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Campaign hits Wagah wall

Wagah Border, Aug. 26: The “Save Sarabjit” campaign reached Pakistan’s doorstep but ran into a roadblock there.

Sarabjit Singh’s sister Dalbir Kaur, wife Sukhpreet, daughters Swapandweep and Poonam and hundreds of residents of hometown Bhikiwind reached the border but had to return dejected as they were barred from raising slogans and waving placards during the Retreat.

The Retreat is a daily ritual held at the border during which Pakistan Rangers and BSF personnel hold a joint march as hundreds of wildly cheering onlookers on both sides look on.

Sarabjit’s family wanted to use the occasion to plead for his release by chanting slogans like “Betiyon ko baap do, Sarabjit ko chhod do”. Although they were allowed to assemble in the stands, they were told they could not display placards or raise a ruckus during the ceremony.

Sarabjit is on death row in Pakistan for allegedly having a hand in a series of blasts in 1990 and for spying as a RAW agent.

“We are going back as we have not been allowed to convey our message to the people of Pakistan who had come to witness the ceremony. We wanted to tell them Sarabjit is innocent and should not be hanged. We wanted to tell them to plead with President Pervez Musharraf to pardon Sarabjit and release him,” a disappointed Dalbir said.

A memorandum to Musharraf was, however, handed to Wagah BSF commandant Pradeep Katyal who expressed his inability to pass it across the border.

“There is no protocol to accept memorandums here. I have accepted it on humanitarian grounds. I will have to seek permission from the higher authorities to send it across the border,” Katyal said.

The memorandum, from The People of India, entreated Musharraf to pardon Sarabjit as “this one action' shall not only provide succour to the wife, young children and other family members” but also instil in the minds of crores of Indians a sense of deep gratitude. “The people of India also pray and hope that with the grant of clemency to Sarabjit Singh' a new trail shall be blazed whereby already warm relations between the two countries shall be further cemented'.”

Hundreds of Bhikiwind residents, students of Gurukul College where Sarabjit’s daughters study and well-wishers had begun arriving since noon holding placards and banners demanding Sarabjit’s release. By the time they were allowed to display their placards after the ceremony, stands on the Pakistani side were deserted.

“I wish we had been allowed to raise slogans for my father’s release during the ceremony. At least, the Pakistanis on the other side would have responded or taken our message to their people,” Swapandweep said, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“My father was in an inebriated state when he stumbled across the border. It should be a lesson to those who drink.”

Sarabjit’s wife Sukhpreet said she had faith the memorandum would be sent to Musharraf. “They will only be playing with the emotions of hundreds of people if they do not hand it over,” she said.

Some tourists watching the Retreat seemed unaware of Sarabjit’s plight. “I don’t know anything. What has happened to him' I am only interested in watching how soldiers from both sides behave,” said Ravinder Gupta of Mumbai.

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