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Sarabjit family shocked, Surjit relatives rejoice

Amritsar/Muktsar: Joy gave way to despair for the family of Sarabjit Singh after the mix up on his release even as celebrations broke out in the village of Surjit Singh on receiving the unexpected news that he was coming home from a Pakistani jail after 31 years.

Stunned that Pakistan was not releasing Sarabjit Singh, his family said it was a "cruel joke" on them .

A pall of gloom descended on Sarabjit`s native Bikhiwind village in Punjab where hundreds of villagers had gathered only last night to celebrate the news of commutation of his death sentence.

Pakistan last night clarified that the Indian prisoner being released is Faridkot native Surjeet Singh and not Sarabjit Singh.

Sarabjit, 49, who is being held at Kot Lakhpat Jail in Pakistan, was sentenced to death for alleged involvement in a string of blasts in Punjab province in 1990. With tears in her eyes, Sarabjit`s sister Dalbir Kaur said, "It is difficult for us to believe the Sarabjit Singh has not been released. How can I accept that my brother would not come home yet."

"The latest news wherein I was informed that my brother is not released is a cruel joke with the family whose sentiments have been badly hurt," Dalbir, who has made many attempts to release her brother in the past, said.

Sukhpreet Kaur, wife of Sarabjit Singh said, "My husband must be released as the family has already suffered a lot and is now not in a position to suffer more".

However, a festive atmosphere prevailed in Phiddey village after Pakistan announced that Indian prisoner Surjit Singh is going to walk free after 31 years in jail with his family saying it was a "dream come true" for them.

Harban Kaur, wife of Surjit Singh, described the turn of events in favour of their family as a big news for the family. The news was conveyed to her eldest daughter Parminder Kaur by Surjit`s counsel in Pakistan Asmesh Sheikh.

"It is a dream come true," she said as her daughter Parminder Kaur, who lives with her husband in Surewala village, joined her in the celebrations at Phiddey village.

As soon as the news spread, people of adjoining areas and panchayats thronged the residence of the family.

Surjit`s elder sister Gurdeep Kaur also rushed from Bhutiwala Faridkot to join the celebrations in Phiddey village where a number of relatives had started arriving since morning.

Surjeet was in Pakistani captivity for over 30 years.He was captured near the border with India on charges of spying during the era of military ruler Zia-ul-Haq. Thanking the governments of India and Pakistan, Parminder Kaur and her mother Harban Kaur said today was a special day for the family.

Surjit has two daughters Parminder Kaur and Rani Kaur and a son Kulvinder Singh alias Tikku, the youngest of the three children. The mother and daughter said that Surjit was lodged in Kot Lakhpatrai Jail for the last 31 years in a murder case.

The release was ordered on the direction of the Pakistan Supreme Court to set free all prisoners who have completed their term, they said.

Parminder Kaur said that now they were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Surjit Singh which was expected to take place through the land route in Attari near Amritsar. "We have no information as to when he would actually cross over to India," she said, adding they would, however, rush to Attari tomorrow hoping that he may cross the border after completion of formalities in Pakistan today.

The family thanked human rights activists Ansar Burney whom both daughters of Surjit had met in Badal village at the residence of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal in April 2008 seeking their father`s release.

Parkash Badal had also pleaded their case, Parminder said adding the Chief Minister had provided all required documents to Burney who intervened and took up the matter in Pakistan.

Parminder said that her father had left home in early 1981 and strayed across to Pakistan and for 15 years the family had no clue about his whereabouts. She said that on September 12, 2004 they learnt from some people that Surjit was lodged in Kot Lakhpat Rai Jail in Pakistan.

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