In search of her husband missing for 35 years

Vijayalakshmi Somasundaram handing over a petition to S. Sambandham, member, SHRC, in Chennai on Thursday.

Vijayalakshmi Somasundaram handing over a petition to S. Sambandham, member, SHRC, in Chennai on Thursday.  

CHENNAI JUNE 26. At 66, she has not given up hopes. She is confident that her husband, a Flight Sergeant in the IAF, who was "presumed dead in an air crash" 35 years ago, is still alive. All she wants is a concerted effort by the authorities to trace him and bring him back.

In a petition before the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) today, beseeching the panel to take steps to restore her husband, Vijayalakshmi of Tiruvanmiyur, here, wrote, "... .Besides, as we are in the twilight of our lives, I being 66 and my husband being 70, the time left is evidently short. I would like to pass away either as Mrs. Somasundaram or as the widow of Mr. Somasundaram, which is only in your hands."

With tears welling up, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi narrated how the fate of her husband, Flt.Sgt. Somasundaram, still remained a mystery. Her husband was in the air force plane AN-12-BL534 along with over 90 others, including four officers, a civilian and a crew of six, which flew back from Leh to Chandigarh on February 7, 1968. When the aircraft was over the Rohtang Pass, near the Pakistan border, it lost contact with ground control. Since then it had been presumed that the plane crashed and its occupants died. The Wing Commander issued the certificate of official presumption of death nine months later.

However, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi was not one who would so easily accept the IAF's version. She has reasons too. Till date there was no proof to conclude that the plane had crashed. Intensive searches had not revealed the wreckage or parts of a big plane like AN 12. The mystery was how a big aircraft could disappear without a trace. The launching of search operations in September 1968 "reflects even the Government's diffidence at its own pronouncement of crash." Further, the aircraft did not figure in the list of "Indian crashes" between May 1962 and April 1979. What deepened the mystery was that the name of one of the occupants of the plane Sq.Ldr. P.N. Malhotra, was found in the list of Prisoners-of-War (POWs). This is not the first incident where a personnel presumed dead was later found to be alive, said S. Ram Narendran, her son, an electronics engineer.

Quoting a recent report from a newspaper, he said that in another case, one Flt.Lt. Gurudev Singh Rai, who was "declared dead" by the authorities, was reported to be alive.

Several representations were made to the authorities to trace Flt.Sgt. Somasundaram. But there was no proper response, the family lamented.

Mrs. Vijayalakshmi said a thorough probe was necessary to see whether some more POWs, including her husband, were languishing in Pakistan prisons.

The SHRC member, S. Sambandham, said he would write to his Pakistan counterpart and seek his help in the matter.

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