INDIAN POWs FROM THE 1971 WAR ROTTING IN TSP JAILS!
HAVE WE FORGOTTEN THEM !!
War means different things to different people. For business connected with war armament and supplies, it is an occasion to make quick and big money. For the ruling politicians, it provides a fertile ground for jingoism to project themselves as saviours of the nation and to make political capital out of it. Just as prime minister Vajpayee and his party used the Kargil war to good effect in the recent elections, Indira Gandhi was able to exploit the 1971 war with
However, war means something else for the soldiers and officers who are used as cannon fodder. A few of those who are killed in some dramatic battle might receive a measure of recognition by way of posthumous awards and rewards, but most remain anonymous, mere statistics for the chronicle writers.
The worst fate though befalls those who are captured by the enemy, especially if they happen to be soldiers and citizens of a state that places shamefully low value on its own citizens' lives, including the ones expected to shed their young blood and lay down their lives for their country's defence.
In this article Anjana Mehta provides us a glimpse of how the Indian government has maltreated the 54 armymen who are believed to be rotting in Pakistani jails since the 1971 Indo-Pak war. She compiled this article largely through information provided by Colonel R.K. Pattu, working president of the Missing Personnel Relatives Association.
For nearly three decades, fifty-four families have awaited the return of their sons, husbands, fathers and brothers from the 1971 war. These men were reportedly captured alive by the
It was on December 3, 1971, that the Indo-Pak war broke out. It lasted for 14 days, culminating in the surrender of the
In addition to these conditions at Kot Lakhpat, for three months Bhutto was subjected to a peculiar kind of harassment, which he thought was especially for his benefit. His cell, separated from a barrack area by a 10 foot high wall, did not prevent him from hearing horrific shrieks and screams at night from the other side of the wall. One of Mr Bhutto's lawyers made enquiries amongst the jail staff and ascertained that they were in fact Indian prisoners-of-war who had been rendered delinquent and mental during the course of the 1971 war. When the time came to exchange prisoners, the Indian government would not accept these lunatics, who had no recollection of their place of origin, and so they were retained as prisoners to eke out their existence in Kot Lakhpat. Bhutto, discovering the precise temperament of the inmates, wrote to the jail superintendent with a copy of the letter addressed to his lawyer (which was released to the press), requesting that they be moved - finally they were. Obviously the authorities would not accept that Mr Bhutto's sleep was being disturbed on purpose, but Bhutto did not forget the sleepless nights he spent and referred often to the lunatics in other letters of complaint. Fifty odd lunatics were lodged in the ward next to mine. Their screams and shrieks in the dead of night are something I will not forget,' he wrote.
From Schoffield's account, it thus appears that it was the Government of India who did not accept these Indian prisoners of war, even though they were offered for exchange by
The Geneva convention on prisoners of war states that they shall be released and repatriated without delay after cessation of active hostilities. Prisoners of war against whom criminal proceedings for indictable offences are pending may be detained until the end of such proceedings, and if necessary, until the completion of the punishment. The same shall apply to the prisoners of war already convicted for an indictable offence. Parties to the conflict shall communicate to each other the names of any prisoners of war who are detained till the end of proceedings or until punishment has been completed. By agreement between the parties to the conflict, commissions shall be established for the purpose of searching for dispersed prisoners of war and assuring their repatriation with the least possible delay (see "The Forgotten Heroes" by Tarun Basu with Asoka Raina; Contour, April 6, 1980).
There is no record available to us proving that the Government of India did in fact constitute such a commission, either to trace missing Indian personnel in Pakistan, or to assure Pakistan in a transparent manner that there were no Pakistani prisoners in India (as the Pakistan government too had claimed that some of its armed personnel were missing).
On perusing the various documents collected by the Missing Defence Personnel Relatives Association, it becomes clear that the Indian government has been about as competent in protecting the interests of the armed forces as it has been with our other institutions. The repeated, desperate pleas of the missing personnel's relatives are attended to perfunctorily. Rather than vigorously lobbying for the return of its missing personnel, the government seems to ignore every fresh piece of evidence pertaining to the soldiers still rotting in Pakistani jails. The burden of investigation has therefore fallen on the families, who have painstakingly collected information regarding the forgotten officers. (See box for some of these details)
Major Ashok K Suri
Ø On January 6 or 7, 1972, the name of Ashok Suri of
Ø On December 26, 1974, R.S. Suri, Ashok Suri's father, received a handwritten note by Ashok Suri dated December 7, 1974.
Ø On August 13, 1975, R.S. Suri received a note dated 14, 15 and 16 June 1975 from Karachi written by Ashok Suri disclosing that there were 20 officers detained in Pakistan.
Ø In 1976 R.S. Suri received information from a contact that Ashok Suri was captured on December 2, 1971, before the actual declaration of war had been made, and that such persons on both sides were considered as spies.
Ø R.S. Suri received further information about Ashok Suri having been shifted from
Ø Mukhtiar Singh, who was repatriated from
Flight Lieutenant V.V. Tambay
Ø The Sunday Pakistan Observer, dated December 5, 1971, gave news from
Ø Tambay's wife had a chance meeting in 1978 with a Bangladeshi Naval Officer who was taken prisoner in
Ø Daljit Singh, who was repatriated from
Major A.K. Ghosh
Ø Time magazine dated December 27, 1971, carried a photograph of an Indian prisoner behind bars. This photo turned out to be that of Major A.K. Ghosh, who did not return with the Indian POWs.
Captain Ravinder Kaura
Ø His name was announced on Radio Lahore on December 7, 1991.
Ø His photograph from a Pakistani jail was smuggled into
Ø Someone who had been with Captain Kaura in the
Ø Further information came in that Captain Kaura was kept in
Ø Mukhtiar Singh, repatriated from
Not only family members of the soldiers, but also other army personnel maintain that prisoners continue to languish needlessly in Pakistani jails. Lieutenant General (Retired) K.P. Candeth, who was GOC-in-C, Western Command, during the 1971 Indo-Pak war is one such believer. "I am sure they did capture some of our soldiers and have them in
On September 4, 1996, two members of the Rajya Sabha, O.P. Kohli and Satish Pradhan, asked I.K. Gujral, then minister of external affairs, whether the government was aware that as many as 40 defence personnel captured by
In an affidavit filed last year in court, Mohan Lal Bhaskar, who returned to the country following the exchange of prisoners, stated that "during my stay in Pakistani jails, I came to know that at Kot Lakhpat jail,
Speaking on the Zee TV programme Helpline, Riaz Khokar (the previous Pakistan High Commissioner in
In September 1983, a delegation of six relatives - including the relatives of Major Suri, Major Ghosh and Flight Lieutenant Tambay?were sent from India to visit Multan jail in Pakistan. Unfortunately, they all came back feeling cheated. "We were allowed to visit only one jail and this jail had none of the defence personnel," says Ashutosh Ghosh.
Some came back even more horrfied. Damayanti Tambay recollects, "In a small cell there were some forty to fifty prisoners herded together. Most of them were in chains and some were tied to pillars." These were Indians allegedly caught for petty crimes like smuggling (see also "Missing," by Anuja Pande, Sunday, February 25, and March 2, 1996).
Disappointed by the government of
On April 23, 1999, The Nation,
A leading Indian daily, The Tribune of Chandigarh, recently ran a three-part series on probable Indian POWs in
In response to these reports the investigation carried out by The Nation reveals that no POW of 1971 war is in the custody of the Government of Pakistan at the moment. The officers concerned categorically said only those prisoners who are convicted by the courts could be kept for so long. They said there could be some prisoners held for committing security related offences not on the books of the Punjab Government, but it was not possible to detain a person for so long if they have not been convicted. They said that even those foreign nationals held on security charges are handed over to the home department for trials in the courts of law after the preliminary investigations are completed, but it was out of the question for more than weeks or months to pass before the intelligence apparatus handed over such detenus for regular trial and imprisonment.
The sources in the Punjab Government disclosed that at present there are 56 Indian nationals confined in various jails of the
This kind of investigation is an improvement on bland assertions, but falls short of a more thorough, independent assessment of whether indeed there are Indian POWs in Pakistani jails. Since the
In Indian jails, our own people, even children, are detained without trial. When brought to trial, the criminal justice system is so slow-grinding that many people have spent a longer time in jails as undertrials, than in the term of punishment that is finally awarded to them. The conditions in Indian jails are appalling.
In April of this year, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Centre on a petition before it, seeking the Government to place before the Court a report about the steps taken to trace the 54 defence personnel captured by
Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Arora, the 1971 war hero, is presently in the process of filing a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court. He says that these POWs are neither considered dead, nor alive. If they are to be considered dead, their families should get all the benefits that accrue to families of defence personnel who die in action. If they are considered alive, their families should receive their salaries. However, these families receive only a meagre pension determined by pay-scales applicable in 1971. General Arora says that:
i) these Indian POWs are on duty and therefore their families should receive salaries and not pensions.
ii) The POWs should receive promotions when due, and retirement at the appropriate age.
iii) Their families should get pensions and other benefits according to present norms (see "Taki Apne Yudhbandi Wapas Aayen," Vishnudutt Sharma, Dainik Jagaran, June 17, 1999).
A petition was filed in the High Court of Gujarat on the same lines and Justice S.K. Keshote, taking this case seriously and looking to the 28 year long correspondence by the families of the armed forces personnel, issued notice to the Central government. In a recent hearing, the judge gave three months' time to the Central Government to take a stand on this matter. The petition was filed by advocate M.K. Paul, the Vice-President of the Missing Defence Personnel Relatives Association.
Recently, Kulveer Singhji, younger brother of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, has become associated with this issue. The idea is to ask the Government of India to take a stand on the matter by Republic Day, January 26 of next year, failing which the matter would be discussed more widely in public forums.
Damayanti Tambay says, "What do these politicians know of the pain of not having one's loved ones near one. Only I know how I spent every moment of the last 28 years. My husband was caught by the enemy fighting for our country, not for himself. Is it not the responsibility of this country's politicians to get him back? When I said this in a talk show, Pranab Mukherjee from the Congress got angry and said, "You are being very aggressive." I then asked him whether any of his sons, daughters or sons-in-law were in the armed forces. You tell me which politician's son is in the army? Pranab Mukherjee became quiet after that. If any of these politicians' sons had died in the war, or gone to the enemy's prisons, then they would have known the pain of the families of the defence personnel."
Retired Air Marshal M.S. Bawa asserts, "I can see some dangerous signals. Only the children of the middle and lower classes are going to the armed forces while the upper classes send their children into positions of comfort and security. Thus a deep chasm is forming between the armed forces and the ruling classes. This chasm can prove to be dangerous in the future. It should be bridged and every section of society should have a relationship with the armed forces." Colonel R.K. Pattu of the Missing Defence Personnel Relatives Association adds, "it was not like this before. Both sons of the Maharaja of Patiala were in the armed forces. Brigadier Bhawani Singh of the Jaipur Royal family was also in the army. These people took only one rupee as token salary. The 10th para-commandos led by Brigadier Bhawani Singh were the first to land in
Colonel Pattu further adds that "in 54 years of independence,
The Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate was built by the British to commemorate the dead of the armed forces who fought in World War I and II. Thus, those whom we have used like cannon-fodder, those who stood steadfast at the borders while we were safe in our homes, have not been commemorated in national memory. They are largely relegated to the dustbins of history, while those who misruled and misgoverned vie with each other in hogging for themselves and their progeny, our collective national remembrance and homage.
Can the sense of outrage all thinking people will have on this issue be channelled towards ensuring that the