Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tearful farewell to Sarabjit

CHANDIGARH, May 4, 2013

Amid heartrending scenes, Sarabjit Singh's body was cremated with full state honours in Bhikhiwind on Friday. Even as his family, friends, relatives and fellow-villagers were disconsolate, the presence of VVIPs appeared to be a display of "politics over a common man's body". Large number of people flocked to the village in Tarn Taran district, where, in the absence of a surviving male family member, Sarabjit's sister Dalbir Kaur performed the last rites in accordance with Sikh traditions. Flanked by her brother's wife Sukhpreet Kaur and daughters Swapandeep Kaur and Poonam, Ms. Dalbir Kaur expressed regret that she had been unable to bring Sarabjit back alive.

Locals and visitors lined up to pay their last respect to Sarabjit, whose body arrived in a coffin from Pakistan. In 1990, he wandered into Pakistani territory — ostensibly in an inebriated state — where he was caught, charged, tried and convicted for allegedly carrying out a series of bomb blasts.

Sarabjit's coffin, draped with Tricolour, was brought to the cremation ground in a special vehicle, as villagers followed in its wake. A contingent of the Punjab police, attired in ceremonial uniforms, escorted the funeral procession. As the rites were performed, another contingent of the Punjab police constabulary reversed its arms and provided a gun salute by firing a volley in the air.

The ceremony of consigning his mortal remains to flames was attended by the who's who of the political spectrum — a glum Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi was seen hugging Ms. Dalbir Kaur. He was accompanied by Union Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who was accompanied by the entire State Cabinet, paid floral tributes and was seen trying to console Sarabjit's daughters as they grieved over Sarabjit's coffin.

Keeping in view the presence of VVIPs, the cremation ground was made "out of bounds" for the general public. Bhikhiwind residents, Sarabjit's friends and others climbed onto the roofs of adjacent buildings or perched on trees to have a glimpse of the last rites. According to one Harish Kumar, it was "a sea of grieving humanity" that descended on Bhikhiwind. "There were people who had never been to this area nor met Sarabjit earlier," he said.

Octogenarian Tarsem Sharma said he had never witnessed anything like this — that a "commoner" like Sarabjit could, in his death, bring so many dignitaries to Bhikhiwind, where almost two decades ago, people feared to walk around during the day, as terror stalked the streets.

Meanwhile, the "emergency" session of the Punjab Assembly, which was originally convened to discuss the Union government's proposal to impose wealth tax on agricultural land, was adjourned within 14 minutes of business. Apart from the other obituary references, the House passed a unanimous resolution declaring Sarabjit as a "National Martyr." The members demanded a special inquest at the international level to ascertain the particulars behind Sarabjit's death.

In the light of the assault in a Jammu prison on Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah, the State government issued special orders for enhancing security for the over five dozen Pakistani inmates in different jails across the State.
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