Since 15 January 2013 when for the first time family members of Indian farmer Chamel Singh came to know that their loved one has been brutally murdered inside a jail in Pakistan, they have been running from pillar to post to get justice and adequate compensation from successive State and Union governments.
Singh was arrested by the Pakistani authorities in 2008 and lodged in Kot Lakhpat jail after that country slapped charges of espionage against him. When the gruesome incident came to light, the Congress-led UPA government was at the helm of affairs in New Delhi and the party was also running a coalition government in the State headed by Omar Abdullah of the National Conference.
It was only principal opposition party, the BJP, which had voiced the concerns of the family. Adopting a tough posture, it launched a scathing attack on the “weak” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for not being sensitive to the sentiments of the people across the nation and remaining a mute spectator to the grave provocation.
To shore up their image in the eyes of their supporters and prospective voters in an election year, BJP leaders led the charge from the front and even demanded a hefty compensation to the tune of Rs 1.25 crore at par with what another Indian prisoner, Sarabjeet Singh, received from the governments after he too was ‘murdered’ inside the same jail in April 2013.
Though the Congress failed to compensate the kin of Chamel Singh before they were booted out of the seat of power, hopes of Chamel Singh’s family were raised when both at the Centre and in the State NDA governments took charge.
Ironically, the poor family of Chamel Singh, including his widow and four children, continue to be hassled as they have been relegated to the dustbin even by the two governments — in one of which it is the leading party and in another a junior partner.
Even after his death when the farmer’s family demanded his body, the jail authorities took recourse to diplomatic delays and stalled the entire process to buy time. In Jammu, the distraught family, with meagre resources at its disposal, had to wait for 57 days before the Pakistani authorities handed over Chamel’s body to the Indian authorities at the Wagah border. Politicians cutting across party lines made a beeline in front of news cameras at that point in time, speaking passionately about the wrong done on Chamel. His painful death became a subject matter of intense election campaign during the Lok Sabha and later Assembly polls, where adequate compensation was promised to his kin in the speeches.
When the compensation was unduly delayed, the BJP accused the Congress of ignoring the plight of a patriotic but poor family. The UPA government was also accused of going soft on Pakistan which, they said, emboldened the neighbour to carry out such audacious strikes against Indian jail inmates.
Since then, Chamel’s kin have been waiting for justice and a paltry compensation. Neither the central leaders nor former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah found it appropriate to visit his family and offer condolences.
Local Congress MLAs did not care to forward the demand for adequate compensation. During all these months, whenever the media has brought this issue to the fore, senior State leaders, including former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, paid lip service and termed the decision to not compensate Chamel’s kin as unfortunate. As chief minister, when Omar Abdullah was confronted by mediapersons about the plight of the family, he washed his hands off by claiming that it was for the Centre to decide the matter of awarding the compensation demanded.
After a change of guard at the Centre and also in the State, hopes of the family rose, but the promised assistance is nowhere to be seen. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, in an election speech in Jammu on 1 December 2013, paid homage to Chamel Singh and even asked the media why they had highlighted the case of Sarabjeet Singh but ignored the plight of Chamel’s kin. Was that only to garner votes?
Kamlesh Devi, Chamel Singh’s widow, says, “I will continue to fight for justice and martyr status for my husband till my last breath.”
Kamlesh wonders when two other Indian citizens died under similar circumstances in the Pakistani jail, why a different yardstick was used to compensate their kin. Chamel’s elder son Dara Singh, who earns his livelihood as a daily wager in his village, said: “In Jammu & Kashmir, a surrendered militant can avail of compensation under the ‘healing touch’ policy, a stone pelter is covered under the amnesty scheme, victims of cross-border firing too get compensation but there exists no provision for compensation/relief to the family of victims brutally murdered inside Pakistani jails.”
Quoting the State Government’s recent response on the issue in the Assembly, Dara said that, during the recent Budget Session when BJP MLA Sat Sharma raised the issue of compensation for the kin of Chamel, Minister in-charge of the Home Department — this chair is occupied by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Saeed now — said that no compensation/relief had been provided to the family as there was no provision of compensation in such cases.
Referring to unfulfilled political promises, Chamel’s younger son Deepak said: “The central government, headed by Manmohan Singh and Akali Dal-led coalition government in Punjab, compensated Sarabjeet’s family, provided a government job to his daughter and also bestowed the title of ‘martyr’ on him. In contrast, more than 30 months have passed and we are still awaiting justice from the State and Central governments.” He said, “It is very unfortunate that the Jammu & Kashmir Government maintains that there is no provision to compensate families of victims in such cases. We are not begging. Our father sacrificed his life inside a Pakistani jail and no one in the Government is willing to help us.”
Talking about the issue, Sat Pal Sharma said that “before the shifting of the durbar, I had handed over a request letter to the principal secretary seeking an audience with the chief minister along with Chamel’s family. Till date, I have not received any formal response from the CM’s office.” Deepak talked of how, since 22 December 2008 when Chamel went missing, the family has been suffering in isolation. “We could not complete our studies due to poverty. My elder brother and I had to step out to earn our livelihood. Even after the death of our father, no one has come forward to help us,” he said.
Dara earns Rs 250 a day as daily wage. The measly sum is insufficient to support his large family. “My younger brother is also working with a local contractor and sometimes goes out of the State to support the family,” said Dara who has appealed to Modi to deliver justice to his family. While in Opposition, the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP and State prabhari (in charge) Avinash Rai Khanna had demanded compensation to the tune of Rs1.35 crore for Chamel’s family in May 2013.
“Compensation of Rs 1 crore should be given by the Jammu & Kashmir Government while Rs 25 lakh should be given by the Centre,” Khanna had said while handing over a cheque of Rs3 lakh to Kamlesh in Chandigarh. Now, after coming to power, both at the Centre and in the State, the same leaders have been silent on the issue.
During the Assembly polls, when Khanna was repeatedly asked about the relief package to Chamel’s family, he maintained that the BJP was committed to compensate his family but could not do so due to the model code of conduct. “How many times do we need to highlight the plight of our family. We are growing tired of repeating appeals in front of the political leadership of the State and the country,” Deepak said.
During their recent visits to the State when the issue of awarding compensation was raised before Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, MoS PMO Dr Jitendra Singh and even before Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh avoided direct replies and claimed they would look in to the issue and award compensation to the family. The long wait of the family is not yet over.