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Sister who fought alone and drew in others

Author: Anju Agnihotri Chaba
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 3, 2013
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/sister-who-fought-alone-and-drew-in-others/1110843/

Until the Hindi film Veer-Zaara released in 2004, Dalbir Kaur led her family's lone battle for her brother, one that would be taken by the Indian government only in 2005 and by other campaigners only following the success of that film, which deals with an Indian victim of mistaken identity imprisoned in Pakistan.

Since Sarabjit's conviction in 1991, Dalbir went to the Wagah border every time a prisoner was released across the border. She would carry a photo of her brother every time, says Dilbagh Singh of Bhikhiwind; she would ask the released prisoners if they had ever seen this man in the jail they had been lodged in. For over a decade after the death sentence, Dalbir also fought to establish her brother's identity; that he was not Manjit Singh as Pakistan was identifying him.

For the family, which included Sarabjit's wife Sukhpreet and daughters Swapandeep and Poonam, the release of the film proved an unexpected stroke of luck that allowed Dalbir to take up her case more aggressively. She drew a parallel between the story of the film's protagonist and that of her brother, and got her explanation of mistaken identity published in the papers. She met then Punjab chief minister captain Amarinder Singh, who asked Amritsar police to investigate the possibility of identity indeed being mistaken.

Dalbir provided a school certificate and other evidence that the convicted Manjit Singh was actually Sarabjit. The police finding eventually endorsed her claim. Encouraged, Dalbir took up her campaign with various levels in both countries, having caught media attention. Apart from claiming her brother was a victim of mistaken identity, her campaign also stressed his innocence.

Dalbir once joined the BJP but left because she wanted to focus on her objective. She went to Pakistan, and took up the case with rights activist Ansar Burney, who backed her. In 2009, Burney played a key role in the release of Indian prisoner Kashmir Singh.
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