Bhikiwind (Punjab), May 3 (IANS) Sarabjit Singh, the Indian prisoner who died after a murderous attack in a Lahore jail, was cremated at his hometown here Friday amid jostling crowds of tearful mourners.
His sister Dalbir Kaur lit the pyre as thousands of people gathered to pay their last respects to the man, condemned as a terrorist in Pakistan and a martyr in India who was given a state funeral.
Among those who placed wreaths on Sarabjit’s coffin were Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur, Akal Takht chief Gurbachan Singh and Punjab’s cabinet ministers.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who had met Dalbir Kaur in New Delhi Thursday, walked up to the cremation ground and placed a wreath on the coffin. He stood next to the coffin for a while with other leaders.
Sarabjit died Thursday in a hospital in Lahore, six days after being attacked in the Kot Lakhpat Jail.
Before the mortal remains of Sarabjit were consigned to flames, teary-eyed people – men, women, old and young, children and VIPs – were part of the last journey of a man who went through torture and despair for 23 years in Pakistani prisons, trying to prove that he was innocent.
A contingent of Punjab Police reversed its arms and fired thrice in the air as a mark of respect to the 49-year-old who is said to have mistakenly crossed into Pakistan in 1990.
As Dalbir Kaur went around the coffin to pour water from an earthen pot, his family members, including wife Sukhpreet and daughters Swapandeep and Poonam, sobbed uncontrollably.
The man, who spent nearly 23 years in uncertainty in Pakistani prisons, in death went from being an ordinary farmer from a poor rural family to a national hero being given a state funeral.
“I have lost everything. But my fight for Indian prisoners (in Pakistani prisons) will continue,” a shattered Dalbir Kaur said.
The virtual sea of humanity that thronged his funeral here shouted slogans against Pakistan and its leaders.
The crowds were so thick that every vantage point – be it a wall, roof, pole, vehicle or anything else – was taken over by people.
The cremation ground proved too small even to accommodate the VIPs, media and family members.
Thousands of people were held up outside the walls of the ground by a strong posse of Punjab Police to prevent a stampede.
“A majority of the people did not even know him. But they were here to recognise the sacrifice Sarabjit Singh made for the country. This should be an eye-opener for the Pakistanis who murdered him in cold blood,” Sarabjit’s friend Balwinder Singh said.
The body, draped in the tricolour, was first kept in his house and later taken to a ground of the government school nearby so that people could pay their homage.
The Punjab government has announced a three-day state mourning.
Sarabjit’s body was flown in a special Air India flight from Lahore to Amritsar Thursday. From Amritsar, it was transported to Bhikhiwind by chopper.
On Thursday night, doctors from Amritsar Medical College conducted a post-mortem examination on the body at Patti, 40 km from Amritsar.
“There were injury marks on his head and other parts of the body,” Dr Gurmaneet Singh told reporters.
Shops and other establishments, including educational institutions in this town, remained closed Friday. They were shut Thursday too.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has announced a financial grant of Rs.1 crore for Sarabjit’s family. He said Punjab would give government jobs to both his daughters.
Sarabjit received fatal injuries in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail April 26, when he was brutally assaulted by fellow prisoners with bricks and plates.
He had been arrested in Pakistan since August 1990. Pakistan accused him of being an Indian spy and of carrying out bomb attacks. His family insisted he was an innocent man.