Major Kanwaljit Sandhu, SC, Indian Army
Major Kanwaljit Sandhu, SC

(pic: The Week)

The year was 1965. Jasbir Kaur(15) was at school when her father came to fetch her home. "Imagine my shock when he told me that I was going to be married the next day," she recounts how she was married to Kanwaljit, a 25-year-old army officer.

He did not take her along when he went back to Khaikh on the Punjab border because it was a field posting. Besides, it was illegal to marry a minor. However, he smuggled her in a few months later. "I am perhaps the only officer's wife to spend the honeymoon in a bunker," she quips.

She lost him in the 1971 war. Major Kanwaljit was initially thought to be killed; when it was established that the body was not his, he was declared missing. Jasbir received the Shaurya Chakra on his behalf.

She believes that her husband is a prisoner in Pakistan: she received a letter from him. "He wrote to Indira Gandhi after her son Sanjay's death," says Jasbir. "In the letter he says the pain of losing a son should help her realise the pain of his family." Someone smuggled the letter out of Pakistan, and Jasbir got a photocopy. The government has denied that he is a prisoner of war, but she continues to wait. "The letter is in Gurmukhi and I know it is his handwriting," she says.

In July 2001, with a forlorn gaze fixed on the framed picture of her young uniformed husband in her Delhi home, Jasbir Kaur whispers: "Even birds return to their nests at night." Jasbir's gruellingly lengthy days haven't yielded the comfort night brings for long now, stretching interminably into 30 years. "These years have been so difficult for me, I shudder to think what indignities and torture he has had to go through," says Jasbir.

Now Kanwaljit is possibly a 63-year-old tired soldier, remembering his wife, pining for the infant daughter he left behind when he went to war for India—a child who has grown up to be a fine young woman.