As a Witness
You know the accused?' The Prosecution Counsel Mr. Gupta asked.
`Yes, I do, sir.'
`Please look at the accused and then reply to the court.'
I did as I was asked to do.
`How do you know him?'
`He was the driver of my jeep in 1975, when I was the intelligence Offcer at Samba.'
`Did you ever take the accused across the border to Pakistan?'
`No, I never did so.'
`You never took him to Pakistan?' The counsel asked feigning surprise.'
`That's what I have just told the court.'
`But what about you? Did you go yourself or you did not do that either?' The counsel asked jeeringly.
`I object to this question,' the counsel for defence Mr. T.R. Thakur raised the objection.
`Objection overruled,' The Presiding Officer of the court announced.
`Well, sirs, I did not do that either.' I replied.
At this, the Prosecution Counsel declared the witness as bostile and requested for his withdrawal. But the defence counsel raised an objection on the plea that the witness could not be withdrawn as he was under oath. Then both sides extended the arguments.
The court was declared as closed for consideration.
After one and half hours deliberation the court reassembled and sustained the objection. I was allowed to be cross examined by the Prosecution Counsel.
Showing the statement, recorded at the S of E Sepoy Karam Singh signed by me on 04 December 1978, the Prosecution Counsel asked, `Are these your signatures?'
`Yes, these are mine.'
`Do you know giving a false statement in S of E even though it is not under oath, is an offence in the army?'
`Yes, I am aware of that.'
`Then read the contents of your statement. And if you still deny that means that as an officer you have committed an offence, under your direct knowledge. What have you to say to that?'
`Looking at the face of it yes, it is an offence. But its not so, knowing the circumstances under which I was made to sign. It was under duress that I signed it,' I answered and then I gave a detailed account of the circumstances under which the S of E Karam Singh was conducted and his statement recorded, to the court.
`Did you use to visit a post called Nanga during your tenure at Samba?'
`Yes, I used to. Infact not only Nanga I used to visit all the BOPs within the area allotted. But such visits were always official and as such recorded in the vehicle car diary.'
`Captain Rathaur I suggest you are lying. The fact is that you sent the accused across the border with a package, meant for Major Khan of the Pak FIU, in the last week of December 1975 or the first week of january, 1976.'
`Your suggestions are incorrect. I never sent the accused or anybody across the border with or without a package. The fact is that I was on leave during the alleged period. And I was spending the leave away from Samba in my village.'
On further cross examination I told the court that, in the first week of December, I had left Samba alongwith my family on a one month leave, that I had spent the leave at home at my village, and that this fact could be verified from people of the area, because during the leave I was made to inaugurate a "Shaheedi Diwas" ceremoney, organised in the memory of a soldier, who had died during the 1971 war with Pakistan. The function was organised by Shri Desh Bandhu, the President of the Gram Sudhar Sabha, a registered organisation.
Later I learnt that verification was done. Shri Hem Raj Sharma a shopkeeper, Shri Roshan Lal the Surpunch and Secretary, Cooperative Society and Shri Desh Bandhu, had come and deposed on the strength of official records that I was present in the village, during the alleged period.
My examination as a witness took two full days. I brought out all the circumstances under which, my statement called confession was obtained and how I was made to implicate other people falsely and that the accused was one of them.
I showed the injuries on my face to the court. I requested the court to observe and record the same in the proceedings.
At the end I pleaded, `I most humbly submit in front of the Hon'ble members of the court to kindly make a note. My life is in acute danger. Threats have been given to me that if I don't cooperate with interrogators then I would be killed and it will be declared that I was trying to escape. Sirs, I am not at all afraid of death, but of dying as a traitor I am - there is no question of my running away or trying to escape. I am innocent. Therefore, if I am found dead tomorrow, I request you to take my death as a gruesome murder for further investigations.'
There was death like silence which persisted for nearly a minute till it was broken by the Presiding Officer. He said, `Who has given you the threats and when were these given?"
`Sir, it was given to me by the officer who recorded my S of E at a time when he re-recorded my statement on the night of 01/02 January 1979.'
The Presiding Officer showed signs of bewilderment. Looking at the members he said, `Well this is entirely a new thing for the court. We got to record this.' He then looked at the DJAG for approval.
The DJAG (Deputy Judge Advocate General) is from the Judge Advocate General branch of the army. His functions are, to assist the court on legal points. He's also responsible for the recording of witnesses, preparations, maintainance and safe custody of the court proceedings.
When the Presiding Officer asked his approval, the DJAG declined to record the statement with a comment that it was purely an administrative matter and as such had nothing to do with the case the court was convened to try. The DJAG them told me, `We all sympathise with you. But we cannot do anything since the matter in this issue, is out of the jurisdiction of this court.'
`But, sir, the court at least can make a representation to the higher authorities in writing, recommending it to set up an enquiry for investigation....'
`Why did you not do so?'.... Aren't you an officer? Have you reported this matter to your CO or anyone else?' The DJAG questioned back, irritated.
I did not know what to say why I did not report. Could I say that I did not report because the matter which was to be reported was not only in the knowledge but had been done under the directions of a person no less than the Corps Commander himself! Even if I said that, who was there to believe me? They would ask me the source of such knowledge. I could not give the name of Captain Ranvir, in any case by then I did not know his name, lest he was also accused of being a spy! And so the allegation could not be proved. Hence considering the futility I tried to explain the reasons of my doing so, indirectly. I said,' sir, what was the use of reporting it to the CO, or any one else. Could I have expected any favourable action from him? Was not the S of E recorded at the instance of the CO, as it was? I mean could anyone come to my unit from outside during night without his consent?'
`Well, you're talking out of presumptions. We therefore, advice you to take the CO into confidence,' said the Presiding Officer, concluding the matter.
Back in the cell, I pleaded to the duty officer, who had escorted me to the court, to send the CO.
After an hour the CO came and I objected to the treatment being given to me. I also informed the CO about the manner and the circumstances by which my signatures were obtained on the statement by the officer recording the S of E. `Sir, I don't even know what is the charge and who all and what all has been deposed against me. I request you to kindly hear my case and if you still consider the charge against me out to proceed, then record my S of E according to the provisions of law and not the way it has been done.'
The CO appeared guilt ridden. He dared not to look at me. And it was obvious the CO was aware of the complete picture of the happenings. However, he explained the reasons of his inability to do anything. He said, `Rathaur, I am helpless to do anything. It's a very delicate and sensitive issue which is directly controlled by the Corps Hqs. I am sorry to say that your S of E cannot be re-recorded. I cannot do anything in this regard.'
At that I considered and submitted that at least the CO could do one thing. He could stop any interrogator from meeting and harassing me.
I also repeated my request, for medical aid and to be provided with some reading material.
The CO suggested that I should appeal in writing for the medical aid and then he would forward the request to the higher authorities.
When I asked for papers to write the appeal, it was not easily given and it was only the next day, that a paper torn from an old register was handed over to me for writing the appeal! I wanted to make a duplicate copy of the appeal, for my records, so I asked for an additional sheet of paper and a sheet of carbon. It was however not given.
In the appeal I wrote that I was brutally tortured, therefore a medical officer should be detailed, to carry out a physical examination to ascertain the extent of my injuries and to render a medical certificate. I also requested to be handed over my two letters for which my signatures were obtained without my receiving them; not to censor my mail, give proper facilities which are due to an officer under close arrest, to place an officer as my escort instead of an NCO, and to discontinue handcuffing inside the cell, I pleaded innocence and requested not to be treated like an animal, for permission and facilities to write to my wife and parents, that official information should be given to my wife about my arrest and the circumstances of the arrest, and finally for a special permission for my wife to meet me.
It was 10 January when the appeal was submitted. I asked in the appeal, that if the requests made were not under the powers of the CO to grant, my appeal should be forwarded to the authorities concerned who had jurisdiction and powers. The decision taken by such authority on my appeal should be conveyed to me in writing.
I never knew if there was any action taken on the appeal. My conditions were better at least in some respect, than the ones in the cell at Delhi. Here I was free to have a glimpse of outside world through the peephole. It was a different matter if the view was obstructed by the trees. Then I also saw the sun daily from the cold cell and yearned desperately to bathe in it. Since it was not possible, I bathed in my imagination only. I also used to stare at the moon and the stars undisturbed for hours together.
A day went and night came to bring yet another day. Under the immense mental pressure and the prolonged confinement I often thought and believed, that I always lived in these conditions. Time appeared to me as if centuries had passed. I even forgot at times that I was once an army officer with natural ambitions and had lived a free and highly respectable life. My heart burnt every moment. And anything which burns produces light. The intensity of light depends upon the source of burning. The more intense the burning, greater is the light. Similarly the burning of the heart also produces light. Though its often covered with smoke in the form of emotions. Control the emotions and you'll see the light. The more the burning, I thought, the nearer one is to salvation through enlightenment.
Yet I neither saw the enlightenment nor could I control my emotions to see the fire. The sun has tremendous light, it brightens the whole world and produces heat. It has no use and meaning for a traveller who's lost his way in the dark night. For him a tiny earthen lamp has more value than the sun if it's able to lead the traveller to his destination. And the burning of my heart, even if it produced tremendous heat was not worth even a tiny lamp; as it did not show me the path.
The hopes of getting better treatment faded into thin air. The courage and confidence gained after the deposition in the court, disappeared. I had an army man's belief that after people knew the truth, the atrocities would be checked and there would be investigations. While still waiting and expecting something honourable to happen, a small incident shattered my faith in the army command structure and melted my last hope like a suger cube.
Due to the physical torture I had undergone, I had developed a slow but persistent backache. Sometimes the pain used to become unbearable.
It was 14 January 1979. The pain became very intense. Finding it unbearable I requested for medical aid through the guard NCO. The next evening, I saw the door open and a medical officer, who, I later learnt was Captain Verma from the Army Medical Corps (AMC), entered the cell.
The doctor when told the severity of the pain, replied in a contemptuous voice, `Well, you deserve this. In fact you deserve more than what you're already made to suffer. Thank your stars that you're born in this country. Otherwise you would have been dead by now. Do you know the punishment for treason in other countries? And here you are complaining of pain! Hum? You deserve a dog's death... In any case authorities have decided to give you the maximum, what you deserve.'
I was horrified listening to the doctor. I knew that I could not expect a fair investigation of the case from the authorities. I must do some thing to make my voice heard. But what could I do? It was beyond my comprehension. It was evidently clear that the atmosphere was highly charged with prejudice against me. The interrogators were successful in impregnating the minds of people with bias.
It was not that I did not contemplate such prejudice as shown by the doctor, but I had expected the defusion after my deposition of the facts in the court. And it was certainly distressing to hear what I heard from the doctor.
I found myself unable to control the rumbling rage which erupted like a repressed valcano. I said, `Look, the job of a doctor is to relieve a person of pain, and not induce pains. You should leave that to the people who're doing it. It is a most noble profession, don't abuse it. Its not the wont of doctors. Even if you believe me to be a traitor, let others who have and are sparing nothing to make my life miserable, do that. And, if you still can't resist the temptation to cause me suffering, then you're welcome to give me some poison, which being a doctor you can easily do. So that you can take credit for having eliminated a traitor!... And if you are a coward to do that, then I suggest you recommend to the authorities to shoot me dead!! I am sure this way also you would get at least a share of participation in a noble job, of eliminating me.... a traitor!! That's what you say is the punishment for treason. Right?.... But let me ask you a question doctor, how do you know that I am a traitor? What do you know about me? How did you reach this conclusion?... listening to one side of the story which is being religiously propagated?'
The doctor came back to earth. He said, `Well, I've nothing to do with what you are... its only because everyone else is saying that.... Anyway show me where the pain is, I shall send the best medicine.'
`Thanks doctor, but I don't suppose there is any pain now, in my body after the treatment you've just given me. And the pain which I am suffering now, is beyond your professional competence to cure. I request you to leave me alone!' I said in disgust turning my back on the doctor.
The doctor tried to pacify me but when he found that I was too disturbed to listen, he left saying, `I will send the best medicine.'
The medicine was sent but I threw it in the commode and with it washed clear whatever little faith I had still left. I could not have any faith in the army doctors either.
It was futile for me to have asked for the medical examination. Firstly a medical examination could not be done and even if it was done, the medical examination would have been only an eyewash.
And apprehensions, that I had, later proved genuine.
No action was taken on my appeal except one. I was no longer chained to the window.
It became impossible for me to pass the time in the silence of the cell. There was every possibility for me to suffer from a brain haemorrhage due to excessively intense tension caused by thinking and the fear, unless I did something to divert my mind. But there was nothing; no reading material or anything with which to occupy my mind. So I decided to improvise something.
I started collecting empty packets of cigarettes and when there were enough of them, I devised various games. I would make castles, bridges, houses, tanks, guns by placing one packet on the other adjusting them here and there to give different shapes, for hours at an end. This, I found was a good past time.
I was bored playing the same games time and again. So I made a chess board on the floor by scratching lines into squares with a nail that I had removed from the wall, though it was not possible to see the squares due to the semidarkness in the room. To overcome the hurdle, I collected some cigarette packs, with the help of my uncut finger nails, into rounds and other shapes. I also made a pack of playing cards, out of the cigarette packs cut into rectangles, and engraved on them the four suits with the help of my nails, and then coloured each of them with burnt match sticks.
Thus putting the empty cigarette packs into multiple use, I had to myself three different games to keep my mind occupied.
Authorities, I thought to myself, seemed to wish me dead, but I would not give them the opportunity for celebrating, by dying. And I would feel a strange power lift my heart.
|Preface | Temporary Duty | The Move Order | The Train Journey | The Reception | The Army HQ | Close Arrest | The Interrogation | Background | The Intelligence | The Security | The Devil | The Confession | The Foundation Stone | The Great Detectives | The Corroborations | An Approver | Confrontaions | Hibernations | Leading to the Trails | Fairy Tales | Into the Fire | Army Procedure | As a Winess | Meeting with Family | Habeas Corpus | Death of Democracy | The Trial | Prosecution Case | The Defence | The Press | Rebuttal | Aftermath | Mystery | Postscript | Annexure I | Home ||