The Return of Kashmir Singh

04 Mar

It sounds like a movie or a novel – and a cheesy one at that. Man, wrongly convicted of espionage, is sentenced to death by an army court and spends 35 years on death row until a chance encounter with a Minister grants him a reprieve; finally he comes home to the wife and children who’ve been faithfully waiting all these years for him.

Except this really is the story of Kashmir Singh, an electronic goods trader who was arrested in Rawalpindi in 1973. But while his harrowing experience is grounds for plenty of socio-political and moral commentary on Indo-Pak relations, the status of prisoners of war in both countries and human rights, what really strikes me about him is the personal aspect.

I’ve been sitting here, trying to imagine what it would be like to be jailed at the age of 26 for a crime I did not commit, in another country, with no way of getting a message across to my family, knowing that my freedom was forfeit, that the best I could hope for was a life spent in a dingy little cell where sunlight was a distant memory… and I can’t even begin to put myself in that space. No wonder Ansar Burney, Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister, described him as “mentally disabled“.

When Singh saw India last, Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, the government penalized free enterprise, the middle class was tiny, Rajesh Khanna was a superstar and Amitabh Bachchan was struggling to find a foothold, Helen was a vamp, Mohammad Rafi was breaking hearts, the Green Revolution was just picking up speed, the Emergency was as yet unimagined, the discord that would ultimately result in the tragically criminal riots of 1984 and the Khalistan movement was still taking root, the Cold War was going full force… and his family was still young.

The India that he returns to might as well be on another planet. Indira Gandhi’s widowed daughter-in-law and grandson now run the Congress, the Golden Temple has been rebuilt (twice), terrorism is an odiously familiar word, not only have fashions changed but we dress differently, our languages have changed with time, the entire nation got to see Sholay, his hometown probably boasts a mall, the television is another family member, the richest Indian in the world isn’t called Tata or Birla, every family has somebody employed in the IT sector, cell phones mean that we don’t have to book our long distance calls or wait years for a telephone connection, air travel is affordable, we win the occasional cricket match… and his kids have grown up into young men in his absence, his wife is no longer the girl he left behind.

Can you imagine?


Posted by on March 4, 2008 in Life, News, Newsmakers, Politics


15 responses to “The Return of Kashmir Singh

  1. ana

    March 4, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    What I also find unimaginable is Musharraf’s shock and disbelief about Kashmir Singh. . . or unbelievable would be more like it.

  2. Aspi

    March 4, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    I wonder what the story is behind his conversion to Islam. Stockholm Syndrome? Did he find God? Did he try to make allies? I can’t believe Ekta Kapoor isn’t all over this already.

  3. desigirl

    March 5, 2008 at 5:05 am

    I cannot imagine it, no way. This isn’t Veer Zaara, this is real life! Bloody hell! Poor, poor bloke. My heart goes out to him.

  4. saaki

    March 6, 2008 at 2:29 am


    Yeah this sounds like some oldie POW movie…
    what i marvel at is the courage of aperson to go on…after all these years….

    I mean normal people would just break and find their reason’s for continuing to live look like a mirage.

    You gotta admit he didnt think of giving up on life…Bravo…!!!!!

    Hey this reminds me of Rip VAN Winkle…the guy who escapes home to get away from his wife’s nagging and falls asleep to get up after 20 years….

    Another one i remember is a story in a short story collection if i remember correctly by Frederick Forsyth – Whispering wind.
    The lead character is a american civil war hero who goes into hibernation along with his horse after losing his love and wakes up a century later, kinnda freaky but good.


  5. dipali

    March 6, 2008 at 5:25 am

    Truly horrible. I wonder how he would be able to adjust to a world so totally unfamiliar to the one he knew. How did his wife survive all these years, not knowing what had become of him?
    What a waste of precious lives.

  6. Amrita

    March 6, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Ana – it’s pretty crazy isn’t it? If I were to believe him, then it’s scary because if the chief of army and the president combined dont know what’s going on then – er, who’s running the country please? And if he’s lying — hmm. thats the dumbest thing I ever heard coz the POWs have been endlessly talked about. with very little done btw.

    Aspi – whats even more remarkable is how everybody’s been tippy-toeing around the subject. sign of the times i suppose.

    DG – yeah, me too 😦

    Saaki – havent read that story (not a big fan of forsyth for some reason) but it sounds like a cool concept. which is what bothers me so much about this case: it’s a concept that’s fine in fantasy and v. interesting to explore, but to see it acted out in real life? chills down my spine. and yeah, kudos to him for sticking through.

    Dipali – i read that they got married in their teens when he was 16, so she was probably in her early 20s when he disappeared. and she brought up their kids and refused to give up on him. and she looks like she aged more than he did 🙂

  7. M

    March 6, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Wow, what a story – been reading up all news on this, and it is so heartbreaking…will his children even relate to him anymore?


  8. Harrit

    March 6, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    What a courageful man. 35 years of his life behind bars and chained and no light to see and condemned.
    My heart goes out for him and his family. There cannot be a greater Indian Hero.

  9. sidekick

    March 7, 2008 at 1:07 am

    A happy ending here, but it’s chilling to think of how many more like him still languish hopelessly and in crazed fashion in jails.
    This has certainly brought more attention to the plight of PoWs.

  10. kiran

    March 8, 2008 at 2:48 am

    i can n,t imagine.He is the real patriot sacrificed his life for the nation. all the indians should rally behind to his family.

  11. Amrita

    March 8, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    M – I seriously doubt it. I mean they must be in their late 30s or early 40s now.

    Harrit – and there are more like him who’ve never come home.

    Sidekick – thats what I’m thinking too. Whats the use of warming ties if we dont use them to solve stories like these?

    Kiran – won’t happen though 😦 and he might want to stop giving interviews now.

  12. Beeyes

    March 9, 2008 at 6:28 am

    and the entire patriotic India goes gaga over the poor chap. Punjab government announces monetary awards. So, lets go back to dhoni & chaps until some paki lawyer finds and brings another un like this. Remember the kamal hasan movie “kuruthipunal”? How many of these “on duty” are out there? who remembers? who cares?

  13. Amrita

    March 10, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Beeyes – sad but true. the publicity is often more than the actuality.

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