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Melbourne-based rights activist in search of Indian soldier gone missing in Pakistan

Captain Sanjit 
By Rajiv Shah
Pushkar Raj, who at some point was national general secretary of India’s premier human rights organisation, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), currently settled in Melbourne, sent an email to me seeking my mobile number. I promptly sent it across, and within no time, he phoned me up. 
One who has been writing for Counterview now and on about national issues, Raj’s concern this time was Captain Sanjit Bhattacharya’s fate, whom he called “missing”, even though at least two of the documents he shared on WhatsApp – one of them signed by President Pranab Mukherjee – sought to “presume” he had passed away in 2004.
On duty along the Rann of Kutch, Bhattacharya – a Raj colleague at the SS-54 Officers Training Academy at the then Madras (as his article in Counterview said) – went missing on the night of April 19-20, 1997 following a sudden flood, when, ,because of an unpredictable tide, the Rann turned treacherous, in which the Captain was possibly swept to the other side of the border. Rescued by Pak fishermen, he was handed over to the authorities.
Raj told me, on learning that Bhattacharya’s father had passed away on November 28, 2020, he began finding out, via telephone and video meetings from Melbourne, on what may have happened to his former colleague. He phoned up authorities as also the family of the Captain, he told.
Raj alleged, the Indian army and the authorities do not seem to have made “serious effort” to find out whereabouts of the Captain, who would have been brigadier today, despite indications from intelligence sources, that he may be still alive in some “dingy” Pak jail.
Finding the indifference astounding of the authorities, as seen in Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s letter to Bhattacharya’s father in 2005 “regretting” the Captain’s untimely death, he has asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to intervene to find out the Captain’s “continuing missing status.” I reproduce the letter here:
*** 
1. On the occasion of human rights day, I bring to your notice a grave case of human rights violation against Captain Sanjit Bhattacharjee who is languishing in a foreign jail for 23 years.
2. Captain Sanjit Bhattacharjee left for patrolling with his platoon on the night of 19/20 April 1997, in the Rann of Kutch bordering Pakistan. The next day, 15 of platoon members returned without the Captain and his shadow, Lance Naik Ram Bahadur Thapa.
3. The Army records -- 24 -28 April 1997 -- reveal that Captain Sanjit was handed over by Pakistani fishermen to one Major Khiyani of Pak Army and thereafter there is no trace of either of them.
4. After sending a letter in May 2010, to the mother of Captain Sanjit, Kamla Bhattacharjee (ailing, 81), explaining nothing, the government of India seems to have forgotten Captain Sanjit who, one can reasonably believe, is not dead.
5. Captain Sanjit’s father died on 28 November 2020 after futile wait that lasted his life time.
6. It is noted that the Captain Sanjit and his companion are not prisoners of war as they were not captured during the war between two countries but in the process of a normal patrolling on border.
7. The commission may be aware of the Gujarat High Court judgement directing the central government to approach the International Court of Justice and making use of Geneva Conventions in such cases.
8. I may also humbly remind the commission that under its statement of objectives, it is committed to peace building as its core function. In this context, I request the commission to look into cases of Pakistani military personnel, if any, in Indian jails, so that a process of trust building is initiated between two countries.
9. As a citizen of the country, and on behalf of the family and perhaps the country, I request you to intervene into it on an urgent humanitarian basis.
10. At a minimum, I expect that the commission apprise the family, if it is aware of this case, what steps it has taken during the 23 years to ensure justice to bright officer who, if not in jail in an enemy country, would have been sitting in the same position as some of the members of this commission.
11. Second, the commission owes itself to inform what steps it might take now to ensure Captain Sanjit’s release, now that, it has come to know of the matter.
12. As a citizen, I humbly demand that the Commission extend solidarity to the family and friends of Captain Sanjit in their endeavours to Captain Sanjit Bhattacharjee released from the captivity of our neighbouring country.
I take liberty to enclose with this letter a write-up tracing the chronology in the case that is in public domain.

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