The 37 Rashtriya Rifles soldier, Chandu Chavan (22), who has been captured by the Pakistan army for venturing across the Line of Control, walked away from his post after a tiff with his senior, sources in the Ministry of Defence said. When he did not return for a day or two, his frantic unit called his family. “They wanted to know if he had gone home without informing the Army,” Yogesh Patil, a close family friend of the Chavans in Borvihir in Dhule (Maharashtra) told The Sunday Guardian. Now the family hopes that its youngest child returns home safely, even if late. The family said that Chandu would have gone missing on Monday or Tuesday. “We got a call on Thursday (29 September) saying that he had been missing for two days,” Yogesh said. The surgical strikes were carried out by India on 29 September. Chandu Chavan was not a part of the operation.
“He went missing one day here or there of the surgical strikes,” an official spokesperson of the Indian Army told The Sunday Guardian.
Chavan’s grandmother passed away after hearing the news of his capture.
Sometime between 27 September and 28 September, Chandu Chavan, a sepoy of the 37 Rashtriya Rifles posted at LoC had a tiff with his senior. In a fit of rage, he walked off from his post and “inadvertently crossed over to the other side of the Line of Control” where he was captured by the Pakistani army in the Mendhar sub-sector. “Unfortunately, he went missing some time around a day before or on the day of the strike (India’s surgical attack across LoC),” a representative of the Indian Army told The Sunday Guardian. When asked about reports of Chandu Chavan being called a “deserter”, he said, “there was no question of it.”
“See, he had a quarrel with his superior. In a fit of rage, he walked across the LoC in his uniform, with his weapon,” a senior official said on the condition of anonymity. It is learnt that the officers are unhappy about this. “He could have walked off within our country itself,” an officer said.
Bhushan Chavan, the elder brother of the captured 37 Rashtriya Rifles soldier, made an impassioned appeal through The Sunday Guardian to the Narendra Modi government to allow him to speak with his younger brother just for a few minutes. Bhushan Chavan told The Sunday Guardian from Borvihir in Dhule, “I want to speak with him for a few minutes. He is a very sensitive boy. If someone taunts him or tortures him, he will get very upset. I don’t want him to harm himself. I want to tell him that his country is behind him. I want to tell him that his government is trying hard for his release, and that he will soon be in our midst. I want to tell him to keep up his courage and faith. He will be free, and he will return to his motherland soon. I appeal to Narendra Modiji, please allow me to speak to my younger brother.”
Lieutenant General (Retired) D.B. Shekatkar, a highly decorated military officer with vast experience in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir told this correspondent, “The fact that the Pakistan army has admitted to have captured Chandu Chavan means that they will not do him any harm. But it might take some time for his release. The maximum chances are that he will come back home safe. Pakistan will have to remember that today, our soldier has inadvertently crossed the LoC. Tomorrow, it will be the turn of their soldiers or civilians. And they know that too well.”
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has already said that the government was making all possible efforts for the release of the young soldier. The tense situation between the two countries is likely to delay the process.
“It is not unusual for our soldiers to make such mistakes and to get into a fit of rage. At times, they even cross the Line of Control. This is, presently, one of the biggest challenges in front of our armed forces—how to maintain relations with the troops. The sensitivities of the soldiers from various regions are different. Different things mean a lot to them. The officers have to be sensitive while dealing with them. In the past too, several such cases have happened where the soldiers have crossed the LoC inadvertently. During such times, the local unit raises a white flag and puts across its concern. Then the person is returned within 24 to 48 hours. When the matter escalates, the DGMOs talk on the hotline. An inquiry is conducted about whether the person had come with the intention of espionage or something else. Then he is released. When a person crosses over with the intention of espionage, he will not go in his uniform, with his arms and ammunition. But the atmosphere is so charged right now, that Pakistan will try India’s patience,” Lt Gen (Retd) Shekatkar said.
He added that after a country admits to having captured a soldier, various international conventions like the Geneva Convention apply to that army. “There is a system that each country has to follow. They will not be able to kill or torture him,” he said. Experts said that the Pakistan army might try to extract confessions from him, force him to say something, or seek something from India in his exchange. Currently, the environment of suspicion might further delay the process.
“If there is any demand of exchange, it goes through the channel of the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Defence. Permissions have to be sought. That takes time,” he said. Shekatkar has himself served in Jammu and Kashmir for 17 years and has dealt with several such situations. He said that Pakistan will have to realise that such incidents are not uncommon on both sides. “Tomorrow, it will be Pakistan’s soldiers and civilians. It will have to think a thousand times before taking any steps,” he said.
In such cases where a soldier takes drastic steps in a fit of rage, there is also a provision of Court of Inquiry, where a thorough and transparent inquiry is conducted. “In such cases, all factors are taken into account. I am sure, even today, MEA and MoD must be talking to the Pakistani authorities daily on the issue. But due to heightened hostilities, it is not possible to make any commitment in terms of the time it will take to seek his release,” Shekatkar said.
Meanwhile, when Chandu Chavan did not return to his unit for two days, his unit made frantic calls to his family in Dhule and in Jamnagar, Gujarat, on Thursday. “We got a call on Thursday saying that Chandu had been missing for two days. They could not find him. So they called to ask if he had come home without informing them. As this was going on, reports started coming in the media that an Indian soldier had been captured by the Pakistan army,” Yogesh said. Yogesh is a childhood friend of Bhushan Chavan. Yogesh and Bhushan studied in the same school and stayed in touch even after Bhushan got selected in the Army. They are close friends even today. Bhushan is with the Maratha Light Infantry, and is currently posted in Jamnagar, Gujarat.
Meanwhile, in Maharashtra, the state mechanism was activated to locate the soldier whose details were put out by Pakistan. On Friday morning, Ramdas Patil, a district soldiers’ welfare officer had zeroed in on the family address in Borvihir village of Dhule district. “I got a call from our Dhule Deputy Collector to trace a soldier’s address. He said that the soldier has been captured by Pakistan. So I called up my sources and found the address. The family is already shocked and bereaved. Both Chandu and Bhushan have been brought up by their maternal grandparents after the tragic death of their parents. Now, after the news of the capture of Chandu, his grandmother has passed away. The grandfather is shocked due to the turn of events,” he told The Sunday Guardian.
Chindha Dhondu Patil (70) is a retired education extension officer. His wife Leelabai Chindha Patil had gone to Jamnagar for treatment of her ailment. The eldest grandson Bhushan was getting her treated there, when she heard of the phone call he received. On Thursday night, she suffered a massive cardiac arrest. She was admitted to the ICU of a hospital there, but could not be saved. The family then left for Borvihir in an ambulance carrying the body of the grandmother.
Chandu has two siblings, eldest brother Bhushan and another elder sister. On Saturday, the sister delivered a baby in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. She has not yet been told about the tragic death of her grandmother, or about the capture of her younger brother.
Union Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre was expected to meet the Chavan family on Saturday evening. Despite repeated attempts, Bhamre did not respond to any calls or messages on the matter.