RIP.

  2. rishita19

    this deitification and demonification is a problematic practice in our country… but ofcourse i don’t mean to make an issue about conferment of the said title to him when i say so… but i do agree that there is a problem with it for two reasons..a) this hampers us from seeing the whole episode in true light.., I mean this has happened when we are living so we know the story… but the coming generations will probably be told a different story (to remove this ambiguity that you have pointed out) and half the truth will be lost… the difference between someone who chooses to suffer and one who is made to suffer will be closed… b) in the end we end up giving titles and names like martyr, and nirbhaya or damini, but fail to get justice delivered…

    since there’s no word for such a person and calling them “just another sufferer” is also not apt, hence the title probably… that throws light upon another weakness of ours… i.e. either we don’t have the ability/ the govt. just does not allow us to keep a cause alive till justice is delivered… these titles and names help us to keep them alive for a little longer, and the authorities to linger the matter endlessly…

    there are some things you cannot really stand up against… this is one of those things… most won’t understand the point here… that what is being said is not to demean Sarabjeet but to make sure that things are understood and talked about exactly the way they actually are…

  3. sg02

    we have uneducated, corrupt politicians and much poverty and lack of education in our country. when these two classes go hand in hand … things happen like sarabhjeet get “martyr” status..
    @rishita: ‘in the end we end up giving titles and names like martyr, and nirbhaya or damini, but fail to get justice delivered…’.. yes indeed! that is the harsh reality.. all the candle marches cant get justice delivered in our country..

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