Tuesday, May 20, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Home they come from Pak clutches
100 Indian prisoners in Lahore jail
Ashwani Dutta

Yamunanagar, May 19
“It is my second birth. I never thought that I would be released at such short notice from the Pakistani jail”. These were the words of Mr Surinder Singh, who reached his native village Mehalawali, 10 km from here, this morning.

Relatives and villagers thronged his house as they heard about his home-coming. Surinder Singh was running a welding shop before leaving this country in August, 2001. By his side were his two children.

Mr Surinder Singh made it clear that he would never visit any foreign country again. His purpose was to earn better bread and butter for the family. But he was unnecessarily put in jail without any fault. He said in Lahore jail there were more than 100 Indian prisoners whereas in Quetta jail, where he was kept for more than one year, there were 10 Indian prisoners.

In Lahore jail the conditions were very bad. About three dozen prisoners had been tortured extensively and most of them had lost mental balance. Most of them had completed their sentences but had not yet been released.

Narrating his tale of woe Surinder Singh said in August, 2001, he went to Thailand after spending a huge money on the visa. From Thailand he visited Jordan, as the visa of that country was available with him.

Then he traversed mountains to reach Turkey. He along with a few other persons stayed in a hotel in Turkey. From Turkey they were packed in a container which was placed beneath a ship.

They were caught by Turkish soldiers as the ship was near Iran. They were produced before the Judicial Officers of Iran who ordered them to be handed over to the Pakistan Government. They were put in Quetta jail from May 17, 2002, to May 16, 2003. There was already one more person of Kashmirgarh village of Yamunanagar district in the jail. initially he was put in ‘Kal-Kothri’ and was tortured by the Pakistan army. He managed to send a letter to his parents about his whereabouts. When his parents and his wife came to know that he was in a Pakistani jail they lost all hopes of his return.

His father Subedar Mukhtiar Singh (retired) met politicians and government officials. On May 16, 2003, the Quetta jail authorities told Surinder Singh that the Pakistan government had agreed to release him and that he was to reach Lahore immediately. He said it was the best moment of his life.

Surinder Singh said out of 10 Indian prisoners in Quetta jail seven were from Haryana and three from Punjab.

His father Mukhtiar Singh was in tears. He came to know about the release of his son from the electronic media. He said he along with his wife and grand daughter Nisha immediately left for the Wagah checkpost. Soon after the family reunion they went first to Shri Harmandar Sahib to pay obeisance.

Surinder Singh’s mother Mahinder Kaur said she would not send their wards abroad again. His two brothers are in the Indian Army.

Pramod Bharti adds from Nawanshahr: The release of prisoners from Pakistani jails has brought a sigh of relief to the families of Gurnam Singh (23) of Garhi Kanugo village and Surjit Lal (36) of Kataria village in Nawanshahr district and Amarjit Singh (39) of Denowal Khurd village in Hoshiarpur district.

These villages are rejoicing on the return of their loved ones. All these persons, who had landed in Mach (Baluchistan) and Quetta jails in Pakistan, narrated almost the same story. All of them wanted to settle in Greece in search of green pastures. They were first sent to Lebanon on a three-month visa in July, 2001, by travel agents. They then went to Turkey via Syria and to Iran in a bid to cross the border illegally. They were caught and sent to Pakistani jails. They told the media persons that they had taken the risk to settle abroad to ensure a better future for their families. They survived only on water for weeks while trying to cross the border illegally. They were not tortured and ill-treated in Pakistani jails but they had no hope of returning home, said the victims.

Though their parents are saying that they will not allow them to try to settle abroad again but the victims are still preferring foreign countries. They would like to settle abroad, but on a permanent visa. “This time we will not fall a prey to the so-called travel agents”, said the victims.

They expressed their gratitude for Jathedar Harpal Singh Bhullar, President, Human Rights Society and International Bhai Mardana Yadhgari Kirtan Darbar Society, Mr Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, President, Lok Bhalai Party, and Mr Simranjit Singh Mann, MP, for their relentless efforts for ensuring their release from Pakistani jails.

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