Wagah: After spending 31 years in a Pakistani jail, Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh today walked free and crossed over to his home country in an emotional renunion with his family.
Sixty-nine-year-old Singh, who was released from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail this morning, crossed to the Indian side at Wagah border where he was welcomed with garlands and red shawls by his family and villagers, after he had completed official procedures on the Pakistan side of the border.
“After 30 years, I am meeting my children. I am very happy,” he told reporters here.
He said he did not have any hardship in the Pakistani jail and he got daily necessities like food and clothes.
Referring to Sarabjit Singh, who is on the death row in the Lahore jail, he said the Indian convict was doing fine. He said he used to meet him only once a week.
Asked if Sarabjit Singh had sent any message for his family, he said, “No”.
Singh served a life term following his arrest on charges of spying in the 1980s in Pakistan. He was given the death sentence under the Pakistan Army Act in 1985. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1989 by then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
Pakistani security personnel had escorted Singh to the Wagah land border crossing, where he was handed over to Indian authorities. His release from prison came after reports surfaced on Tuesday that Pakistan was to free Sarabjit Singh.
But later, Pakistani authorities clarified that they had actually ordered the release of Surjeet and not Sarabjit.
Wearing white kurta-pajama and black turban, Surjeet Singh was extended warm welcome by the Indian authorities.
On reaching Indian territory, he hugged his all family members including his wife Harbans Kaur, his son Kulwinder Singh, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, besides people from his native village Phidde.
“I was eager to meet my children and I am keen go to the Golden Temple first before leaving for my village in Ferozepur district…I am immensely happy on being released as I could meet my family members after over the three decades,” he said.
On his tenure in the Pakistani jail, he said, “The plight of a prisoner would remain like a prisoner who remains in detention all the time…So what could be said on it.”
Asked about the condition of other Indian prisoners in the jail, he said, “They are provided all basic things like food, clothes, soaps and even medicines. Some Indians, who are mentally not fit, are being treated in the hospital outside the jail.”
On Sarabjit Singh, Surjeet said, “Since he has been sentenced to death, he has been lodged in a separate solitary cell where he is not allowed to mix with the other prisoners of the jail except once in a week.
“Once in a week he meets other prisoners for a while. Even I met him many times…He is hale and hearty but speaks very less,” he said.
He claimed that all efforts for the release of Sarabjit Singh by India went in vain after the media turned its attention on him and certain groups in Pakistan took to strongly opposing his release.
“I wish Sarabjit Singh is released at the earliest so that he can meet his family in India.”
About the drama after Pakistani TV channels flashed that Sarabjit Singh was being released and later stated that, not Sarabjit but Surjeet is the person, he claimed, “All this happened due to spelling mistakes as in Urdu language the spelling of Surjeet and Sarabjeet are almost similar.”
He said, “Now I will make efforts to get Sarabjeet released from Pakistan…I don’t know how I will do it but, certainly, I will meet the authorities concerned in India for Sarabjeet.”
When asked why he crossed over to Pakistan, he said, ”Yes, I went there for spying.”