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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 18:10 GMT
A powerful Indian love story
By Asit Jolly
BBC News, Punjab

The return to India of Kashmir Singh after 35 years in a Pakistani prison is in many respects a powerful love story.

Kashmir Singh and his wife, shortly after being reunited
Mr Singh and his wife were reunited at the border

His devoted wife, Paramjit Kaur, never lost hope over the decades that she would once again see the father of her three children.

Little wonder then that when the couple were finally reunited - along with one of their children - their collective bear hug lasted perhaps a little longer than is socially acceptable in conservative South Asia.

Clearly overwhelmed by a sense of disbelief and the moment itself, the 67-year-old Indian tightly clutched a plastic bag containing his meagre belongings.

He waved goodbye to Pakistan and signalled his gratitude to a people who had long condemned him to the terrible solitude of a death row cell but in the end also became his liberators.

Lustily cheered by the thousands who came to welcome him home, the short balding man sporting grey stubble took a moment to touch the earth then straightened up to greet them.

'Emotional moment'

After struggling alone for 35 years, his wife Paramjit Kaur and son Shishpal had been camping at the border check post in anticipation of Mr Singh's imminent return.

Ansar Burney (left) with Kashmir Singh
(Mr Burney) is a farishta (angel) for my family and me, God bless him
Kashmir Singh (at right in picture, with Mr Burney at left)

Border officers present said it was a "highly emotional moment, as they cried and laughed all at the same time".

Referring to his spouse using the honorific, "begum", Mr Singh said that when he last saw her she was a pretty young woman.

"She is still beautiful but has grown old now," he laughed admitting that he remembered very little about his three children.

He said it was his memory of his wife that kept his hopes alive through the 35 years of solitary confinement.

The former death row prisoner was filled with gratitude towards President Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan's caretaker Human Rights Minister, Ansar Burney, who has worked tirelessly to orchestrate his pardon and eventual repatriation.

"Burney sahib is a farishta (angel) for my family and me, God bless him," Mr Singh said.

A tearful Mr Singh hugged Mr Burney for a long time, and turned around to wave at scores of journalists and onlookers before stepping across the border.

"I have no regrets for anything that happened to me... that life is over," he said.

His grateful family lavished praise on President Musharraf for releasing him.

"May he rule for 100 years," Paramjit Kaur told the BBC on being told the president had pardoned her long lost husband.

Still incarcerated

Convicted of espionage by a military court in 1973, Mr Singh's mercy petition was lost in the maze of Pakistan's prison system, where thousands of death row prisoners still languish without a hearing.

It was only after Mr Burney's intervention last month that the campaign to release him gained momentum.

Kashmir Singh's release and repatriation has not only emerged as yet another happy symbol of improving relations between nuclear-capable India and Pakistan, but has also given fresh hope to hundreds of others like him who are still incarcerated in the two countries.

Paramjit Kaur - wife of Kashmir Singh - with their photo before he disappeared
Paramjit Kaur never lost hope she would once again see her husband

These include both civilian prisoners accused of spying and illegally crossing the frontier as well as prisoners from the three India-Pakistan wars.

"Kashmir Singh's ability to endure his long ordeal in Pakistani prisons gives all of us hope that there may be many survivors among the 54 PoWs who went missing after 1971," said Dr Simmi Waraich, who has been campaigning with other Indian PoW families for the past three decades.

Daljit Kaur, whose younger brother Sarabjit Singh is also on death row in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail on charges of spying and sabotage, also has fresh hope.

She specially travelled to Wagah to receive Kashmir Singh and perhaps get word about her brother.

Meanwhile, Kashmir Singh and his wife have left for their village - Nangal Choran in Punjab's Hoshiarpur District - where the entire community is waiting to celebrate.

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