Mr PM, some heroes you need to talk about -- By Aditi Back   Home  

Damyanti Tambey has a personal stake in Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's visit to India. She wants her husband back, and is sure the General can help.

The middle-aged wife of Flt Lt V V Tambey is among the 100-odd families of Indian Prisoners of War (PoWs) who are desperately seeking the summit agenda to include the release of these Indian armed forces personnel languishing in Pakistani jails since the 1971 war.

For the past 30 years, these families have got little other than hollow promises and mere words. In 1979, a glimmer of hope had appeared for these families, when the then Janata Government held talks with Pakistan over the issue. However, the dialogue broke down and with it the aspirations of these families.

During her tenure, Indira Gandhi had taken up the issue with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and had assured these families that the issue was being pursued actively.

After a trail of abortive attempts, these families see a faint ray of hope in the Musharraf-Vajpayee summit.

Incidentally, Mr Vajpayee was Foreign Minister when talks about the PoWs took place in 1979.

Says Col R K Pattu of the Missing Defence Personnel Relatives Association (MDPRA): "it is the moral obligation of the Indian Government to discuss this issue, which has such a big humanitarian tragedy attached to it. Every nation is duty-bound towards its soldiers as it is they who fight for the security of the nation. Prime Minister Vajpayee has the moral obligation to get the release of the poWs languishing in jails and mental asylums in Pakistan." Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Nirupama Rao said, "The summit agenda is yet to be finalised. It is most likely that the PoWs issue will come up for discussion," she said.

However, not leaving anything to politicians, these families have decided to take to the streets during Musharraf's visit and are mobilising public opinion for the same. "We will put up placards and hold protests in Agra and we have requested the public to support us. This rhetoric of talks for peace is a farce till our people are not returned," says Vipul Purohit, the son of Flt Lt M Purohit, one of the PoWs.

"We want the world to know and understand our suffering and want them to bear at least some amount of human sensitivity and respect for human life," adds Damyanti.

The families will organise a Press conference as a large number of foreign mediamen have descended in Agra for the summit and want the whole world to know of their continuing suffering.

Married just seven months before her husband was taken captive during the 1971 war, Damyanti's wait continues to be traumatic. Her life has been a constant battle to get him back from Pakistan, which has never acknowledged that it has PoWs.

"Every door has been knocked. This issue concerns the basic right to life. There's so much talk of creating goodwill. Instead of talking about goodwill, why does Musharraf not free the PoWs?" asks Damyanti.

Twenty-nine-year-old Vipul Purohit, has grown up without his father since he was three months old.

For him, it has been a life-long yearning to get his dad back. Initially, the Government had declared him dead but the debris of his aircraft which fell in the Bikaner sector had no human remains.

And when the Air Force brought the coffin for the last rites, in a fit of emotion his wife opened it and found nothing inside.

"There was no evidence that my father died. A service radio officer informed us that he had bailed out just before the crash but refused to say anything on record. These soldiers have been let down by their own country. We have to tell them to release our people without delay," says Vipul.

Nandita and her mother await the return of Capt Dalgir Singh of the 81 Field Regiment and are keeping a close watch on the talks agenda: "I was only seven months old and till today they have made only promises that my father will return. The Pakistanis refuse to acknowledge their captivity and the Indians have not put enough pressure on them. If we could return 93,000 Pakistani soldiers in 1972, after the Simla Agreement, why is the same respect not being shown to us and why are our politicians dilly-dallying over the issue?" asks Nandita.

Eighty-three-year-old Lt Col R S Dhandass and 91-year-old L D Kaura also await the return of their sons from Pakistani jails and say they will fight for it till their last breath. "we have not slept for years. We yearn to see them if they are not already dead in Pakistan," says Kaura.

Major General Shamsher Singh had visited Pakistan in February and met General Musharraf, who had promised to pursue the matter.

"When we met him, he deputed another General, a chief of staff sitting next to him, to follow up the issue. But nothing has happened so far," he says.

According to sources, the Government is still working on the framework of the summit.

"We are in the process of short-listing various issues. Whether PoWs will be discussed, cannot be said yet. Time and again it has been raised with the Government of Pakistan," a Government official said.

More than 56 Indian soldiers are said to languishing in Pakistani jails of Kot Lakhpat, Murri (a jail with a mental asylum) and Landikottal jails. Intelligence sources confirm the presence of Indian soldiers in Pak jails, but refuse to talk on record.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto heard our captured soldiers crying across his prison cell and asked for a shift as his sleep was disturbed by their wails night after night. One wonders when, and which, Indian Government will hear the cries of our men to whom it owes the nation's territorial integrity.

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