Bhikiwind (Punjab): Sarabjit Singh, the Indian prisoner who died after a murderous attack in a Lahore jail, was Friday cremated with full state honours of a martyr as tens of thousands of people joined in to bid him a tearful farewell.
Sarabjit's sister Dalbir Kaur lit the pyre as thousands of people gathered to pay their last respects to the man, condemned as a terrorist in Pakistan and considered a martyr in India.
Sarabjit died Thursday in Jinnah Hospital in Lahore, six days after being attacked by fellow prisoners in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail April 26.
In Amritsar, a medical board of Indian doctors who conducted the second post-mortem on his body said that Sarabjit was assaulted "with the motive to kill". They said that he had been attacked with heavy blunt objects and had "massive head injuries". This belied the claim of Pakistani authorities that he was fatally injured in a "scuffle" with prisoners.
"The main motive was to kill the person. The face of the skull was completely smashed. Rather it was in two pieces. He died from massive head injuries," Gurjit Singh Mann, head of a medical panel of the Amritsar Medical College which conducted the second post-mortem examination after Sarabjit's body arrived in India, told media here.
Before the mortal remains of Sarabjit were consigned to flames, teary-eyed people - men, women, old and young, children and VIPs - were part of the last journey of a man who went through torture and despair for 23 years in Pakistani prisons, trying to prove that he was innocent.
A contingent of Punjab Police reversed arms and fired thrice in the air as a mark of respect to the 49-year-old who is said to have mistakenly crossed into Pakistan in 1990.
As Dalbir Kaur went around the coffin to pour water from an earthen pot, his family members, including wife Sukhpreet and daughters Swapandeep and Poonam, sobbed uncontrollably.
The man, who spent nearly 23 years in uncertainty in Pakistani prisons, in death went from being an ordinary farmer from a poor rural family to a being national hero.
"I have lost everything. But my fight for Indian prisoners (in Pakistani prisons) will continue," a shattered Dalbir Kaur said.
The virtual sea of humanity that thronged his funeral here shouted slogans against Pakistan and its leaders.
The crowds were so thick that every vantage point - be it a wall, roof, pole, vehicle or anything else - was taken over by people.
The cremation ground proved too small even to accommodate the VIPs, media and family members.
Thousands of people were held up outside the walls of the ground by a strong posse of Punjab Police to prevent a stampede.
Among those who placed wreaths on Sarabjit's coffin were Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur, Akal Takht chief Gurbachan Singh and Punjab's cabinet ministers.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who had met Dalbir Kaur in New Delhi Thursday, walked up to the cremation ground and placed a wreath on the coffin. He stood next to the coffin for a while with other leaders. He later embraced Dalbir Kaur after the cremation.
"A majority of the people did not even know him. But they were here to recognise the sacrifice Sarabjit Singh made for the country. This should be an eye-opener for the Pakistanis who murdered him in cold blood," Sarabjit's friend Balwinder Singh said.
The body, draped in the tricolour, was first kept in his house and later taken to a ground of the government school nearby so that people could pay their homage.
The Punjab government has announced a three-day state mourning. Shops and other establishments, including educational institutions in this town, remained closed Friday. They were shut Thursday too.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has announced a financial grant of Rs.1 crore for Sarabjit's family. He said Punjab would give government jobs to both his daughters.
Sarabjit's body was flown in a special Air India flight from Lahore to Amritsar Thursday. From Amritsar, it was transported to Bhikhiwind by a chopper.
On Thursday night, doctors from Amritsar Medical College conducted a post-mortem examination on the body at Patti, 40 km from Amritsar. The first autopsy was conducted by a Pakistani medical board in Lahore before Sarabjit's body was handed over to India.
Mann said that the injuries on Sarabjit were inflicted with "heavy blunt weapons", including bricks.
Asked if only two people could have attacked Sarabjit, as maintained by the Pakistani authorities, Mann said: "There might be more than two people who attacked him. He was a well-built man."
Mann said that Sarabjit's body had fractures on the skull, broken ribs and some other injuries.
He said that the Pakistani authorities had only sent a death certificate with Sarabjit's body.
About reports that certain organs like heart and kidneys had been removed from Sarabjit's body before it was sent to India, Mann said: "We presume that these were removed as standard procedure to send the viscera for examination. We will try to find the exact cause of death."
Mann said that there were inconsistencies in what the Pakistani authorities were saying about Sarabjit's cause of death.
The Pakistan government had claimed that Sarabjit was injured in a "scuffle" with two fellow prisoners and it was not a pre-meditated attack to kill him.
Sarabjit's family gave its go ahead for the second post-mortem examination after his body arrived in India Thursday evening. The family said they had no trust on the findings of the post-mortem examination done by the Pakistani medical board.
He had been arrested in Pakistan since August 1990. Pakistan accused him of being an Indian spy and of carrying out bomb attacks. His family insisted he was an innocent man.