Sarabjit’s New Lawyer

I met Sarabjit Singh’s sister and his daughters Swapandeep and Punamdeep at a function in Amritsar on 10 December, 2008. It was a complete surprise for me. The Mumbai attack on 26 November, 2008 was a time of high tension time between the two neighbouring countries.
All but one terrorist was killed. The survivor was Ajmal Kasab, whose video footage was shown all over the world. He stated that he had come with others from Pakistan on a motor boat. Great chaos was created across India. The Indian Army was deployed on the Pakistani border. Pakistan too, alerted its forces and once an eyeball to eyeball situation was created. At that time the Pakistan Foreign Minister was in Delhihaving talks with the Indian counterpart. Before this, President Zardari had announced that Pakistan will not initiate the nuclear war. He had also stated that Pakistan does not consider India as its enemy and negotiations were under way to start trade and eliminate visa restrictions.
At this time the terrorists act was aimed at sabotaging the peace process. These elements want status quo in the confrontation politics between the two countries. These elements are not so hidden now. The people of the two countries can recognise them with open eyes. Pakistan itself is a target of terrorism but it has to take the blame of these misadventures. In the past when Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mian Nawaz Sharif were having talks at the Governor House at Lahore, the Kargil Operation was underway. This had a negative effect on Pakistan’s image internationally. The Kargil Front swallowed the peace journey altogether.
In the same way the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 was an ugly example of terrorism. Pakistan-India relations received a near fatal blow. Similarly the attack on Samjhauta Express was the act of Indian extremists. Terrorist organisations of Hindu extremists took part in this. They were also involved in the Gujarat killings during 2002. Demolishing of Babri Masjid was another heinous act.
Nevertheless the peace loving majority of the public from both the countries pressurised their Governments to start the Composite Dialogue once again. On one occasion the Chief Justice Delhi High Court, Rajinder Sachar, addressing a press conference in Lahore said, “No one will dare to reverse the ongoing Composite Dialogue between India and Pakistan. We are bound to live like good neighbors.” Alas, this proved to be a false notion. After the Mumbai incident, the situation touched the danger mark. Pakistan feared that India could attack it. Yousaf Raza Gillani, the Prime Minister of Pakistan called an all party meeting. People of the two countries were scared of the nuclear option.
At this crucial juncture, I decided to travel to India to initiate a peace offensive. It was the Eid Day and my family along with my mother persuaded me not to make this risky journey. I believed that a peace activist should play his role at the point of conflict. I was the only one in the Dosti Bus. M. U. Dua, the President of All Indian Human Rights Association greeted me. In the gathering of four hundred people, I was the only Pakistani.
In the scenario of imminent war, the presence of a Pakistani was astonishing for all the audience. Shalini Dewan, Director of the United Nations, the Punjab Health Minister Lakshmi Chawla, and SSP Amritsar were some of the guests present at the meeting. During the evening session, a lady with two girls entered the hall. A team of media people was accompanying them. I learnt that the lady was Sarabjit’s sister, Dalbir Kaur and the girls were Swapandeep and Punamdeep, his daughters. Dalbir Kaur came to me and said,”I request you to help out my brother.” My heart was touched and I replied respectfully,”To get your brother out from prison will be the mission of my life now.” In the end we all traveled to Wagah where peace lamps were lit by the delegates. Thanks God the two countries had come out of the danger zone. The war had been averted.
Back in Pakistan, I was invited to a Declamation Contest as a Judge in Beacon House School. Another advocate was also a judge at the debate. I was told that the gentleman was a lawyer of an Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh. Learning this I told him that I had met Sarabjit’s daughters and sister in Amritsar. I asked him the details and requested that he should plead the case with extra concern.
In June 2009 a news item shook me all over. Sarabjit’s Attorney has failed to appear before the Supreme Court. 24 June, 2009 was the date fixed for the next hearing and the case was to be decided ex-parte, if the lawyer remained absent. I asked Mr. Hameed, the lawyer to appear on the next date in any case but he failed to do the duty and the Court had upheld the death sentence of Sarabjit. When I approached Mr. Hameed he said,” I am the Additional Advocate General of Punjab so I could not contest the case.” I said,” You could have sent a letter to the court or could have asked the Advocate on Record (AOR) to attend the proceedings”.
On my request he conducted a joint press conference and I was able to send some press clippings to the poor soul Dalbir Kaur. This caused a storm in India. The one sided decision brought despair and anger. Rana Hameed’s role was highly criticised by Indian press. The sister and wife of Sarabjit had told me that they had given five lakhs of rupees as fee to Rana Hameed but he had betrayed them. Rana Sahib had stated that he had taken only three lakhs instead of five.
On 28 June, I was told by Dalbir Kaur on telephone that I was to be the next Attorney of Sarabjit Singh. I told her that I would not accept any fee for this purpose. The same day I received the power of Attorney through e-mail. The Home Secretary of Punjab ordered the Superintendent, Central Jail, to register my power of attorney. The news proved to be like a fire in the forest.
When I visited the Kot Lakhpat Jail on 3 July, I was surprised to see the Pakistani and foreign media present there. The superintendent staff were in a state of disbelief since the death warrant had been signed and President Musharraf had given a stay of only a month, four days before hanging. It was a great moment when Sarabjit put his thumb impression and appointed me his lawyer to the dismay of the Jail Incharge. I then tried to meet Sarabjit but the Superintendent told me to wait till 6 July. Coming out, I had to face a hostile media. They were attacking, not questioning. My experience told me that I should keep cool. I told them that with the release of this prisoner the two countries can come close together. “Will you fight the case of Ajmal Kasab?” they asked. It was a cross-fire, not friendly at all, at this stage.
Next day, at a wedding party, I had to face anxious friends and relatives. “You are on the side of a terrorist who has killed innocent people,” a relative said. Another one asked,”Is his name not in the FIR?” This time, I was pleased with my efforts that at least the people have come to know that the name of the so called terrorist was never even in the FIR. The sentence had been passed against Manjit Singh, but the one who is undergoing punishment is Sarabjit Singh. I was thinking that the previous lawyer had simply wasted 19 years without doing justice to his client. The court was never informed about the real identity of the culprit. He had never even bothered to be present at the time of hearing till the extent that the mercy petition was rejected on being time barred.

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