Twenty years have passed, but time has not healed their wounds. Their fight is for justice as their soldier son, the first martyr of the 1999 Kargil war, would want to die taking bullets in his chest rather than being tortured for days.
For this elderly couple, the search for justice against war crimes would end only with their death.
“We have been fighting to get justice by declaring the death of Captain Saurabh Kalia and five other soldiers a war crime committed by the Pakistan Army and this war will continue till our death,” an emotional N.K. Kalia, father of the 1999 Kargil conflict martyr Capt. Saurabh Kalia, told IANS.
He said successive Indian governments have failed to get justice for human rights violation of his son and five other soldiers, whose mutilated bodies were handed to the Indian authorities by Pakistan after weeks of gruesome torture.
Now, they are pinning hopes on judiciary.
“We have full faith in judiciary as the case is pending in the Supreme Court,” Kalia said, who moved the apex court in 2012 seeking direction to the Central government to prosecute Pakistan in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for human rights violations of his son and other soldiers.
The Centre had told the Supreme Court in September 2015 that the issue of brutalities committed by the Pakistani army on Capt. Saurabh Kalia was an issue involving the two countries and hence it could not approach the ICJ.
During one of the hearings, a bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and Kurian Joseph observed, “If river water disputes can be raised before the international forum, why not the issue of prisoners of war?”
“If India could take up the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav at the International Court of Justice, what is wrong with the case of inhuman treatment meted out to Saurabh? Both Jadhav and Saurabh’s cases are the same,” asked Kalia, who is proud of his son’s bravery.
Retired Indian Navy officer Jadhav was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of espionage and terrorism in April 2017. India approached the ICJ in May 2017 against Pakistan for denying consular access to him.
Captain Saurabh, of the 4 Jat Regiment, was the first army officer to report the incursion by the Pakistani army on Indian soil.
He and five soldiers — Arjun Ram, Bhanwar Lal Bagaria, Bhika Ram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh — were on patrol of the Bajrang Post in the Kaksar sector of Jammu and Kashmir when they were taken captive by Pakistani troops May 15, 1999.
They were tortured for weeks before being killed. Their mutilated bodies were handed to India on June 9, 1999.
“If the government showed guts in the case of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan, why is the government not serious in pursuing with Pakistan the issue of war atrocities?” Kalia asked.
He said their fight was only for the dignity of the soldiers.
The elderly couple, settled in this tea garden town, about 220 km from the state capital Shimla, has moved the Supreme Court, seeking direction to the central government to raise their son’s case in the International Court of Justice.
“It is a simple case of violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Kalia, 70, who retired as a senior scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Information collected by Kalia from the External Affairs Ministry under the Right to Information (RTI) Act said “the government 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”.
Captain 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.
Today, the martyr’s photographs, uniforms, shoes and mementoes are kept in his room, which has been named ‘Saurabh Smriti Kaksha’ (a museum), in the Kalias’ four-bedroom house in Palampur.
“We have received enormous response from the public across the globe. Still people are contacting us and asking for any help. I am telling them that we only need moral support,” an optimistic Kalia said.
“On this Kargil Vijay Divas, we will again ask the Indian government why it’s shy of calling the atrocities committed by the Pakistani Army as war crimes,” said the martyr’s mother Vijaya, who resigned from her government job a few days after the martyrdom of her son.
“Our only fight is to expose Pakistan at the international fora so that no other prisoner of war could face Saurabh’s fate,” she added, with tears rolling out of her eyes.
India and Pakistan fought a limited war over the icy heights of Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir in May-July 1999. India took back all the positions that had been occupied by the Pakistani Army.
India lost 527 soldiers and Pakistan upwards of 700 men.