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"I told them that I was a devout Hindu and nothing would change that"

"I told them that I was a devout Hindu and nothing would change that"

The Hindustan Times
April 15, 2000
Title:  "I told them that I was a devout Hindu and nothing would change that"
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: April 15, 2000

Radiating joy emanating from the sweet taste of freedom, Roop Lal arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport this evening. He had a gleam to his eyes as he was wheeled out of flight PK-270. Over 25 years of incarceration, repeated torture and a paralytic attack in Pakistan had not robbed him of his vitality.

"I cannot believe I am back in my country with my own people", he exclaimed as he emerged from the arrival lounge of the airport. After being sentenced to death for espionage in 1974 by a Pakistan court, Roop Lal had not imagined that he would ever return home. Yet he did not give up hope. Every day in the prison was spent longing for his family even as he prayed to be free. "For all practical purposes, I knew it was impossible. But somewhere deep down I felt that some day...."

And today was that day. Roop Lal met his daughter Sunita, who he had last seen when she was less than a year old. 25 years later, he did not recognise her, but there were tears in his eyes after having hugged her. "Even in prison, I knew my blood, my daughter, was alive and well", he said.

Holding his one-year-old grand daughter Shruti in his lap, Roop Lal looked exhilarated. "It is like holding my daughter 25 years back", he said nostalgically. And, then, as if to convince us of how much happiness the moment had brought him, he added, "I am the happiest man in the world".

The former soldier did not want to discuss details of his traumatic experience in Pakistan. "I was tortured. Not just physically but also mentally", he said, adding that he was moved from jail to jail and never allowed to stay at one place for long. "I was in Sialkot, then Lahore, Multan and many other places".  He was finally released from the Sahiwal prison.  He was also pressurised to convert, something that Roop Lal resisted with all his might. "I told them that I was a devout Hindu and nothing would change that", he recalled.

While he thanked many people for his release, the name of his son-in-law Krishan Kumar Chawla, figured next only to God. "I had never met him. There was no apparent reason for him to feel anything for me", said Roop Lal. "If it was not for his hard work, dedication and belief I would not have been a free man today. I have no son but he is a son to me", he said, before stepping into the car that would finally take him home after all these years.

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