Rediff Logo find
Allen Solly banner
September 8, 1997


Farzana Versey

Our men in Pakistan

Dominic Xavier's illustration 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.

  • As late as 1988, reports were trickling in regarding the movement of our defence personnel into military establishments in the north west frontier province.
  • M L Bhaskar, who spied for India, was told by a Pakistani official about Indian officers who were in Pakistani jails. This, at a time when he himself was in prison.
  • The wife of a flight lieutenant read an article about the capture of five pilots -- her husband, B V Tambay, was mentioned in the list. The paper was published from Dhaka.
  • A Time magazine story carried a picture in which the prisoner behind the bar looked exactly like Major A K Ghosh, listed missing during the war.
  • One grieving old man received a note from his son, posted from New Delhi on December 31, 1974 (as the postmark showed), by someone who obviously had come in from across the border. After going through the letter, the then defence secretary confirmed it as Major Ashok Suri's handwriting. The official statement was changed from 'killed in action' to 'missing in action'.

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

Tell us what you think of this column

Farzana Versey