|A letter sent by an Indian POW |
(Courtesy: Col Nirmaljit Pannu)
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For the Indian nation, the 1962 conflict with China has been one of the most traumatic post-independence events. For more than 3,000 prisoners of war (PoWs), the experience was particularly harrowing.
This article looks at difficult relations between the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva, the Indian Red Cross (IRC) and the Chinese Red Cross (CRC) Society. The ICRC’s archives in Geneva helped to understand the role of the international organization as well as of the two national Red Crosses and their respective governments during the conflict.
China not only refused to officially acknowledge the Geneva Convention of 1949 on PoWs, but also committed several violations in respect of the treatment meted out to captured Indian military personnel.
27 Military officers taken PoWs during operations were taken on a tour of china and repatriated on 04 May 1963.
The rosy picture painted by the Chinese propaganda had actually been a traumatic experience for the Indian PoWs.
For the Indian nation, the 1962 conflict with China has been one of the most traumatic post-independence event. For more than 3,000 PoWs, the experience was particularly harrowing.
Still today some veterans who spent several months in the PoW’s camps in Tibet, refuse to speak to their families and friends about these dark days. But according to Chinese records, never in the history of warfare have prisoners been treated so well.
Preferential treatment or propaganda?
An account recently published by China1 tells us: “During the Sino-Indian border war, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) captured more than 3,900 Indian officers and soldiers2 (including one brigadier general and 26 officers). In the long-term goal of striving for friendship between the Chinese and Indian people and in accordance with the principle of lenient treatment of prisoners, which had always been upheld by the PLA, the treatment of prisoners of war by the Chinese side had far exceeded the provisions of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, and many touching deeds had taken place”.
I shall cover the Geneva Convention and the role the Red Cross played in getting the PoWs released in several batches in 1962/63 a little later. This article looks at difficult relations between the Indian Red Cross (IRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross ((ICRC) in Geneva with the Chinese authorities represented by their Red Cross Society (CRC). It is often said the winner writes the history, but it is then with a deep distortion: “China released all Indian prisoners of war in a short period of time, playing an important role in winning over rivals, turning enemies into friends and promoting the restoration of friendly relations between the Chinese and Indian peoples,” mentioned the Chinese report.
Interestingly, China terms the Sino-Indian border conflict, a ‘counter-attack’, as if it was India who attacked China in NEFA or Ladakh. “In late October 1962, the General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army issued several provisions on the question of prisoners of the invading Indian Army,” further explaining that the PLA “emphasised that captive officers and soldiers should not be killed, mistreated or insulted, or tied up and their private property should not be confiscated. The injured should be treated. At the same time, it was also required to take care of the living habits of all prisoners, and to find out the names and army numbers of dead bodies on the battlefield as far as possible, to bury them properly and to set up signs. Prisoners had to fill in medical records and death certificates signed by military doctors.” These principles were hardly followed.
No Declaration of War
An important legal element needs to be noted; there was no formal declaration of war between China and India. The Chinese said that they called the captured Indian Army personnel ‘captives’ and not ‘PoWs’; the camps were ‘captive shelters’, an euphemism. This was indeed part of the Chinese propaganda.3 The Chinese account does not mention the constant indoctrination sessions to which the Indian jawans and officers were subjected; China just says that meetings were organised to discuss “according to the wishes of the Indian prisoners …on the right and wrong issues in the Sino-Indian border dispute.” One can guess who was said to be right and who was wrong.
The Chinese described thus the departure of the PoWs from Tibet: “The captured Indian officers and soldiers, carrying clothes and souvenirs from the Chinese side, reluctantly bid farewell to the Chinese personnel. …the Indian captives in farewell with the Chinese Red Cross staff cheered their arms: ‘Long live the friendship between the Chinese and Indian people!’” The facts were, however, different.
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You can also watch this video made by the Chinese...