It is condemnable that the Indian prisoner in Pakistan, Sarabjit Singh, is now in critical care in hospital with serious head injuries after a dastardly attack by some inmates of Kot Lakhpat jail. The entire episode of the attack shows gross negligence, if not deliberate callousness, on the part of the Pakistani authorities. It speaks very poorly of Pakistan’s human rights record with reference to prisoners, especially the fact that they were not able to provide security or prevent an attack on Singh despite there being a clear and palpable threat to his person in jail. As Pakistan’s own Human Rights Commission has noted, a prisoner in jail is wholly dependent for his safety on the keepers of the prison and is entitled to protection against violence by wardens or fellow detainees. Given the inherent tensions in the India-Pakistan relationship, it was necessary for the Pakistani authorities to ensure the safety of an Indian prisoner in their custody, with hostilities known to exist. They failed to provide Singh with sufficient security despite there being clear indications that he was under threat from the other inmates particularly after the hanging of Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab.
Singh had indeed approached his counsel in Pakistan with reference to these threats as had his family in India approached the authorities here but no one took cognizance of these apprehensions and no attempt was made to protect him. Singh has been a victim of the callousness of the Pakistani authorities in more than one way. Sentenced to hang by a Pakistani court for the alleged involvement in bombings in Punjab, and imprisoned for more than 22 years, in 2012 the news had flashed that Singh would be released by the Pakistan government only for them to cruelly deny this five hours later. Singh’s case highlights the plight of other Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails, many of whom are to be found in pitiable conditions. The Indian government must vigourously take up the case of the release of Singh by Pakistan in all earnestness, provided be survives. The Pakistan authorities, on their part, must provide him with the best medical treatment and thereafter ensure his release, since they are not able to ensure his safety, as well as the welfare of the other Indians detained by them. Individuals, inadvertently in prison, must not become playthings and bargaining chips in the international politics of the region.