Major Ashok K Suri, Indian Army
Major Ashok Kumar Suri

On January 6 or 7, 1972, the name of Ashok Suri of Faridabad was mentioned in the Punjabi Darbar programme of Radio Lahore.

On December 26, 1974, Dr R.S. Suri, Ashok Suri's father, received a handwritten note by Ashok Suri dated December 7, 1974.

On August 13, 1975, Dr R.S. Suri received a note dated 14, 15 and 16 June 1975 from Karachi written by Ashok Suri disclosing that there were 20 officers detained in Pakistan.

In 1976 Dr R.S. Suri received information from a contact that Ashok Suri was captured on December 2, 1971, before the actual declaration of war had been made, and that such persons on both sides were considered as spies.

Dr R.S. Suri received further information about Ashok Suri having been shifted from Karachi to NWEP to Johat, Swabi, Mardan and Malakand.

In September 1983, a delegation of six relatives - including the relatives of Major Suri, Major Ghosh and Flt Lt V.V. Tambay–were sent from India to visit Multan jail in Pakistan. Unfortunately, they all came back feeling cheated. "We were allowed to visit only one jail and this jail had none of the defence personnel," says Ashutosh Ghosh.

Mukhtiar Singh, who was repatriated from Pakistan on July 5, 1988, said that Major Ashok Suri was in Kot Lakhpat jail at that time.

Disappointed by the government of India's failure to secure the release of POWs, Dr Suri(President of Missing Defence Personnel Relatives Association), wrote to Justice Ranganatha Mishra, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. Justice Mishra assured the relatives that he would take up the matter with his Pakistani counterpart as well as with the International Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International

On July 14, 2001, the families of four POW's held a Press conference in Agra to urge the visiting Pak President Pervez Musharraf to heed their plea and release all POW's.

Dr Bharat Suri elder brother of Major Ashok Suri still believes he is alive after receiving a letter from him in 1974. Two cryptic missives written on slips of brown paper by the incarcerated soldier, one in 1974, another in 1975. The second letter, with three dates on top, indicates how tough it must have been to pen a few words away from the jailers' glare. He wrote: "I am quite okay in Pak...there are 20 officers here...contact the Indian Army."

The letter, recalls elder brother Suri, had their father Dr R.S. Suri overjoyed and rushing to the Indian army for help. Only to face cold scepticism and indifference that he fought till his death early this year 2001. Laments B.K. Suri: "My father spent all his time scouring for addresses of families of other 'missing' defence personnel, mobilising them into a formal group, writing letters to Indira Gandhi, Rajiv, V.P. Singh, Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee. Obsessed with the desire to see his son free, he died a broken man. Ashamed he had failed a son who had begged him for help."

Dr Bharat Suri, who was at first unwilling to talk about the subject, later let loose a torrent of anguish at the complete lack of interest in the matter by the government, the defence forces and the media. "For 28 years we have been giving out this information, giving out proof and evidence. We have approached the government, the media and yet nothing has happened. We receive assurances from the government who promise to do everything, and then everyone, including the media, forgets our story," he said bitterly.

Suri said that he and the others were tired of running around in circles for so many years. "We are just individuals with limited powers and abilities. In the end, the pressure to find any POW has to come from the government, from the officials, and from the media who must put pressure on the government to act. But no one seems to care, everyone is just busy with their own lives," he said angrily.

Suri has a point. It is the release of Roop Lal from Pakistan that only proves how callous the Indian authorities are to the serious matter of Indians in Pakistani jails. Roop Lal's release came about through the ceaseless efforts of his daughter and son-in-law and the labours of Asma Jehangir, chief of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission. The Indian government was a mere spectator!

But Hopes die hard, Dr Bharat Suri is convinced his brother will return. The house he built in Faridabad a few years ago has a floor for his younger sibling. During morning puja, the first tilak is still applied on his brother's framed picture. "We share our misery here, he is alone. He needs blessings most. Governments can be callous. God isn't. Ashok will return."