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|September 8, 1997||
Our men in Pakistan
India battled with its arch enemy, Pakistan, in 1971 and carved out a new country, Bangladesh.
Among the spoils of war were 93,000 Pakistani prisoners, who were promptly returned. Pakistan had, as prisoners, 54 Indian army men.
Where are they now? Probably somewhere across the border, wondering whether their relatives and friends remember them. Wondering whether the Indian government remembers.
The Pakistani government insists it does not have any Indian defence personnel in its custody.
The human rights position regarding prisoners of war is vague. According to the Geneva convention, they are supposed to be treated well. But what do you do in a situation where there is a complete denial of their existence? And since no search has been made for them, who do you demand should be treated well?
The case only gets strengthened, if there is evidence to back it.
And the evidence is plenty.
Yet, no search was undertaken. The Indian government has to look at all possibilities, including checking on security prisoners and spies, for many of our defence personnel were captured before the actual outbreak of war.
The only recourse for the families, in the face of government apathy, seems to be the human rights organisations.
The prisoners, if alive, may now be facing a fate too grim to imagine. With no contact with the world, their mental faculties may have atrophied. Looking for them will be a difficult, but not impossible, task. But who can do it?
The United Nations has surprisingly been ignored as an avenue of redress. Can these 54 families not do it? At the moment, they have depend on a government which, even after 22 years of waiting, has not moved an inch since that day in 1971. Or they have to believe that their men are indeed dead.
But where is the evidence? Where are the epaulets, the identification discs?
Illustration: Dominic Xavier
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