February 19, 1999: Our PM had his tour to Pak fixed for 20 Feb for peace talks but as per information provided to us by BSF that one of Indian post was assaulted by Pak armed forces but Indian troops beat back the attack on them.
March 2, 1999: Holi was celebrated at Bde and Bn HQs. Paki greet and wish Holi by firing 180 med arty rounds of fire from 1000 hours to 1600 hours. Tamur and Chor Nala guns were opened up…
Captain Saurabh Kalia’s handwritten, detailed accounts from his diary is a pithy description of what was unfolding in Kargil in the winter and spring of 1999.
An officer of 4 Jat Regiment (Infantry), who was posted at Kargil just two months after his commissioning in December 1998, he and five soldiers volunteered to go to Bajrang Post at a height of 14,000 feet to check infiltration in Kaksar area.
And to meet an end that still sends shivers down the spine.
Captured alive by Pakistan army on May 15, 1999, Capt Kalia was subjected to unprecedented torture – the autopsy report indicated that his body was burnt with cigarettes, eyes gouged out and punctured, bones and teeth broken, nails clipped, and face assaulted. Before he was shot dead.
Twenty-two days later, the body returned on June 9, 1999, was mutilated beyond recognition, his family members said.
Till date, Pakistan denies it, calling it “Indian propaganda”. And till date, Captain Kalia’s father, N K Kalia, 70, is waging a battle to get justice for his son.
Over 500 letters and mails written in these 20 years, Kalia said successive governments in New Delhi have failed to take up the matter with Pakistan for brazenly violating the Geneva Convention, and “continuing to do so even after Saurabh’s case”.
“My struggle will not end so long as I am alive. It is not just for my son but rights of all Prisoners of War (POWs). Why there is none to question this country (Pakistan)? What they did to my son was inhumane, and even after his case, our soldiers have been beheaded,” he said.
His petition filed before Supreme Court remains pending.
In these 20 years, Kalia has written to the President of India, successive Prime Ministers, human rights organisations, ambassadors, External Affairs ministers, and even Pakistan PMs. “Except assurances, we got nothing,” he said, adding that successive governments of all political affiliation failed to take up the case “sensitively or seriously”.
He said: “It is just not about my own son; it is about the dignity of armed forces. It is to expose the real face of Pakistan, who have till date not accepted that they tortured and killed him in the most barbaric manner.”
At the Kalias’ home in Saurabh Nagar, in Palampur of Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district, the family has made a one-room museum: Saurabh Smriti Kaksh. In it, they have tried to preserve every memory associated with Capt Kalia — photographs, diaries, books, uniforms, caps, posters, soil from Bajrang Post, to everything he loved.
Guiding The Indian Express through the room, Parth Kalia, 13, spoke about his uncle, not as a relative who died long before he was born but as his hero: “He is my role model. He was the first officer to report Pakistani intrusion in Kargil. He was tortured and killed. My grandfather and my father are fighting to get him justice. I still have a lot many questions about the Kargil War…”
After a pause, he said, suddenly, “He loved watching birds.”
Parth’s father Vaibhav Kalia, 42, the slain soldier’s younger brother, said, “I will never be able to forget the way my brother was returned.” He said what they are fighting for is to ensure that “what happened to Saurabh should not happen with anyone else”.
“There has been no honest and sincere effort by our government to take this up with Pakistan. What other option do we have than writing letters? The aggressiveness shown by our government in case of IAF wing commander Abhinandan was missing then. Now our country is diplomatically stronger. Had this aggressiveness been shown then, they (Pakistan) would not have dared to do what they did to Saurabh,” he said. “People in uniforms also have some human rights, and that is what we are fighting for – Pakistan has to be forced to follow these rules.”
On April 30, 1999, Capt Kalia had last spoken to his mother, Vijay Kalia. “He said, ‘Kahin door posting pe jaa raha hun; koi call ya letter na bhej paoon to chinta mat karna (going for posting at a faraway place; don’t worry if there are no calls or letters)’. My husband is not fighting just for our son. It is about justice for every son. It is about sena ki izzat (the Army’s prestige). We are still hopeful; miracles do happen.”
Kalia said: “I have not lost. I have won in exposing the real face of Pakistan. I have exposed them. Lie is in their DNA. They call my son’s torturous death an ‘Indian propaganda’. I will not rest until they are dragged to the International Court of Justice and questioned.”
When Capt Kalia left for duty in December 1998, he touched his mother’s feet at Amritsar railway station and said, “Maa main kuch aisa kaam karke aaunga ki mera naam hoga (I will do something for which I will be remembered).”
“He kept his words,” Vijay Kalia said.