By Pradyut Hande:
Indian death row inmate, Sarabjit Singh, breathed his last at an obscure hospital in Lahore early on Thursday. Comatose and on life support for the past one week following a barbaric assault by fellow jail mates, Singh’s precarious condition had been steadily deteriorating, putting paid to his eventual chances of survival and recovery. Sarabjit Singh’s death is an acute reminder of the omnipresent blanket of threat and fear beneath which thousands of our prisoners languish in overcrowded and hostile Pakistani prisons. His unfortunate and brutal demise also raises troubling questions and puts fragile bilateral ties between India and Pakistan into sharper focus.
For starters, it is painfully clear that all the players involved in this sordid saga have acted most predictably. Despite the heightened imminent threat perception in the wake of the executions of Ajmal Kasab and Mohommad Afzal, the Pakistani officials did precious little to recognise the prevalent reality or conveniently chose to turn a blinkered, blind eye to the same. Repeated requests by the Indian authorities and fervent pleas by his despondent family to step up Sarabjit Singh’s security cover appear to have fallen on deaf ears. However, as is often the case, there maybe more to it than what meets the eye at first examination. Looking at it through a more objectively discerning lens, the entire episode does present one with a plethora of sinister plausibilities and open ended conjecture that provides adequate fodder for disturbing conspiracy theories.
Could the “sinister plot” to “eliminate” Sarabjit Singh, have been a carefully conceived, deviously veiled state sponsored act after all? Is the “attacked-by-fellow-prisoners” scenario a facade behind which resides an inconvenient truth? Are his murderers mere scapegoats, instigated to act on behalf of the real perpetrators? These are perhaps unofficial questions to which official answers will never be forthcoming, but are still worth pondering over. An official enquiry into the assault to temporarily placate India has been instituted. However, such is the reigning trust deficit between the two countries that anything that the Pakistanis may say, ought to be taken with a pinch of salt.
This ordeal has also highlighted the Indian Government’s seemingly lackadaisical approach. With an Indian national’s life at stake, precious time was squandered whilst engaged in a diplomatic impasse. The Pakistani authorities acted exactly as predicted, refusing to send back Sarabjit Singh to India for better medical care. However, one expected our Indian counterparts to play a more proactive role, taking into cognisance the urgency of the situation. The Government’s abject failure, despite excuses of its “hands being tied”, has only exacerbated the prevailing air of negative sentiment against it. It has provided its growing opposition yet another reason to publicly bemoan its inability and incompetence.
Whatever be the case, Sarabjit Singh’s cold blooded murder is unpardonable. After spending 22 years in the most hostile prisons of Pakistan, possibly subjected to gross human rights violations at multiple levels, his disturbing death brings to a close a tragic tale. Let us not forget the thousands of other nameless, faceless and hapless Indian prisoners; jailed abroad; who wither away once they lose that one thing that they continued to hold dear. Hope.
Does this entire episode present the Government with any valuable lessons? Yes, it does. Will our leaders care enough to learn the same? The optimist in me would like to say “yes” but the realist believes otherwise.