Sporting a colorful headgear and dressed in their smart kurta pyjamas when Netas of different hues and shades will climb different podiums across the Nation to unfurl the National flag marking the 69th Independence day celebrations a distraught family living in utter neglect in Pargwal area of Akhnoor in Jammu district will struggle to spend another day waiting for the political elite of the country to take note of their plight and apathetic attitude of the ‘babudom’ who have till date denied them their rightful justice and place under the sun to their lone bread earner who sacrificed his life in an enemy country serving a jail term facing charges of espionage.
Since January 15, 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 the central jail in Pakistan they have been running from pillar to post to get justice and adequate compensation from the successive state and the central govts’.
Singh was arrested by the Pakistani authorities in 2008 and lodged in Kot Lakhpat jail after slapping charges of espionage against him.
When the gruesome incident came to light congress led UPA govt was at the helm of affairs in New Delhi and the party was also running an alliance govt in the state headed by Omar Abdullah of National Conference.
It was only principal opposition party BJP which had come to the rescue of the family and adopted a tough posture and launched a scathing attack on the weak and timid Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh for not responding to the sentiments of the people across the nation and remaining a mute spectator to the gave provocation.
To shore up their image in the eyes of their supporters and prospective vote bank in an election year BJP leaders led the charge from the front and even demanded hefty compensation to the tune of Rs 1.25 crores at par with what another Indian prisoner Sarabjeet SIngh, received from the state and the centre govt after he too was murdered inside the same jail in April 2013.
Though the congress party failed to compensate kin of Chamel Singh before they were booted out of the seat of power but hopes of Chamel Singh’s family were raised when both in the centre and in the state BJP govt took charge of office.
Ironically, the poor family of Chamel Singh including his widow and four children continue to run from pillar to post as they have been dumped in the dust bin even by the BJP governments in the state and at the centre.a
Even after his death when Chamel’s family demanded his body, the jail authorities took refuge in diplomatic delays and stalled the entire process to gain 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 Wagah border.
Politicians cutting across party lines made a beeline in front of news cameras speaking passionately about the wrong done on Chamel. His torturous death became a subject matter of intense election campaign during the Lok Sabha and later Assembly polls and adequate compensation was promised to his kin.
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 charged with going soft on Pakistan thereby emboldening the neighbour to carry out such audacious strikes against Indian jail inmates. he same jail, an angry India reacted again.
Since then Chamel’s kin continue to wait for justice and even 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 cared even less 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.
After a change of guard at the Centre and also in the State, hopes of the family were raised but the assistance is nowhere to be seen. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in an election speech in Jammu on December 1, 2013, paid homage to Chamel and even asked the media why they had highlighted the case of Sarabjeet Singh but ignored the plight of Chamel’s kin. However, Chamel’s family continues to wait for justice and compensation.
Kamlesh Devi,Chamel Singh’s widow say , “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 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, Home Department, said that no compensation/relief has been provided to the family as there is 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 alliance 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 State 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,” he added.
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 December 22, 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 paltry 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 Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliver justice to his family. While in Opposition, the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP and State Prabhari Avinash Rai Khanna had demanded compensation to the tune of Rs1.35 crore for Chamel’s family in May 2013.
“Compensation of Rs1 crore should be given by the Jammu & Kashmir Government while Rs25 lakh should be given by the Centre,” Khanna had said while handing over a cheque of Rs 3 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 they all avoided direct replies and claimed they will look in to the issue and award compensation to the family. Alas the long wait of the family is not yet over.