Every September and December, political leaders and governments file in to pay homage at Aasifwala, but this unremarkable cemetery has never received any such visitors Navdeep Asija, Graduates welfare body chief..
Soldiers from the Northeast and South India were laid to rest here. The cemetery is now overrun by weed, the graves have been dug up and the area serves as a public facility where locals living in vicinity come to relieve themselves.
In the past three decades, neither the administration, army nor political leaders have visited the site to lay wreaths or acknowledge their sacrifice. Village elders say they have tried to take up the issue with the district authorities, in person, and through the local media, time and time again. "Army officials shrug off blame saying that graveyard upkeep does not fall within their purview".
The administration has only doled out false assurances, says Raj Kishore Kalra, president, Social Welfare Society. Raj Kumari, who lives nearby, said during the initial years post-1971, locals took care of the graves, but in time, the martyrs and their sacrifices faded in memory. No one in the village, not even the caretakers of the cemetery, can recall the exact numbers of the buried. More than 17 maybe, says Kumari.
Graduates Welfare Association, a non-profit body from Fazilka, had researched the issue a few years back and learnt from army archives that more than 200 soldiers from various regiments, including 4 Jat, 15 Rajput and 3 Assam, lost their lives in Fazilka sector in the two wars with Pakistan and were cremated or buried in nearby villages.
Since the majority casualties were from 4 Jat and 15 Rajput Regiments, they were cremated en masse at Aasifwala, where now stands a war memorial to them and three Musilms from the Horse Riders Regiment (Ashvarohi). The remaining victims, mostly Christians and Muslims, were buried at Gharumi village or at a graveyard on Sania road, they learnt.
"Every September and December, political leaders and governments file in to pay homage at Aasifwala, but this unremarkable cemetery has never received such visitors," says association president Navdeep Asija. Army officials, who are in charge of Aasifwala war memorial, refused to come on record saying they are not authorised. Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Fazilka, Ajay Sood, said he was not aware, but would summon a report and take action if the matter fell within his purview.