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How Jasprit Singh Kept His Faith even in trial @ Korean Jail

Mehtab Singh

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On Dec. 7, 2007 a crane barge broke free from one of the barges towing it and ran into the side of the Hebei Spirit, which was at anchor. The collision caused 10,800 tons of crude oil to flow into the sea, polluting much of Korea’s coastline..

A lower court had cleared the two Indian seamen of wrongdoing in July, but then an appeals court sentenced Jasprit Singh and other to 18 months for negligence in avoiding the collision and for not doing enough to limit the spill. His first officer was sentenced to eight months

The one thing that Jasprit Singh Chawla clung to during the days of ordeal was his Sikh faith, getting up every single day at 5:30 am for his Nitnem.

Back home, Jasprit Kaur Chawla’s lovely wife Gurpreet Kaur Chawla could hardly ever sleep peacefully all these months. Her year long fight was exhausting and with the system being so apathetic, it also perhaps gave her an insight into the unfairness built in into the way government machinery works. But there was not a moment when she was not praying to Akalpurakh for her husband’s safety and return.

Actually, the guilty verdict was not even expected, particularly because the crew members had already been acquitted earlier by a lower court. “The chief officer did not even get to say goodbye to his family,†said Capt. Sharad Saldanha of V.Ships, the company that manages the tanker. “They got to meet the next day. But the families were not present in court, because none of us expected such a total U-turn of judgment. Not only us but the whole maritime community; all the international organizations are totally shocked.â€

The ruling has met with condemnation from the shipping community. The International Transport Workers Federation and other shipping bodies have both slammed the verdict, calling it a vindictive decision.

“The captain is a very religious man. He gets up at 5:30 every morning to say his prayers. In fact, when he arrived in prison, his main concerns were getting his armlet, which is a religious thing, and his turban,†Saldanha had told The Korean Herald. He used to spend most of his day praying and reading religious books.

“He doesn’t want to read anything else - he just wants to read religious books. He wants to know what is happening outside with this case and religious books. Other than that he is not interested in reading.â€

Jasprit Singh, who does not eat non-vegetarian food for religious reasons, avoided most of the prison food as vegetarian options were too little. He survived on just rice and water since the 10th of December. His colleagues were well aware that his health was deteriorating. Chawla was kept in a small individual cell and was let out for one hour a day.

Now Singh is back home after South Korean court released him on bail.

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