Within the first few minutes of Kulbhushan Jadhav meeting his mother Avanti and wife Chetna on Monday and after he had enquired about the health of his father, as the former Indian Navy officer on Death Row started talking about how he was sent by Indian intelligence agencies to spy, his mother told him, “Khare bola (Speak the truth)”.
The next 35 minutes, Jadhav gave, what India says, were “tutored statements” about his involvement in espionage. In between, Chetna broke down while Avanti kept asking him about his health and how he was being treated as he looked “unwell and tired”, and not his “usual self”, they told Indian officials.
Jadhav said that he was treated well by Pakistan and as per Pakistan’s law, sources said, putting across Islamabad’s point of view.
A source, briefed about the meeting ,told The Indian Express, “It’s good that the meeting took place but we were disappointed that, throughout the meeting, Jadhav kept giving tutored answers…it was quite clear that he was speaking under duress”.
So a day after Pakistan said it had allowed a “humanitarian meeting” between Jadhav on what New Delhi calls “concocted charges” of espionage by Pakistan’s military court, New Delhi on Tuesday slammed Islamabad for “violating” the understanding reached and creating an “intimidating” atmosphere for the family.
New Delhi, in a strongly worded statement, said that the way in which the meeting was conducted and its aftermath were an attempt to bolster a “false and unsubstantiated narrative of Jadhav’s alleged activities” and the exercise “lacked any credibility.” Pakistan, however, rejected the Indian statement.
Read | Full statement of MEA
This was the first meeting between Jadhav and his family members, since he was arrested by Pakistan’s authorities in March 2016 — India maintains that he was kidnapped in Iran.
The Ministry of External Affairs said that family members were asked to change their attire as well as take off their mangalsutra, bindis and bangles. They were repeatedly interrupted while speaking in Marathi and Hindi by Pakistan’s foreign ministry official, Fereha Bugti, who’s Director (India) and was present in the room. They had to, off and on, switch to English and again Marathi or Hindi to continue the conversation.
Contrary to the understanding that an Indian diplomat will be present during the meeting, Indian Deputy High Commissioner J P Singh was initially separated from the two family members and the meeting began without him. It was, only after his insistence, that he was allowed to observe the proceedings from behind another glass partition and could hardly hear anything.
According to MEA, Jadhav gave scripted answers “designed to perpetuate the false narrative of his alleged activities in Pakistan”. This, MEA said, showed that Jadhav was under “considerable stress and speaking in an atmosphere of coercion”. The MEA questioned the media’s proximity where they “harassed” and “hectored” and levelled “false accusations” at the family members. The Indian Express had reported that Singh had become angry at the taunts being hurled at Avanti, who was being called “the terrorist’s mother”.
However, the MEA praised mother Avanti and wife Chetna handling the entire episode with “great courage and fortitude.”
Read | Who is Kulbhushan Jadhav?
Accompanied by Indian Deputy High Commissioner, the family members met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and senior officials on Tuesday morning.
After the debriefing, the MEA said: “The meeting took place after requests by India for family access. Prior to the meeting, the two Governments were in touch through diplomatic channels to work out its modalities and format. There were clear understandings between the two sides and the Indian side scrupulously abided by all its commitments. However, we note with regret that the Pakistani side conducted the meeting in a manner which violated the letter and spirit of our understandings.”
“Under the pretext of security precautions, the cultural and religious sensibilities of family members were disregarded. This included removal of mangal sutra, bangles and bindi, as well as a change in attire that was not warranted by security,” it said. The Indian Express had reported about the fact that hair clips were not allowed, since they were considered sharp objects.
“The mother of Jadhav was prevented from talking in their mother tongue, although this was clearly the natural medium of communication. She was repeatedly interrupted while doing so and eventually prevented from proceeding further in this regard,” the statement said, in a reference to them being prevented from speaking in Marathi and Hindi.
“For some inexplicable reason, despite her repeated requests, the shoes of the wife of Jadhav were not returned to her after the meeting. We would caution against any mischievous intent in this regard,” MEA said, indicating that this footwear could be used in a malafide manner by Islamabad to buttress its narrative about a snooping device being carried by the family members.
Late on Tuesday night, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mohammad Faisal rejected the Indian statement: “If Indian concerns were serious, the guests or the Indian DHC should have raised them during the visit, with the media, which was readily available, but at a safe distance, as requested by India. The fact is that Jadhav’s mother publicly thanked Pakistan for the humanitarian gesture. This was recorded by the media. Nothing more needs to be said.”
On December 20, Pakistan issued a visa to Jadhav’s wife and mother to visit Islamabad to meet him. Jadhav was sentenced to death by a Pak military court on charges of espionage and terrorism in April following which India moved the International Court of Justice in May. It is expected to hold another hearing in March or April.