It was a day after the Indian Army's special commandos carried out the surgical strike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that 22-year-old jawan Chandu Babulal Chouhan inadvertently crossed the LoC.
Chandu Chouhan was captured by Pakistan Rangers. For the next four months, Chandu Chouhan was beaten, tortured and almost killed.
Chandu Chouhan was held captive by an enemy army. He was continuously tortured, beaten, ill treated and kept without food for many days at a stretch. But, the Indian soldier survived.
Chandu was saved by providence and the government opened all the back channels to ensure his return on January 21 this year. Chandu returned home in Maharashtra to celebrate Holi with family.
For the first time since his return, Chandu Chouhan spoke to media when he shared his ordeal in Pakistan with India Today. The story of an incredible survival is reproduced here in 15 points:
HOW CHANDU CHOUHAN SURVIVED PAKISTANI TORTURE
- Chandu explained that it was the night of September 29 last year and he was patrolling on the LoC. Chandu mistakenly ventured into the area controlled by Pakistan on the other side of the LoC. immediately three Pakistani Rangers captured him.
- Pakistani Rangers took away Chandu's rifle. He was beaten black and blue with no one asking any question about anything. This continued till he started bleeding profusely. Then one of the Pakistani soldiers asked his co-trooper to shoot Chandu. The other Ranger agreed and aimed at Chandu with his rifle. He cocked his gun and was about to fire when the third Pakistan Ranger stopped him from killing Chandu.
- The three Pakistani Rangers agreed to take a final call about killing him later on. They covered Chandu's face and whisked him away to some unknown location. Here, Chandu was interrogated. Chandu was asked whether he had come for the assault. Did he enter to kill? Was he part of the surgical strike team? Interestingly, when Pakistan Rangers were posing these questions to Chandu, the country's leaders refuted the reports of surgical strike by Indian Army's special commandos.
- Chandu kept telling his interrogators that he crossed the LoC by mistake. He stood by his word even though they kept torturing him and threatened to kill him. The threat was repeated so many times that Chandu believed that he would be shot dead any moment. He believed that there was no hope to go back alive from their captivity. Questions about surgical strike continued during the interrogation.
- Chandu was taken to different locations by road during his long interrogation and torture. These were short journeys, not of more than two hours at one stretch. Chandu recalls hearing sound of some other vehicles following the one he was transported from one place to other. Chandu does not remember the people who interrogated him as their faces were always covered except for their eyes.
- Chandu was kept in small room having high ceiling. The room did not have a fan. There was no light and no ventilation. His room was stinky as he was made to relieve himself inside the room. At night, Chandu heard voices of other people held captive in other rooms. The screams would echo as the captives were tortured. Chandu heard people shouting, crying and sometimes singing loudly.
- Chandu told India Today that he too cried a lot and shouted wildly. Chandu would sing National Anthem loudly to keep himself motivated. But, whenever he sang National Anthem, someone from the Pakistani side would come to him asking to stop singing. Chandu continued to defy his captors, he said.
- During his first interrogation after being caught by the Pakistani Rangers, Chandu misled his captors saying that he was alone in his family. But as the news flashed on Indian TV channels and media showed details of his family revealing that even Chandu's brother worked for Indian Army, his torture increased.
- Chandu was tied by a rope upside down and was beaten by thick rubber belts as the Pakistanis came to know about his family. Chandu says that during the four months in captivity there was not a single day when he was not beaten up by Pakistanis. Chandu would not be given food for days at a stretch. He used to bang his head on the wall and scream as loud as he could. Chandu says that he was injected some drugs that made him semiconscious.
- After initial days of his torture, Chandu says, he became accustomed to their techniques and routine. Chandu would often challenge the Pakistanis to beat him up with all their strength. He would shout back at Pakistanis while he was being beaten and tortured using expletives that he knew. The sense of belongingness to India and the flair of patriotism kept him going and gave strength to bear all the torture, Chandu told India Today.
- There were several emotional moments for Chandu, who would often fall into the spells of his childhood memories. In the captivity, Chandu felt alone, recollected incidents from his childhood, his friends, schools, granny, grandfather and family. Revisiting olden days brought smiles on Chandu's face and helped him forget, momentarily, the pain that he suffered at the enemy's hands. Chandu recited Ganesha aarti or sang bollywood songs or pray to the almighty.
- Chandu even started doing 'absurd' things in Pakistan's captivity. He would kill mosquitoes by clapping turning it into a game. Later, he would catch the mosquitoes and talk to them placing the blood-suckers between his palms. Speaking to India Today, Chandu said, so much of drugs were injected into his body that even now he senses stinky burps while having food. His feet and waist still pain badly.
- Tired with the monotonous answers by Chandu Chouhan, Pakistani Rangers forced him to go several tests administering him drugs that made him lose consciousness. He was made to sleep on a stretcher as wires were attached to his body. Chandu thinks he was forced to undergo narco and polygraph tests.
- Chandu told India Today that Pakistani army officers talked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, he refused to divulge the details saying that the content and import of the conversation have been conveyed to Indian Army authorities.
- Chandu underwent a series of counseling sessions after he returned from Pakistan. He was advised to enjoy life and not to think about the past. Before Chandu took a dramatic turn on September 29, his family had arranged for his wedding to a local girl in Maharashtra's Pune district. The good news for him is that the girl is eagerly waiting to marry him and spend rest of her life with a 'hero'.