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Jitters for kin of others in jail

Srinagar, May 2: For years, Kamal Kumar has been clinging to hope that his father Om Prakash would walk free from jail in Pakistan one day. He was consumed by anxiety today.

The first time the teen’s faith was shaken was when Chamel Singh, an Indian prisoner in Pakistan, died after alleged torture by some jail officials in January this year. His body was returned in March, triggering outrage in Jammu.

Then came today’s news about Sarabjit Singh, who died after an attack by fellow prisoners in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail.

Kamal, 19, a resident of Buddi village in Jammu’s Kathua district, said he was worried about his father, who has been in a Pakistani jail for about 15 years since “accidentally” crossing the border. Kamal was just four years old then.

“Our family is in shock. First they killed Chamel Singhji and now Sarabjit Singhji. My father is not safe in jail in Pakistan,” Kamal said.

Om Prakash is one of many Jammu and Kashmir residents who are languishing in Pakistani jails, some of them for years, on spying charges.

His family said Om Prakash was in a Rawalpindi jail till 2005 but they weren’t sure where he was now. The last letter they received from him, in 2012, came from Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Kamal said his father’s detention had plunged the family into perpetual gloom.

“I have seen my mother struggle to make ends meet. She worked as a domestic help to raise me and my sister,” Kamal said.

Kamal said the “apathy” of Indian officials troubled the family as much as Pakistan’s treatment of Indian prisoners, echoing a charge made yesterday by Sarabjit’s sister.

“We approached senior government officials but to no avail. You can’t imagine how much we have suffered. Had my papa been with us, our lives would have been different,” he said.

Kamal said the deaths of Chamel and Sarabjit should be a wake-up call for the Centre. “They should come to our rescue and help all the families that are waiting for their loved ones’ return from Pakistan,” Kamal said.

Swarn Lal, 50, a resident of Kunjwani in Jammu who was a co-prisoner of Sarabjit in Pakistan before being released in 2006, said he expected no justice from the Pakistani government. “They attacked Sarabjit to avenge the hanging of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru. We provided the best security to Kasab in jail but there was no security for Sarabjit. Kasab was executed following due process of law but gangsters were unleashed on Sarabjit to kill him,” he said.

Swarn, who spent 15 years in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail before being released in 2006, said Pakistani jails were not safe for Indian prisoners.

“Another Indian prisoner, Bihari Lal, was killed there in 1997 after he had filed a petition in the Pakistan Supreme Court seeking better food for Indian prisoners. His plea was accepted but he was badly tortured and died after somebody shoved a stick down his throat.” Swarn recalled.

He said New Delhi’s “soft policy” too was responsible for the plight of Indian prisoners in Pakistan.