Saying that Pakistan presented Kulbhushan Jadhav’s wife Chetna and mother Avanti as “widows” in front of him, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday said when Jadhav saw his mother without a mangalsutra, bindi and bangles, he wondered if something “unfortunate” had happened and asked about the well-being of his father.
The two women had to remove their mangalsutra, bindi, bangles, hair-clips and footwear, and also change their clothes, before meeting Jadhav, the former Indian Navy officer on Death Row in Pakistan, on Monday. Saying that this was a “serious and gross violation” of their human rights, Swaraj, in similar statements in both Houses of Parliament, asked MPs to “strongly condemn, in one voice” the “obnoxious” behaviour of Pakistan, and “affirm their solidarity with the Jadhav family”.
“Under the pretext of security precautions, even the attire of the family members was changed. Jadhav’s mother, who only wears saris, was given salwar-kurta to wear,” said Swaraj. She said Jadhav’s mother had told the Pakistani officials that the mangalsutra is a symbol of her marriage (suhag) and she never removes it, but they turned down her plea and said they were only following orders.
“Both married women were presented as widows in front of a son and husband. There can be no greater insult than this,” said Swaraj, amid chants of “shame, shame” from fellow parliamentarians. Swaraj said that while Pakistan had portrayed the meeting as a humanitarian gesture, “the truth is that both humanity and compassion were missing during the meeting that was arranged on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.” Saying that Pakistan had “misused” the “emotional moment” as “an instrument to further its propaganda”, Swaraj added that “there are not enough words to condemn the same.”
Swaraj said Pakistan’s authorities were now talking of a chip, camera or recorder being installed in Chetna’s shoes. This is “absurdity beyond measure,” she said, pointing out that the two women had cleared security at airports in India, Dubai and Pakistan, where nothing suspicious was detected. “At times they say there was a recorder on it (shoe), at times they say there was a camera, there was a chip… Thank God they did not say there was a bomb inside it,” she said. “The Pakistani authorities have been cautioned against any mischievous intent in this regard through a Note Verbale yesterday,” she added.
Reiterating the MEA’s official statement issued on Tuesday, she said that while the meeting could have been a step forward, it is a matter of great concern that there was departure from the agreed understanding between the two countries in the conduct of this meeting. Following Swaraj’s statement, MPs expressed support for Jadhav’s family. In Lok Sabha, Shiv Sena members shouted slogans of “Pakistan murdabad”, and were joined by the rest of the Treasury benches.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress said Pakistan’s “misbehaviour” with Jadhav’s wife and mother was “misbehaviour with wives and mothers of 130 crore Indians”. “We will not tolerate insults to the wives and mothers and to the country’s dignity,” he said, adding that the government should ask Pakistan to ensure Jadhav’s safety in custody.
Samajwadi Party’s Ramgopal Yadav said this was “unimaginable in a civilised society”, while JD(U)’s Harivansh called Jadhav the country’s pride. CPI(M)’s Tapan Kumar Sen said the manner in which Pakistan dealt with the issue was “indeed condemnable”. “They crossed the limit of civilised treatment even within the diplomatic barrier,” he said.
Before Swaraj’s statement in Rajya Sabha, Chairman Venkaiah Naidu said the sensitive matter was before the ICJ and urged MPs to exercise restrain in their statements, keeping Jadhav’s welfare in mind. TMC’s Derek O’Brien, BJD’s Dilip Tirkey, TDP’s T Devendra Goud, BSP’s Veer Singh, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, CPI’s D Raja, Akali Dal’s Sukhdev Singh Dindsa, IML’s Abdul Wahab, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, BJP’s Bhupendra Yadav and RPI’s Ram Das Athavale expressed their full support to the government on the issue. Naidu said the entire House appreciated the efforts of the government and asked it to take steps to ensure Jadhav’s safe and secure release. He also wanted the government to convey to the international community that Pakistan behaved in an inhuman manner.
After Swaraj’s statement in Lok Sabha, Congress leader Adhiranjan Chowdhary said, “What strong stance have you taken against Pakistan? Kada roop apnayiye.” Jadhav, 47, arrested by Pakistani authorities in March 2016, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court in April this year on charges of espionage and terrorist activities. New Delhi has denied the charge and maintained that he was kidnapped from Iran where he was pursuing an independent business. Jadhav’s execution has been stayed by the International Court of Justice.
Swaraj said while the imminent threat to Jadhav’s life has been averted, “we are now engaged in seeking a permanent relief, based on stronger arguments, through the legal avenue offered by the ICJ”. Reiterating the MEA’s statement, she listed the violations of the understanding between the two countries on the meeting. Swaraj said Jadhav’s mother and wife were taken for the meeting through a separate door, without informing the accompanying Deputy High Commissioner of India. She said that on their return from Islambad, they conveyed to her that Jadhav appeared “under considerable stress and was speaking in an atmosphere of coercion.”
“As the meeting progressed, it was clear to them that his (Jadhav’s) remarks were tutored by his captors and designed to perpetuate the false narrative of his alleged activities. His appearance also raised questions of his health and well-being,” she said. “Two Pakistani officials continuously interrupted her. But when she insisted on speaking in Marathi, the intercom was snapped,” said Swaraj.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif categorically rejected India’s allegations and said the meeting was permitted on humanitarian grounds, in line with Islamic teachings and traditions of compassion and grace. The meeting was initially scheduled for 30 minutes, but was extended to 40 minutes on their request. The success of the meeting was evident by the fact that Jadhav’s mother thanked Pakistan after the visit, he said.
The Foreign Minister underscored that Pakistan’s humanitarian gesture did not obviate the fact that this was not an ordinary meeting between a mother and son, or wife and husband. The reality remains that Jadhav is an Indian Navy officer and a convicted terrorist and spy responsible for multiple deaths and destruction in Pakistan, he said.
“A comprehensive security check was therefore essential. This was agreed between both countries, in advance, through diplomatic channels. The visitors were treated with respect and dignity. The change of clothes and removal of jewellery/ ornaments etc was purely for security reasons. The visitors changed into their own clothes after the meeting. All their belongings were returned to them before they left. The wife’s shoes were retained as they did not clear the security check. A metal chip has been found in one of the shoes, which is being analysed,” he said.
He elaborated that “many routine airport security checks for ordinary people entail removal of crosses and veils. Trying to distort an agreed security check and attempting to portray it as a deliberate religious/ cultural disrespect denotes bad faith and is regrettable.” The Foreign Minister said Pakistan has been open and transparent about the meeting, offered in good faith. “We do not wish to indulge in fallacious accusations and blame game and should focus on the bigger positive outcome that the meeting happened, despite immense challenges and impediments, instead of distortion of facts and baseless propaganda, which vitiates the atmosphere and is counter-productive,” he said.
(With inputs from Shalini Nair)