Indian air force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, captured by Pakistani forces on Wednesday, has become the point of focus amid tensions between the two countries.
The fighter pilot, who has 16 years of experience, is from the southern city of Chennai (formerly known as Madras).
His jet was shot down in what Islamabad called a “retaliation” to India conducting airstrikes in its territory.
His capture is being seen as a major setback for India.
The government has demanded his immediate release and Indian social media is full of tweets about him, with many calling him a hero and praying for his safe return.Skip Twitter post by @emraanhashmi
End of Twitter post by @emraanhashmiSkip Twitter post by @SANDIPLotus
End of Twitter post by @SANDIPLotus
Local media reported that crowds began thronging his family home soon after news of his capture spread. The Hindustan Times newspaper quoted one of his relatives as saying that they wanted the government to “secure his release” without delay.
His family has refused to comment about his capture.
The son of a decorated former fighter pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan was first commissioned as a fighter pilot in 2004. His mother is a doctor. He is reported to be in his mid-30s.
A clip of his appearance on a local television show – NDTV Good Times – in 2011 is also being circulated widely.
In it, he is heard joking about how you need a “bad attitude” to be a successful fighter pilot.
He also talks about how you trust your colleagues with your life, referring to “blind faith” in your co-pilot when you’re in the air.
- India and Pakistan in ‘uncharted waters’
- Air strikes a ‘major escalation’
- India demands Pakistan release pilot
India had initially said that all of its pilots were accounted for, contradicting Pakistani claims that they had captured a pilot.
However Pakistan’s information ministry then released – and later deleted – a video showing the pilot blindfolded and with blood on his face. This prompted a furious Delhi to summon Islamabad’s deputy high commissioner and condemn what it called the “vulgar display of an injured personnel”.
In later footage, Wing Commander Abhinandan could be seen sipping tea from a cup without a blindfold. He appeared to have been cleaned up.
He said his name, military position and that he was from “down south”, but refused to share any details when asked about his mission: “I’m not supposed to tell you that.”
Pakistan’s military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said the pilot was being “treated as per norms of military ethics”.
Many of India’s politicians expressed concern and solidarity with the pilot. A joint opposition statement accused the government of “blatant politicisation of the armed forces’ sacrifices”.Skip Twitter post by @RahulGandhi
🇮🇳 I’m sorry to hear that one of our brave IAF pilots is missing. I hope he will return home soon, unharmed. We stand by our armed forces in these difficult times. 🇮🇳— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 27, 2019
End of Twitter post by @RahulGandhiSkip Twitter post by @HarshPa84327807
Its 2:02 am.
I am not able to sleep, because our IAF PILOT is under custody of other nation.
My brain and heart cant stop thinking about him.
In what situation OUR SOLDIER must be suffering from.
Be strong ABHINANDAN SIR.
YOU WILL BE BACK HOME SOON.#AbhinandanMyHero#IAF #Indian— Harsh Patel (@HarshPa84327807) February 27, 2019
End of Twitter post by @HarshPa84327807Skip Twitter post by @Priyanuj_Sarmah
Indian forces have people like #Abhinandan who have always put the interests of country ahead of them. He is a true hero and we hope he will return back soon. India will be waiting for her hero to come back.#AbhinandanMyHero— Priyanuj_Sarmah (@Priyanuj_Sarmah) February 27, 2019