Thursday, April 20, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Roop Lal met 150 POWs
Kashmir Singh in Pak jails for 25 yrs
From R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, April 19 — Little is known about Kashmir Singh, a Hoshiarpur district resident, who has been languishing in Pakistani jails for the past 25 years, almost five months more than Roop Lal, the Indian prisoner who returned here after spending a quarter century in Pakistan.

“I am lucky to be released, but my senior (Kashmir Singh) has been there all these years. I will do everything possible to get him released,” Roop Lal said, adding that the Hoshiarpur resident, also charged with spying, was in prison five months before he was caught in 1974.

Another inmate of Kot Lakhpat jail, Vijay Kumar Sharma of Jammu district, has spent 14 years. “He has to undergo another three years imprisonment to complete his sentence,” Roop Lal said.

Both these prisoners have been forced to change their religion and are known as Ibrahim and Abdul Rehman, respectively, in jail records, he said.

Apart from these two inmates, there are over 150 Indian prisoners in different Pakistani jails, with whom he came in contact with during his long sentence.

“My freedom is a hope for other Indian prisoners that one day they will also be free and for their families I bring the message of hope,” Roop Lal said, with a moist eyes.

Since the day Roop Lal returned to India, his house in Hari Nagar, West Delhi, is flooded with calls from many families whose loved ones have been missing in action or reportedly captured by Pakistan.

Several persons have come with photographs to identify whether he had seen them. “Some photos I do recognise as I have seen them being hanged. But how could I tell them that their loved ones are dead. The only thing I say is that it is better to die than be alive in a Pakistani prison,” he said.

Gurdaspur district resident Roop Lal said he would soon visit his ancestral village.

“Roop Lal’s return has rekindled hope in me that my son will be alive and one day I will be able to meet him,” said Mr G.K.Sharma, (name changed as he did not wish to bring any harm to his son, who has been missing since the 1971 war).

While answering a question in Parliament in September 1996, the then External Affairs Minister, Mr I.K.Gujral, had said: “According to available information, 54 missing Indian defence personnel are believed to be in custody in Pakistan.”

Dr Krishan Kumar, the son-in-law of Roop Lal, said “many families have contacted us with photographs and other material to know whether their loved ones are still alive and whether Roop Lal ever met them.”“They are coming here with a hope and I have resolved to help in all possible way to get their release. That is my mission in this new lease of life,” said Roop Lal.

“Despite the harsh prison term, I survived because of my knowledge of palmistry. I have read the fate lines of many prison officials, but have always dreaded to read what fate has been bestowed on me,” he said.

One of the high-profile client, whose name he was willing to disclose now, was the former Chief Minister of Pakistan Punjab, Mr Gulam Hyder.

“When he was just a minister, during his visit to Kot Lakhpat prison, the jail officials informed that I was a good palmist and he showed his hand. I predicted that he would become the Chief Minister of the province,” Roop Lal boasting about his prediction said.

He, however, said “that was the last time I saw him. He never paid another visit. But, I became famous in the prison and many used to flock around me to know their future.”

“I used to charge Rs 500 from Pakistani officials for seeing their hands,” he said, adding that “I never used to take cash. Rather, I used to seek their favour in return by asking them to provide paper, pencil for writing letters and for posting them.”

It is these letters written from the prison cells that secured his freedom at last.


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