Twelve years after the Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan, a new ‘battle’ is on – to get justice for an Indian Army officer who was tortured by Pakistani troops for days before his mutilated body was handed back.
British lawyer of Indian origin Jas Uppal has launched an international campaign to highlight the plight of Captain Saurabh Kalia, who was killed, along with five other soldiers, in the 1999 conflict in Jammu and Kashmir.
She is demanding the blacklisting of Pakistan for the purpose of giving international aid.
“I am campaigning to discover the plight of the Indian prisoners of war captured and detained by Pakistan during the Indo-Pak war in the 1970s. Yet again (in Saurabh’s case) the government of India failed to seek justice (at the international level),” Uppal told IANS in an interview via e-mail.
Saurabh, of the 4 Jat Regiment, was the first army officer to report incursion by the Pakistani Army on Indian soil. He and five soldiers – Sepoys Arjun Ram, Bhanwar Lal Bagaria, Bhika Ram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh – were on a patrol of the Bajrang Post in the Kaksar sector when they were taken captive by Pakistani troops May 15, 1999.
They were tortured for weeks before being killed. Their mutilated bodies were handed over to the Indian authorities June 9, 1999.
Saurabh’s father N.K. Kalia and his wife Vijaya, settled in this tea garden town, have been raising their voice against violations of human rights and brutalities and asking India to take up the issue of war crimes at the international level.
Uppal told IANS in an interview: “Now that India is a superpower it should be taking the lead in relation to human rights. It should value its security forces and its people.”
She said she had reported Kalia’s case to international human rights organisations like the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch and raised the issue in Britain.
In a missive to M. Fabricant, a member of the British House of Commons, last month, Uppal said: “I am appalled to learn that the former president of Pakistan (Pervez) Musharraf, who was president of the country at the time of the Kargil incident, is a guest of this country and has been living here for some time.
“I would be grateful if you could raise the matter with our prime minister and the foreign office. Further, I hope that our government will take this case seriously and the ongoing breaches of human rights into consideration when they make aid donations to Pakistan. Any financial aid should be subject of the country’s observations and record in relation to human rights,” she wrote.
In a reply to Uppal’s letter, Fabricant said Nov 15: “I have, therefore, raised the issue of human rights and aid to Pakistan with Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Alistair Burt.”
“The West has no idea about these atrocities. If they are made aware they will never support giving aid to Pakistan,” said Uppal, who launched a campaign to secure the release of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh sentenced to death in Pakistan for spying and bombings.
Satisfied with the initiatives of Uppal, the parents of Saurabh have been pinning their hope on getting justice.
“Our only grudge with the Indian government is why is it shirking to call the atrocities committed by the Pakistani Army as war crimes and why it fails to take up the scourge at the international level,” said N.K. Kalia, 63, who retired as a senior scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
He said the external affairs ministry informed them under the right to information act that “the government of India had conveyed the anguish and anger of the Indian people to the foreign minister of Pakistan during his visit to Delhi June 12, 1999. An aide-memoire was also handed to Pakistan June 15, 1999. However, Pakistan denied our claims.”
“This was not sufficient enough to express anguish over war crimes. We are demanding that the government highlight war crimes at international fora so that other prisoners of war do not meet the same fate as Saurabh,” he said.
Saurabh, who was posted in Kargil soon after passing out of the Indian Military Academy, did not live long enough to even receive his first pay packet as an officer.
Asked by IANS if she had raised the issue of the five other Indian soldiers who were captured and killed along with Captain Kalia, Uppal said she had “mentioned ALL the soldiers”.
“I only know the name of Captain Saurabh Kalia. I do not know the names of the other soldiers;so I cannot refer to them by name as I would like to do. I do not have contact with families of the other soldiers.”
She added that if provided their names and family contact details, she would refer to them by their respective names.