The POW Saga – VIII: Air Cmde JL Bhargava

In the meanwhile, Garry was trying to arrange a shared taxi – 7-8 in one taxi – to proceed to the last border village – Landi Khana. Since they were looking like foreigners, the taxi driver demanded a little extra and they were haggling over the cost of the taxi including a dedicated taxi for only three of them. Like in  a small place, crowds started  watching the scene and amongst them was a clerk or Tahsildar, who also understood a little English. He, somehow, suspected them to be Bengalis trying to flee and bombarded them with all sorts of questions. He then took them to the Police Station where they were subjected to a lot of questioning and a bit of a thrashing in an attempt to establish their identities. That is when Dilip realized that the game was up and it was better to do something or else they could be even killed there and then. He then got a brain-wave……..

Before I continue the rest of the saga, it may be mentioned here that I spoke with Dilip as well as with Garry to refresh my memory. As per both of them, they were never physically thrashed but some odd abuses were used since they were taken as Bengalis trying to flee. They were also planning to put them behind bars and as per Dilip, the jail was in a pathetic state and they could’nt have survived there even for a day. Dilip quickly realized that the game was nearly over and it was time to take some action before they ill treated them any further. Dilip told this person that they were from Pakistan Air Force and complained that they were being ill-treated without any reason.

Till then no one in Pakistan  knew that Dilip, Garry and Harry had escaped from the Camp. He asked this guy to connect him on the phone to Sqn Ldr Usman, ADC to the Chief of  Air Staff. Sqn Ldr Usman was our Camp Commandant upto about Mar 72 before he got posted as ADC to the CAS. We knew him very intimately  and he was extremely fond of Dilip.   Luckily they got through to Peshawar and Sqn Ldr Usman came on the line.  Dilip at the outset wished Sqn Ldr Usman “ Sir salaam Wale Kum..Dilip here…” Sqn Ldr Usman apparently got flabbergasted to hear Dilip from a Police Station at  Landi Kotal.  “ Dilip what are you doing there..?” Dilip continued “ Actually sir, Garry and Harry are also with me . In fact we took a break from the Camp but this person here has caught us and is misbehaving with us. Please tell him to stop torturing us” and he gave the telephone to the person who was by now looking a bit worried. Sqn Ldr Usman  probably told him  “ these three belong to the Air Force but were very DANGEROUS so take care of them, stop illtreating them BUT do not let them go anywhere. We are getting them picked up”.  Meanwhile he must have spoken to the Chief of Air Staff informing him about three prisoners escaping and then getting caught at Landi Kotal.

The entire PAF must have been woken up and the Camp was asked as to where the three POWs were. In our Camp, they started running helter skelter and started counting us. They soon opened the cell where the three POWs were apparently sleeping only to find the well laid beds ( job well done by Chati). The pillows were so realistically put that it looked as if the three of them were actually sleeping. Three POWs had in fact escaped without the knowledge of the Camp and the authorities had no idea whatsoever as to how this operation took place and when. At Landi Kotal, our brothers were made to wait for the escort and by then Mr Burki the Political Agent of NWFP  – very powerful person –  must have been also informed and he called them over for tea. Mr Burki jokingly pointed out a hill to them and said that the other side of  it was Afghanistan. Dilip in his usual manner pleaded with him to give them 5 minutes freedom, that was all they needed! After tea they were sent to the Tahsildar who gave them a good lunch. In the evening the P & S unit ( PAF Police )  personnel  from Peshawar arrived and they were whisked away in cars, blindfolded and handcuffed. On arrival at Peshawar , they were put up in P & S Unit area. Dilip and Garry in one room and Harishsinhji in another room.

Coming back to the Camp, after they found out that three POWs had gone, we were separated in different rooms. Speaking for myself, I am sure each of us in the camp went through the same, all books etc were removed from the cell and the cell doors were closed and we were back to solitary confinement. MWO Rizvi visited my cell and said “ Enemy will remain as enemy. We trusted you all and look what you have given us in return.”  Meanwhile the Camp Commandant, Sqn Ldr Wahid du Din, was probably informed and he drove down from vacation at Muree hill resort. He was livid. At night, I was not allowed to sleep without being disturbed every now and then by the guard asking me to get up. On 2nd or 3rd night, my mattress and bed sheets were yanked off and I had to put them back myself. I do not recollect if all of us went through all this but such incidents disturbed me and probably all of us a lot. We were actually badly off for about 4 days before we were shifted. I‘ll come to this new place  a little later..let me go back to our three heroes.

Dilip and Gary were in one room . This room had a ceiling fan and there was a table as well as a few chairs and there was a fire-place. At night, Dilip got an idea – to try to escape. He removed one of the rods from the fire-place, put the table under the ceiling fan and with the help of one chair he was able to reach the room ceiling. Gary also assisted him in this operation but actually Dilip was the doer. He started piercing the ceiling through the hole where the fan was hung. Unfortunately at the same time a Sgt (As per Garry his name was Sgt Azaib ) opened the cell and found Dilip on top of the table. In this process while piercing, some muck had also fallen on the table and Dilip was caught red-handed. When this Sgt asked him as to what he was doing, Dilip promptly replied that he was only  trying to slow the fan, to which the Sgt said that there was a regulator for this purpose! Dilip was then tied to the cell door and poor chap did not get a wink of sleep that night. Even today, Dilip has not forgotten that night and the ordeal he went through. Dilip reacted by telling the Sgt that he would go on a hunger strike and that you are dealing with the victors and words to that effect. Garry was however spared as he was not in the actual act.

In the Camp, we were being prepared for our journey. We were blindfolded, handcuffed and put in a van for our trip  to Lyalpur Jail, same size if not bigger than Tihar Jail. This journey took us about 6 hours plus, we were offered tea on the way and we  reached at noon. We soon found out that our Army POWs were also lodged there and we met them all either the same day or the next. Unlike Rawalpind, which was a make shift arrangement for us, this jail was a proper one with cement beds, a thin mattress and a blanket. The toilet, Indian style, was inside the room itself. At Lyalpur, we were received by Lt Col Latif who welcomed us with open arms. He got our handcuffs and blindfolds removed immediately on arrival at the gate itself and took us to a bigger hall for briefing. He informed us that Mujibur Reman was also kept in this very jail and he also showed us a small kitchen garden done by Mujibur Rehman. He warned us that whilst it was our duty to escape, he was there to STOP us from doing just that. By the way it was mid August 1972. I think we had lunch in that hall itself and later shifted to our individual cells.

Our heroes were subsequently taken to Rawalpindi Camp and were summarily tried by the Camp Commandant as per Geneva Convention. They were given a fair trial to prove their innocence but the final verdict was 28 days Solitary Cofinement. Since they had already been kept in the solitary confinement for 4-5 days, on request, it was reduced to 23 days. By then we had nearly settled down in the  new POW Camp. The three of them also joined us subsequently but were kept in solitary confinement.

To be Continued……

© Copyright Air Commodore JL Bhargava (Retd). All rights reserved. Reproduction or distribution of this article in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited

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11 Responses to The POW Saga – VIII: Air Cmde JL Bhargava

  1. Srikumar says:

    Dear Sir,

    Thank you for your blog. I have always longed to learn about the 1971 war, and how life was for Indian PoWs in Pakistan. Please email me if I may get in touch with you to learn more.

    Best regards,

    Srikumar

  2. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr…
    well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say excellent blog!

  3. Kaiser says:

    Sqn Ldr Usman Hamid passed away a couple of years ago.

    • Air Cmde ( Retd ) JL Bhargava says:

      Very sad news and I am very sorry that Sqn Ldr Usman passed away a couple of years ago and also that I opened your message only just now dear Kaiser hence this delay in replying to you.. Thanks Kaiser for sharing this very sad news and wherever he is, I pray to Allah to impart peace to the departed soul. I am sure he must be in very good state since he remained a thorough gentleman and had all officer like qualities. God bless him and his family.
      Air Cmde ( Retd ) JL Bhargava
      Also known as Brother Bhargava

  4. jyoti says:

    thank you for this series of writings, that i have read with mixed emotions. i am daughter of Flt/Lt Tanmaya Singh Dandass of 26 squadron – who is suppose to be one of the 54 indian POW s still in Pakistan jail. not getting any closure about my father has been traumatic. did any of you who were POWs of ’71 ever come across him there? or have any news of what happened to him. i would be very grateful.
    my email add – anewlife.clinic@gmail.com

    also, please could i get contact details of dilip parulkar, who after googling i believe lives in pune, as i do too – and was from the same squadron as my father, i would love to be able to meet him.

    eagerly looking forward to a response

    many thanx and warm regards
    jyoti dandass
    9890621115

    p.s – apologies if this is a duplicate comment as i did try to post earlier, and it did not show up. regret inconvenience.

    • Dara says:

      Dear Jyoti,

      Have sent you an email with whatever info I have about Dilip.

      Best wishes and regards,

      Dara

    • Air Cmde ( Retd ) JL Bhargava says:

      Hello dear Jyoti, First my sincere apologies for opening your message only just now hence this delay . You must be wondering what type of person this Bhargava is and I won’t blame you for this. I immdly called up your cell after reeading the message but it is either switched off or out of range. I am sending you the email on the mentioned Id.
      Brother Bhargava

  5. jyoti says:

    thank you for this series of writings, that i have read with mixed emotions. i am daughter of Flt/Lt Tanmaya Singh Dandass of 26 squadron – who is suppose to be one of the 54 indian POW s still in Pakistan jail. not getting any closure about my father has been traumatic. did any of you who were POWs of ’71 ever come across him there? or have any news of what happened to him. i would be very grateful.
    my email add – anewlife.clinic@gmail.com

    also, please could i get contact details of dilip parulkar, who after googling i believe lives in pune, as i do too – and was from the same squadron as my father, i would love to be able to meet him.

    many thanx and warm regards
    jyoti dandass

  6. Thanks so much for writing this. I am currently working on a book with Dilip and and M.S. Grewal about this escape as well as the whole experience of being POW’s. I would like to be in touch with you, too. My email address is faithjn@yahoo.com

  7. Vikram Sinhji says:

    would anyone know where Sqn Ldr Usman Hamid would be now?

  8. Deepak says:

    Amazing article!! Sir, thank you very much for sharing this incidents with us.

    With best regards.

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