“He was like a child who has been lost. It took him several hours to realise he was back home in India. He needed help even to walk,’’ an army official said of the Indian soldier who was returned by Pakistan after four months in captivity.
Chandu Babulal Chavan, who was handed over to India on January 21, was “traumatised and incoherent”, sources told HT.
The 22-year-old had crossed into Pakistan on September 29, the day India hit terror launch pads across the line of control (LoC) 10 days after an attack by suspected Pakistani militants on a camp in Uri that killed 19 soldiers.
Chavan was posted on the LoC in the Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir.
When asked about Chavan’s health, an army official said, “He was incoherent when he returned. The process of debriefing has only just begun and he will also be taken back to his unit in Poonch as part of the inquiry.”
Preliminary investigations suggest that Chavan may not have “inadvertently” crossed the de facto border and that he had a disagreement with a senior after which he abandoned his post.
Chavan, another military source said, “did not have visible injury marks but was psychologically stressed. He was cleared for cross-examination only after four days”.
G Parthasarathy, a former high commissioner to Pakistan, said, “They (Pakistan) are known to turn on the heat psychologically and otherwise.”
Parthasarathy would know. He successfully negotiated the release of flight lieutenant K Nachiketa, who landed in Pakistan after he was forced to eject from his fighter jet during the 1999 Kargil war.
Chavan’s family has still not been allowed to meet him. His maternal grandmother had died on hearing he was captured by the Pakistan army.
“I am waiting for permission to meet my brother. Subhash Bhamre (minister of state for defence) has been in touch with me and asked me to wait,’’ Bhushan Chavan told HT over the phone from Jamnagar. Bhushan, like his brother, is a soldier.
Officials are of the view that Pakistan broke protocol by keeping Chavan in custody for so long.
“It would be safe to assume that he was thrashed by members of the Pakistani army and the ISI, especially because he was caught on the same night as the surgical strikes…’’ said a senior military official. “The enemy must have waited for his wounds to heal before returning him.”
Lt Gen DS Hooda, who retired as the army’s Northern Commander in November, said, “There are laid out protocols… according to which crossers are returned within days but this was not followed in the case of Chavan. Initially, Pakistani army even refused to acknowledge that they had him in their custody.”
Chavan’s testimony will be crucial. For, it will not only reveal the treatment meted out to him but also the circumstances that led him into Pakistan.