Sarabjit and Sanaullah: Paying the Cost of Communal Jingoism and War-mongering

The brutal attack by co-prisoners on an Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh in a Lahore jail, resulting in his eventual death, is a heinous instance of extra-judicial killing and violation of human rights on part of the Pakistani State. The fact that co-prisoners were able to launch this murderous assault on a high-profile death-row prisoner indicates collusion on part of the jail authorities and government in Pakistan. Early this year, another Indian prisoner Chamel Singh had been lynched to death by fellow prisoners in the same jail. In spite of this, no steps were taken by the Pakistan Government and the jail authorities to ensure security for Indian prisoners, especially for Sarabjit Singh, who was especially vulnerable because he was an Indian convicted of a terrorist crime in Pakistan. A credible probe must be instituted at the earliest, to identify and punish the killers and conspirators responsible for the murderous assault on Sarabjit Singh.

Compounding the horror of the lynching of Sarabjit Singh was the retaliatory lynching of a Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah Ranjay by Indian fellow-prisoners in a Jammu jail, rendering him brain-dead. The incidents of lynching have underlined the vulnerability of Indian and Pakistani prisoners in jails in both countries, and the costs of the dangerous game of competitive communal jingoism played in both countries. The attempts to whip up anti-Pakistan jingoism and war-mongering in the wake of the lynching of Sarabjit Singh must be firmly resisted in India.

The shocking indifference of the Indian government to the known threats to Sarabjit’s life is also deeply condemnable and shameful. In spite of the killing of Chamel Singh earlier this year, the Indian Government was apathetic towards pursuing the matter of rights and safety of Indian prisoners in Pakistan’s jails with the Pakistan Government. The Indian Government’s failure to take precautions to protect Pakistani prisoners inside Indian jails following Sarabjit’s death, led to the shameful assault on Sanaullah.

Sarabjit and Sanaullah, like other Indian and Pakistani prisoners and terror-accused/convicted prisoners in jails in both countries, are victims of the lethal mix of communalism and jingoism that drives state policy in the subcontinent. In a climate where hangings and custodial killings are driven by political/electoral calculations in both Pakistan and India, justice and humanity are the casualty. Immediate measures must be urgently taken to ensure the safety of Indian and Pakistani prisoners, as well as all terror-related under-trials and convicts in jails in both countries. A large number of fishermen including several juveniles constitute the bulk of Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails and vice versa. All efforts must be made to secure the release of such fishermen and other innocent prisoners who may have inadvertently crossed the border, with the minimum delay.

The unconscionable crimes committed against Sarabjit and Sanaullah must also serve as a grim reminder of the abysmal state of human rights within prisons in both countries. In India, we must remember that under-trials and convicts from the minority community in terror-related cases have very often been subjected to assaults in court premises, custodial torture by police, as well as lynching inside jails. We should remember the case of Quateel Siddiqui, blast accused from Darbhanga, killed by prisoners in Yerawada jail Pune 8 June 2012. In a mirror image of the lynching of Sarabjit in Pakistan, assaults on terror-related under-trials in court premises and jails in India are justified in the name of blind ‘nationalist’ sentiment. It must be stressed that there is nothing patriotic about such assaults; rather, such assaults are a shame for the country and its claims to being a democracy.

The culture of extra judicial killings of prisoners, be it in Pakistan, or India, is abhorrent and must stop. Democratic and progressive forces in both countries are rightly rejecting and resisting communalism and jingoism and demanding just and humanitarian treatment for prisoners in jails in both countries.

Naya Bharat (New India)

(Pakistani poet Fahmida Riaz wrote this poem after a visit to India during the BJP-NDA rule. These lines from the poem are just as relevant now, when jingoism in India and Pakistan mirror each other.)

You turned out to be just like us;

Similarly stupid, wallowing in the past,

You’ve reached the same doorstep at last.

Your demon [of] religion dances like a clown,

Whatever you do will be upside down.

You too will sit deep in thought,

Who is Hindu, who is not.

Keep repeating the mantra like a parrot,

Bharat was like the land of the brave

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