The last thing a family that has lost its young daughter to an air crash needs to worry about is making time and space for a VIP condolence visit. Now imagine if the VIP insists on coming and then cancels the visit twice.
Shrichand Chhoker knows how it feels.
The father-in-law of Lt Kiran Shekhawat, the woman Naval officer who died in a Dornier crash off the Goa coast on March 24, was informed twice by the Haryana CM’s office that Manohar Lal Khattar wanted to visit the family’s home in Kurthala village — first on April 6, then on Friday for the eleventh-day ceremony to mark her death.
On both times, the family — and the entire Nuh district administration — was left waiting in vain. And this, when the family made time today, amidst preparations for the ceremony, to set up a separate tent for Khattar.
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“This is not a joke. We are already going through a tough period,” an angry Chhoker told The Indian Express.
“And on top of it, the state government is playing with our emotions. When I called up the CM’s residence, an official rudely asked me, ‘CM ke aane se aapki beti ki shahadat safal hogi kya (Will your daughter’s sacrifice be successful if the CM comes)?’ We never invited him. He called us and said he wanted to visit. Now, we don’t want him to come.”
When contacted, a senior official from Khattar’s office said the Chief Minister was held up due to “political compulsions”.
“This is not the only visit that has been cancelled. All the three visits scheduled during the day were called off due to circumstances. We will call the family and go again,” said Jagdish Chopra, political advisor to CM Khattar. Chhoker, however, said it’s time the government stopped its “double standards”.
“We urge the BJP-led state government to drop the double standards of saying ‘beti bachao beti padhao’ (Save daughters, educate daughters) on one hand and then not honouring the one who sacrificed her life for the country,” he said.
Lt Shekhawat, 28, was an observer on board a surveillance aircraft when it went down around 20 nautical miles southwest of Goa, becoming the first woman Naval officer to die in an air crash. Her body and that of the co-pilot Lt Abhinav Nagori were later recovered, while the pilot Commander Nikhil Joshi was rescued by fishermen.
Lt Shekhawat was the wife of Shrichand Chhoker’s son and Naval officer Vivek Chhoker.
According to 58-year-old Shrichand Chhoker, after the no-show on April 6, the family received another call from the CMO on April 8 to confirm the Friday visit. As per the plan, Khattar’s chopper was to arrive at 1.30 pm at Nuh, 13 km from the family’s village.
“He was scheduled to arrive at 2 pm. We had also created a tent for the visit. This was her eleventh-day ritual and the elders and women of the family kept waiting for the CM. We finally completed the rituals without him,” Chhoker said.
Not just them, also left waiting for Khattar was the local administration including the tehsildar, the district collector and around 100 policemen who were posted on the roads leading to the village.
“It was at 8.30 am on Friday when the district collector’s office received a fax from the CMO that the visit has been cancelled. No reason was given for the last-minute cancellation,” Chhoker said.
On March 30, six days after the crash, Lt Shekhawat was cremated with full military honours in her village. And over the days that have followed, the family has been receiving a stream of high-profile visitors, including the Union Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh, the previous Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda and three MLAs. Except, of course, Khattar.