For most American families, “India” evokes such positive images as India’s wonderful cuisines, its many cultural treasures such as the Taj Mahal and the great Hindu books, Gandhi’s historic civil disobedience campaign against British rule, the epic accomplishments of Indian scientists, and the physical and spiritual benefits of the discipline of yoga. Unfortunately, for a small group of American families, numbering in the hundreds, India does not evoke such positive thoughts. They are the families of US servicemen killed in India during World War Two – servicemen whose remains still lie unburied there because of the Indian Government’s long history of callousness toward their humanitarian plight. For these families, who only want the Indian Government to honor their right to repatriate their loved ones’ remains for proper burial, “India” only evokes thoughts of frustration and resentment.
A fundamental aspect of basic human decency, shared by all religions and all cultures worldwide throughout history, is that families have not only a right but an obligation to honor the mortal remains of their deceased loved ones ceremonially with a funeral ceremony as soon as possible after they die. If families are refused access to the mortal remains of their loved ones, they are illegitimately deprived of the ability to exercise this right and obligation, and those who refuse this access deserve the severest condemnation. This right is well-established in both the Geneva Conventions and the body of customary international humanitarian law.
.An estimated 400 US servicemen still lie unrecovered at or near a multitude of World War II crash sites in northeast India. Since the turn of the millenium, 15 of these crash sites have been located, photographed, and documented by the American MIA investigator Clayton Kuhles. From the late 1970s until late 2008, and then from 2010 to 2015, the Government of India did not permit US Defense Department recovery teams into the region of India – Arunachal Pradesh – where most of the remains of US airmen in India lie unburied. For a brief time only (late 2008 until late 2009), the Government of India permitted only one of the many well-known crash sites in Arunachal Pradesh to be investigated for remains, a crash site located on a mountainside in the Upper Siang district near the village of Damroh. In late 2009 the UPA Government withdrew that permission, without a word of protest by the Obama Administration, before any human remains could be recovered. From early 2010 until the assumption of the Modi Government, a de facto moratorium was imposed on Arunachal recoveries. Even after the Modi Government took over, the de facto moratorium continued for well over a year, until the Modi Government, faced with bad publicity over this situation in the Indian press, finally relented and permitted some token recovery efforts.
.During the years (2010-2015) the Indian Government imposed a de facto moratorium on remains recoveries in Arunachal Pradesh, many close relatives of these airmen died, forever deprived by the Indian Government of their right, recognized by the Geneva Conventions (to which India is a signatory). to reunite with the remains of their loved ones killed in wartime, and give them the honored funerals they deserve. Faced with this violation of such a foundational principle of humanitarianism, I (a nephew of one of these MIA servicemen) founded Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal Missing in Action to lobby the Government of India to honor its obligation to allow the recovery of the bodies of these men from its sovereign territory, an obligation frequently supported by statements of Indian leaders, but almost never honored by action.
Secondarily, our efforts have focused on trying to get our own Government – the US Government – to pressure the Government of India to honor these obligations. The Obama Administration was more concerned with selling to arms to India, conducting joint military exercises, and concluding lucrative commercial contracts with Indian companies than with recovering our war dead. The Obama Administration even went so far as to make patently transparent excuses for the Indian Government’s inaction.
With the transition to the Trump Administration, it’s anybody’s guess whether President Trump will make recovery of our MIAs in India a higher priority. Disturbingly, when US Secretary of Defense Mattis recently talked with Indian Defence Minister Parrikar, published accounts of the conversation made no mention of US MIAs in India.
Those who counsel patience to the families of these men are tragically unrealistic. Many of these MIAs still have elderly brothers and sisters who deserve to have their right to bury their loved ones honored during their own lifetimes. These relatives do not have many years left themselves – patience is the one thing they cannot afford. They deserve to have the remains of their relatives repatriated NOW.
Founder/Chairman of Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal Missing in Action
Cary, North Carolina