Flt.Lt Manohar Purohit, Indian Airforce
Flt Lt Manohar Purohit

On July 10, 2001, Vipul Purohit(30) had travelled all the way from Agra to meet the opposition leaders before they went for the meeting to request them to take up the issue of release of the 1971 prisoners of war who were still rotting in the Pakistani Jails.

"I was barely three months old when my father Flt Lt Manohar Purohit was called on duty in December 1971. He was then posted in Rajasthan sector. He went on a bombing mission and never returned. We were told that the debris of his plane had landed on the Indian side of the international border and he had bailed out after his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire.

Vipul said the Gov't of India declared him as "killed in action" initially, but later changed it to "missing in action". Now his name is there on the official list of Indian POWs in Pakistan. Since then my mother and myelf have been waiting for him."

The Purohit family

His mother Suman started asking for help from the Indian airforce and the ministry of defence officials. She even approached the office of the then prime minister Mrs Indira Gandhi and she was told to send pictures of her husband so that a search could be mounted.

"Thirty years have passed since he left home for duty. Each time we started asking for him, the officials would tell us to keep quiet in the interest of those who were in the Pakistani jails. Nothing has happened. Even now we were told not to raise the issue on the eve of the summit. We cannot wait for another twenty years and then raise the matter. I understand that 54 officers of the Indian army and airforce are in various jails of Pakistan. The government should take up this matter with the Pakistani president when he comes here for talks with Vajpayeeji. At least the nation owes this much to these officers," he said. When former defence minister Mulayam Singh, told the newsmen that he had raised the issue at the all-party meeting, Vipul was more than satisfied. "I have a reason to feel happy now," he said.

Mrs Suman Purohit takes part in a silent march calling for peace between India and Pakistan, and the release of all Indian POWs, in Agra July 7, 2001. (pic: Hindustan Times)

On July 14, 2001, on the eve of the Agra Summit, the families of four POW's held a Press conference in Agra to urge the visiting Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to heed their plea and release all POW's. Vipul said: "We are most hopeful now. The lead-up to the summit and the atmosphere are most positive. After waiting for 30 years, it is about time someone listened to us. No one will be able to make up for the childhood spent without my father, but maybe my children will be able to play with their grandfather," he said.

On July 15, 2001, carrying placards demanding release of 54 POWs, around 50-60 human rights and social activists besides relatives of POWs took out a procession from Amar Vilas Hotel, around two kms from Jaypee Palace in Agra, where the Vajpayee-Musharraf Summit was being held. The procession, in which there were members of the Human Rights Action Committee of Agra and Pehchaan, a social organisation, was stopped at the Amar Vilas itself. "We wanted to meet Musharraf and apprise him of our plight."

Following President Pervez Musharraf's commitment to the missing soldiers' families at the Agra summit to get to the bottom of the matter, Vipul said: "For the first time in years I see hope of my father's return this time." Vipul bravely believes that the troubled neighbour fears being seen as a violator of the 1949 Geneva Convention for retaining POWs for three decades. He suggests a solution for Musharraf and Atal Behari Vajpayee: "Call them smugglers, illegal entrants, trespassers, fishermen, spies...anything. Just give them back to us," he said.

Vipul and his mother have waited long enough. In fact, Suman Purohit(53) has refused to budge from Agra, the city of her husband's last posting before he went to war. Her relatives have asked her to join them in Rajasthan, but she chose to bring up her infant son single-handedly in Agra. Vipul now has a son, and the entire family still lives in Agra."I want my husband to come back and find us exactly where he left us," says Suman. "He has been with me every moment in these past years, I know he is alive and well, and will return."

In September 2001, after a Cabinet meeting, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf asked his foreign ministry to facilitate the visit of the Indian families who would be allowed to search Pakistani jails for their relatives missing since 1971. "We will help them all the way to find out their relatives, if they intend to visit Pakistani jails," Pakistani Army spokesman Rashid Qureshi said. Qureshi, however, reiterated the Pakistani stand of denying the existence of POWs there.

However, Vipul Purohit was hopeful: "The outcome(of the invitation) depends on the integrity of Musharraf. If he is honest in his intention, we will surely progress towards a solution and some success.'' Vipul's mother Suman was still waiting for a "last chance for a miracle.''

Pakistan conducted a fresh inquiry into missing Indian soldiers. Following the investigation, Pakistani interior ministry told Cabinet that it had checked all the prisons but did not find any Indian POW. Intelligence agencies, including the ISI, had combed the prisons for the Indians, it was told. "No Indian prisoner-of-war is held in any prison or jail in Pakistan," a press release issued by the foreign office after meeting said.