The human rights of a soldier
May 15th 1999. Must have been just another ordinary day in our lives. I must have gone to school, played with my friends and probably done all those things which a child living in a free and safe world is entitled to. But while I was enjoying my freedom, securing it for me was a patrolling team of six soldiers led by 22-year-old Capt Saurabh Kalia in the Kaksar region of Kargil. Those were the initial days of the 1999 Kargil war. Capt Saurabh Kalia and his men were probably not expecting to encounter a huge number of Pakistani army men and might not have even realised that they would be easily outnumbered.
The six men must have put up a brave fight before being finally taken as prisoners of war. What happened to them after that changed the course of the Kargil war. Capt Saurabh Kalia and his mens' ordeal as prisoners of war became an oft narrated story for the Indian soldiers who marched out for a new mission. For 22 days Capt Saurabh Kalia and his 5 men were tortured as prisoners of war. When Capt Kalia's body was returned, it was beyond recognition. His face had been reduced to the mere size of one's palm, with his eyes, nose and lips gouged out. The postmortem revealed that various body parts and private organs were chopped off and the ear drums punctured with gun shots. In the end they were all shot dead.
Today, it's been exactly 13 years since that incident and I'm on my way to Palampur to meet the parents of Capt Saurabh Kalia. As I make my way through the hilly roads of the small town flanked by tea plantations, I can't help but wonder about his childhood spent in this small town, oblivious of his fate. I am also overcome by guilt which stems from the fact that it has taken me 13 years since his murder to make my way to his home in Palampur.
I stop the car and ask for directions and all I need to ask is, 'Do you know where Capt. Saurabh Kalia's house is?' and pat comes the reply. His house is the most well-known and every denizen of Palampur knows it. My guilt takes over another dimension as I wonder about the many martyrs' families who live in Delhi/NCR and find myself with no answers to these questions: how many names or house numbers do I know? But what I do know is which political leader lives in which house or which is the VIP road or the VVIP road in the capital. Anyway, you'll probably say that the politician versus the soldier debate is an old one, so let's move on.
As I enter 'Saurabh Niketan', I'm taken by Dr N K Kalia, Capt Kalia's father, to a room upstairs that they call the temple. Inside there is every little thing that belonged to their martyred son. A page with his writing on it, a bottle of moisturiser, a poster of Aishwarya Rai, his last photograph with his mother and his uniforms (some of which he never wore since he was sent to Kargil within four months into his service). In the corner of a shelf there is also a bullet that claimed his life. The proud parents show every little thing to me, narrate stories about his childhood, remember his Military Academy days and sometimes even repeat the stories without realising that they have already told me about them. Every memory of their son is frozen in time and it's these memories which propel and also give them the strength to fight for justice.
In the past 13 years, Dr N K Kalia has written to every possible ministry in our country, demanding that the torture of his son by the Pakistan Army be recognised as a war crime and the guilty be punished. But all that he's got in reply from the Indian government is that they are looking into the matter. Nothing conclusive. A file which he shows me has many letters written to the Prime Minister, the External Affairs minister, the Defence Minister and also to the Armed Forces Tribunal. But not a single letter assures that justice will be done.
Today Dr N K Kalia is 64 years old. As a retired government official, his day begins with him going to his study and writing a fresh letter to some minister or to some international organisation hoping for some help from somewhere. A few years back, his wife fell seriously ill and never recovered completely but somehow every morning she goes to the gas agency which the government had given them in return for their son's supreme sacrifice. Ask her why she bothers to come here and she says Saurabh would want her to. They are old and tired and probably they, much like their fight, are forgotten by this nation and the mainstream media. But if you meet them you'll know instantly that their faith is still intact and they strongly believe that their son will one day get the justice that he deserves.