26th July 2019, will mark 20 years of the Kargil War. On this date, in 1999, India successfully took command of the high outposts which had been lost to Pakistan. Kargil Vijay Diwas- named after the successful Operation Vijay, is celebrated in India on 26 July every year.
The Kargil war took place between May and July of 1999 in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kargil district. The conflict was orchestrated by the then Pakistan army chief General Pervez Musharraf without the knowledge of the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Captain Saurabh Kalia (1976–1999) was an officer of the Indian Army who was killed during the Kargil War while being held as a prisoner of war by the Pakistan Army.
As India moves towards commemorating 20 years of the Kargil War, Capt Kalia’s kin while talking to The Indian Express recounted the horrific tales of torture the martyred soldier suffered in hands of the Pakistan army. And while doing so Capt Kalia’s kin asserted that the aggressiveness shown by our government in case of IAF wing commander Abhinandan was missing then.
“There has been no honest and sincere effort by our government to take this up with Pakistan. What other option do we have than writing letters? The aggressiveness shown by our government in case of IAF wing commander Abhinandan was missing then. Now our country is diplomatically stronger. Had this aggressiveness been shown then, they (Pakistan) would not have dared to do what they did to Saurabh,” he said. “People in uniforms also have some human rights, and that is what we are fighting for – Pakistan has to be forced to follow these rules,” said the slain soldier’s younger brother, Vaibhav Kalia, while narrating the dreadful state in which Capt Saurabh Kalia was returned back by the Pakistani government.
“I will never be able to forget the way my brother was returned.” He said what they are fighting for is to ensure that “what happened to Saurabh should not happen with anyone else”.
Captured alive by Pakistan army on May 15, 1999, Capt Kalia was subjected to unprecedented torture. The autopsy report indicated that his body was burnt with cigarettes, eyes gouged out and punctured, bones and teeth are broken, nails clipped, and face assaulted before he was shot dead.
Twenty-two days later, the body returned on June 9, 1999, was mutilated beyond recognition, his family members said.
However, till date, Pakistan denies any kind of torture on Capt Kalia and calls it “Indian propaganda”. And until today, Captain Kalia’s father, N K Kalia (70), is waging a battle to get justice for his son.
While speaking to The Indian Express, Capt Kalia’s father recounts that they have written over 500 letters and emails in these 20 years, however, successive governments in New Delhi have failed to take up the matter with Pakistan for brazenly violating the Geneva Convention, and “continuing to do so even after Saurabh’s case”, said N K Kalia.
“My struggle will not end so long as I am alive. It is not just for my son but the rights of all Prisoners of War (POWs). Why there is none to question this country (Pakistan)? What they did to my son was inhumane, and even after his case, our soldiers have been beheaded,” he said.
In these 20 years, N K Kalia has written to the President of India, successive Prime Ministers, human rights organisations, ambassadors, External Affairs ministers, and even Pakistan PMs. “Except assurances, we got nothing,” he said, adding that successive governments of all political affiliation failed to take up the case “sensitively or seriously”.
He said: “It is just not about my own son; it is about the dignity of armed forces. It is to expose the real face of Pakistan, who have till date not accepted that they tortured and killed him in the most barbaric manner.”
On April 30, 1999, Capt Kalia had last spoken to his mother, Vijay Kalia. “He said, ‘Kahin door posting pe jaa raha hun; koi call ya letter na bhej paoon to chinta mat karna (going for posting at a faraway place; don’t worry if there are no calls or letters)’. My husband is not fighting just for our son. It is about justice for every son. It is about sena ki izzat (the Army’s prestige). We are still hopeful; miracles do happen.”
Capt Kalia’s father furthered: “I have not lost. I have won in exposing the real face of Pakistan. I have exposed them. Lie is in their DNA. They call my son’s torturous death ‘Indian propaganda’. I will not rest until they are dragged to the International Court of Justice and questioned.”
His petition filed before the Supreme Court still remains pending.
To meet an end which still sends shivers up one’s spine, Captain Saurabh Kalia, an officer of 4 Jat Regiment (Infantry), who was posted at Kargil just two months after his commissioning in December 1998, was the one who volunteered along with five other soldiers to go to Bajrang Post at a height of 14,000 feet to check infiltration in Kaksar area.
Captain Saurabh Kalia’s handwritten, detailed accounts from his diary gave an insight into what was unfolding in Kargil in the winter and spring of 1999.
It had a note which said that our “PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had his tour to Pak fixed for 20 Feb 1999 for peace talks but as per information provided to us by BSF that one of Indian post was assaulted by Pak armed forces but Indian troops beat back the attack on them”.
Similarly, another note revealed that on March 2, 1999, “Holi was celebrated at Bde and Bn HQs. Paki greet and wish Holi by firing 180 med arty rounds of fire from 1000 hours to 1600 hours. Tamur and Chor Nala guns were opened up…”
Holding on to the memories of their beloved family member, the family of Captain Saurabh Kalia has made a one-room museum at their home in Saurabh Nagar, in Palampur of Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district and named it ‘Saurabh Smriti Kaksh’, where they have tried to preserve every memory associated with Capt Kalia. His photographs, diaries, books, uniforms, caps, posters, soil from Bajrang Post, to everything he loved.
Guiding the correspondent of The Indian Express through the room, Parth Kalia, 13, remembered his uncle not only as his family member but as his hero: “He is my role model. He was the first officer to report Pakistani intrusion in Kargil. He was tortured and killed. My grandfather and my father are fighting to get him justice. I still have a lot many questions about the Kargil War…” After a pause, he said, suddenly, “He loved watching birds.”