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'Make PoW issue talks pre-condition'

Children of the prisoners of war ( PoW) have taken heart from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's peace initiatives and stepped up efforts to rally for the return of the soldiers. Some of them were unborn yet, when their fathers went missing, some were just a year old, but are now at the forefront, continuing the search for their kin, so that the uncertainty of the families ends and at least, the PoWs get a few last years of comfort, finally.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2004 17:44 IST
Vijaya Sharma
Vijaya Sharma

For some families throughout India, Prime Minister Atal Bihari's third and final push for peace (with Pakistan), may well be the last chance to get their fathers, brothers, sons back -- neglected, forgotten probably in the "sunless cells" in Pakistan.

Thirty two years ago, India won the 1971 war against Pakistan but lost its 54 soldiers as Prisoners of War (PoW) to Pakistan's jails or maut ka kuan as they are described by those who have spent years there and been fortunate to return.

But, the young brigade have taken heart from Prime Minister's peace initiatives and have, once again, stepped up efforts to urge the Government for action on the issue of the missing soldiers.

Some of them were unborn yet, when their fathers went missing, some were just a year old, but are now at the forefront, continuing the search for their kin.

Natalya Gill, whose uncle Wg Cdr HS Gill, is a PoW has proof that he was in a Pakistan jail. There are Indian spies who have returned and reported that they knew of one Wg Cdr Gill in Pakistan's jails, she says. Natalya has launched a dynamic yahoo group on the net and rallied young people around the globe for the cause -

Simmi Waraich has posted her father Major SPS Waraich's picture on the group and scours for information. She says: "The issue of PoWs should be put on the Indian Government's agenda and it should be made a precondition too for further negotiations. At the very least, the Indian Government should demand that they be told what happened to these men."

The Government accepts, on document, that 54 Indian soldiers or PoWs are still in Pakistan. Recently, when this correspondent spoke to highly placed sources in the government, the official assured: "The issue is on our agenda. It has and will always occupy top priority. When talks between India and Pakistan resume, we will certainly take up the issue of PoWs."

"But why call them PoWs at all", questions Vipul Purohit, son of Flt Lt Manohar Purohit also missing since the 1971 war, "Is it logical to say that Pakistan, after 32 years will accept it has Indian PoWs? The term is technically flawed. Accepting that there are PoWs means violating Geneva convention," Vipul says.

"Let us call them missing defence personnel," he suggests.

The young wives, married just for a year or so back in 1971, have spent 32 years waiting for their husbands to return. Damayanti Tambay, wife of Flt Lt Vijay Vasant Tambay, Suman Purohit,wife of Flt Lt Manohar Purohit - have written endless letters, met and urged the movers and shakers in the government to do something for the return of or information about these soldiers. But their pleas have not moved the Government, their dignified forbearance in hiding their pain has not shaken the government. All is lost in the political shindig.

Siimi Waraich says: "Only if we give importance to each and every Indian Army personnel who went missing in the wars …will Pakistan start taking the Indian Government a little seriously".

"It will end the uncertainty for the families and at least give the PoWs a few last years of comfort, finally," says Simmi.

First Published: Jan 13, 2004 17:44 IST