Pakistan on Friday was forced to hand over IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan to India. Having been in enemy custody for just over two days, the heroic ace pilot's return is likely the speediest for a personnel of the Indian Forces held in Pakistan, with the Indian leadership putting multi-dimensional and inexorable pressure on the Imran Khan government, leaving it with little option in the matter but to accede and try to paint a 'goodwill gesture' narrative around it.
With Wing Commander Abhinandan's release serving as proof of India's increased clout in world affairs and Pakistan's increased global isolation as the world's biggest state-sponsor of terrorism, thoughts have turned towards those other Indian soldiers for whom Pakistan didn't make 'goodwill gestures' or abide by terms of the Geneva convention, even though India did - those who became India's forgotten heroes.
Turn the clock back 47 years. India had been triumphant in the historic 1971 war against Pakistan, a war which became so iconic that a battle during the event was immortalised in the movie Border by filmmaker JP Dutta. However, among the ugly truths that wars leave behind - the loss of life in the most ghastly ways, bereavement of the families of Forces, mental and physical scarring of soldiers - are about the personnel who go missing or become Prisoners of War. In the 1971 War, there were 54 Indian PoWs who didn't make it back. They and their families deserve justice.
While Pakistan has denied knowledge about their existence and whereabouts, there is overwhelming evidence over the last 47 years to claim the presence of the PoWs in the neighbouring country.
The evidence has been well-documented in national and international media, from accounts of conversation between officers of Indian Forces with their Pakistani counterparts to their mention in biographies of noteworthy personalities including former Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto. Yet Pakistan has denied their existence.
The sad reality, however, is it was also we who have forgotten about the same soldiers who with their valour and supreme skills gave us the 1971 war, a war geopolitically significant to India as well to the people in the region formerly called East Pakistan which later on became Bangladesh. All India has done is give the PoWs the status of ‘missing’ in action, despite having had the proof and the power to bring them back.
For close to five decades these soldiers who were then in their prime age faced imprisonment. Apart from their identities, India does not have a single clue about their physical and mental condition, the treatment meted out to them as Pakistan even denies their existence, their health condition, and the number of PoWs alive and dead and under what circumstances. In return for their services, the soldiers have received the message of total abandonment by us and multiple governments.
Evidence suggests that the PoWs had maintained hope of India securing their release on urgent basis. Among the material of the evidence of their presence in Pakistani jails is a correspondence between one Indian PoW who requests his father to reach the Indian government to ask Pakistan for their release. But what also lies in the heap of these proofs is the sordid situation of PoWs.
Victoria Schofield in her book Bhutto: Trial and Execution says that Former PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto heard screams of men from behind his wall. Upon his lawyer’s enquiry it was learnt that the horrifying sounds belonged to the Indian PoWs.
While most have forgotten, the families of the PoWs have remained strong and continue their efforts to bring them back. But that doesn't wipe out their ordeal of running pillar to post to retrieve them or the helplessness in view of lack of action. As long ago as 15 years ago, India's then Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao had sent six family members to Pakistan which had allowed them to see their loved ones. But relations between the countries soured and all the families could do was grasp at straws at that moment and return. The Pakistani authorities then only confirmed the presence of the PoWs in its jail to the families.
As the families strive to get their beloved back home, one wonders what goes through their hearts and minds as they have little to no information about them. As they live in a state of purgatory, where they don't know whether their family member across the border is alive or dead, if alive then in what health condition, and will they ever be united with them. A gross injustice of separation and an endless waiting has been thrusted on them.
However, it is never too late to do the right thing, to show deference to the sacrifices made by our Forces and do our part. To ensure justice though delayed is not denied to the families.
It is time to garner all information on the PoWs, to gather support and create a momentum to get our soldiers back from Pakistan. To ensure they are celebrating with us the 48th anniversary of victory of 1971 war.
1. Major SPS Waraich IC-1271215 Punjab
2. Major Kanwaljit Singh Sandhu IC-1459015 Punjab
3. 2/Lt Sudhir Mohan Sabharwal SS-2395787 Lt Regiment
4. Capt Ravinder Kaura SS-2009539 Med Regiment
5. Capt Giri Raj Singh IC-232835 Assam
6. Capt Om Prakash Dalal SS-22536 Grenadiers
7. Maj AK Ghosh IC-1879015 Rajput
8. Maj AK Suri SS-198075 Assam
9. Capt Kalyan Singh Rathod IC-281485 Assam
10. Major Jaskiran Singh Malik IC-144578 Raj.Rifles
11. Major SC Guleri IC-202309 Jat
12. Lt Vijay Kumar Azad IC-585891/9GR
13. Capt Kamal Bakshi IC-192945 Sikh
14. 2/Lt Paras Ram Sharma SS-224905/8GR
15. Capt Vashisht Nath
16. L/Hv.Krishna Lal Sharma 137195851 JAKRIF
17. Subedar Assa Singh JC-413395 Sikh
18. Subedar Kalidas JC-598 JAKLI
19. L/Nk Jagdish Raj 9208735 Mahar Regiment
20. L/Nk Hazoora Singh 682211303
21. Gunner Sujan Singh 114681914 Fd Regiment
22. Sepoy Daler Singh 246183015 Punjab
23. Gnr Pal Singh 1239603181 Lt Regiment
24. Sepoy Jagir Singh 245908716 Punjab
25. Gnr Madan Mohan 115741994 Mountain Regiment
26. Gnr Gyan Chand Gnr Shyam Singh
27. L/Nk Balbir Singh SBS Chauhan
28. Capt DS Jamwal 81 Field Regiment
29. Capt Washisht Nath Attock
Indian Air Force
30. Sq Ldr Mohinder Kumar Jain 5327-F(P) 27 Sqn
31. Flt Lt Sudhir Kumar Goswami 8956-F(P) 5 Sqn
32. Flying Officer Sudhir Tyagi 10871-F(P) 27 Sqn
33. Flt Lt Vijay Vasant Tambay 7662–F(P) 32 Sqn
34. Flt Lt Nagaswami Shanker 9773-F(P) 32 Sqn
35. Flt Lt Ram Metharam Advani 7812-F(P) JBCU
36. Flt Lt Manohar Purohit 10249(N) 5 Sqn
37. Flt Lt Tanmaya Singh Dandoss 8160-F(P) 26 Sqn
38. Wg Cdr Hersern Singh Gill 4657-F(P) 47 Sqn
39. Flt Lt Babul Guha 5105-F(P)
40. Flt Lt Suresh Chander Sandal 8659-F(P) 35Sqn
41. Sqn Ldr Jal Manikshaw Mistry 5006-F(P)
42. Flt Lt Harvinder Singh 9441-F(P) 222Sqn
43. Sqn Ldr Jatinder Das Kumar 4896-F(P) 3Sqn
44. Flt Lt LM Sassoon 7419-F(P) JBCU
45. Flt Lt Kushalpal Singh Nanda 7819-F(N) 35Sqn
46. Flg Offr. Krishan L Malkani 10576-F(P) 27Sqn
47. Flt Lt Ashok Balwant Dhavale 9030-F(P) 1 Sqn
48. Flt Lt Shrikant C Mahajan 10239-F(P) 5 Sqn
49. Flt Lt Gurdev Singh Rai 9015-F(P) 27 Sqn
50. Flt Lt Ramesh G Kadam 8404-F(P) TACDE
51. Flg Offr. KP Murlidharan 10575-F(P) 20 Sqn
52. Sqn Ldr Devaprasad Chatterjee
53. Plt Offr Tejinder Singh Sethi
54. Lt. Cdr Ashok Roy
Here is the evidence of their imprisonment in Pakistan: