Sarabjit to be cremated in Bhikhiwind Friday; anger in town

Bhikhiwind (Punjab), May 2 : Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who died in Pakistan early Thursday, will be cremated in his hometown Bhikhiwind in Punjab's border district of Tarn Taran, amid great anger in the town.

Sarabjit's family, which was in New Delhi, reached Bhikhiwind, 50 km from Amritsar, by helicopter Thursday evening. Scores of local residents gathered at the helipad to meet them and walked with them to their house.

Sarabjit's body was being flown from Lahore to Amritsar on its way to this town, and arrangements were underway for the last rites. A number of leaders are expected to attend the cremation Friday.

Angry resident of this town held protests Thursday and kept the entire town shut. Shops and educational institutions also remained closed.

Protestors gathered at various places and condemned the "cowardly" act by Pakistani authorities which led to Sarabjit's death. Residents of the town mourned his death and said the Indian and Pakistani governments could have saved him.

The town Thursday woke up to receive the sad news of his death in a Lahore hospital.

Residents of the town saw celebrations and disappointment within a few hours in June in 2012 when reports first said that the Pakistan government had announced his release.

However, in a flip-flop, the Pakistani authorities later clarified that not Sarabjit Singh but another Indian prisoner, Surjeet Singh, was being released.

"We were expecting a miracle to happen. We wanted Sarabjit to recover. What the Pakistanis have done is cowardly. He had suffered in their jails for nearly 23 years and now they have murdered him," a visibly upset Bhikhiwind resident Kirpal Singh said as he and some others gathered outside the house of Sarabjit's family.

Some residents also gathered outside the local gurdwara and protested against Pakistan.

"Residents of the town were hoping and praying that Sarabjit would return in their midst one day. The Pakistani authorities have killed him by conspiracy," another resident, Amrit Kaur, said.

Sarabjit, 49, suffered critical head injuries after an unprovoked and sudden assault by other prisoners April 26.

Sarabjit was on death row in Pakistan since 1990 after being convicted by Pakistani courts for bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan, which left 14 people dead.

Sarabjit's family claimed that he was innocent and was arrested when he crossed over to Pakistan in an inebriated state.

Police in Pakistan, however, claimed that Sarabjit Singh was involved in terror strikes.

--IANS (Posted on 02-05-2013)

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