In the winter of 1971, a bloody 14-day conflict between India and Pakistan resulted in an Indian Army triumph and the birth of a new nation, Bangladesh. Our soldiers fought valiantly and it was a moment of pride for the entire country, as Pakistan signed the instrument of surrender. India had assisted in the establishment of democracy in its eastern neighbourhood, and this was possible only because of the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought valiantly for the honour of their motherland.
But this victory came at a cost. Some soldiers never made it back home. According to official stats,54 soldiers of the Indian army, who fought in the war, went missing.
The Government of India gave these 54 men the status of missing in action or killed in action. But time and again, evidence kept surfacing which proved that these men were alive and imprisoned in various jails of Pakistan. While a photograph of Major AK Ghosh behind bars in a Pakistani prison appeared in TIME magazine, Major Ashok Suri’s father received a hand-written letter from his son, asking him to contact the Government of India in order to secure their return to the homeland.
Despite concrete evidence, Pakistan has continued denying the existence of any prisoner in captivity. It has now been 45 years that our forgotten heroes have been languishing jail, leading a life of disgrace in their old age.
Even as Pakistan continues to deny the existence of these POWs, the families of these soldiers still hold on to the hope of seeing their loved ones again. With these distressed families, stands the Indian Army, which is not ready to forget the sacrifices of its brave soldiers.
In an moving tradition, the Indian Army keeps a table set for one, at the entrance of the dining hall of the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, with the chair tilted forward, hoping to welcome the homecoming of these men some day.
A Facebook post on the official page of Indian Army reads:
The table set is small, for one, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner against his oppressors. The single rose displayed in a vase reminds us of the families and loved ones of our comrades-in-arms who keep their faith awaiting their return.
Here’s the complete post:
A long time has passed, but a ray of hope still flickers in the hearts of the family and friends of these brave soldiers. As an inspiring note from the diary of late Dr RS Suri, father of Major Ashok Suri reads:
If the cause be just and mind be strong, no force is great, no distance is long. If selfless souls with such a strength, face hazards all, they win at length.
Gone but never forgotten.