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Defence Minister Nirmala  Sitharaman met Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman at Research and Referral hospital in New Delhi on Saturday

Abhinandan subjected to mental harassment in Pak

NEW DELHI: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman Saturday briefly apprised Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa about the mental trauma he was subjected to during his nearly 60-hour captivity in Pakistan after he was caught following an aerial combat with Pakistani fighters on Wednesday, official sources said.

Sitharaman met Varthaman at the Army’s Research and Referral hospital here, a day after Pakistan released him in its bid to scale down heightened tensions between the two countries.

In a tweet, the Defence Minister said she met Varthaman and his family to “commend him on his valour, express the nation’s gratitude for his selfless service and wish him a speedy recovery.”

Varthaman’s wife Sqn Ldr Tanvi Marwah (retd), seven-year-old son, sister Aditi and a few senior military officials were present in the meeting, the sources said.

The IAF pilot, who shot down an F-16 fighter of the Pakistan Air Force shortly before his jet was hit during a fierce dogfight on Wednesday, is undergoing a series of medical tests in the hospital as part of a “cooling down” process.

A Defence Ministry spokesperson said Sitharaman conveyed to the pilot the sentiment of the nation and appreciated his “impeccable combat skills as well as calmness in adversity.”

Official sources said Varthaman briefly mentioned to Sitharaman about the mental trauma he was subjected to during his captivity in Pakistan after he was caught in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. He is mentally strong and remains in high spirits despite the harassment he suffered in Pakistan, they said.

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa and several top officials of the IAF also met Varthaman separately. The sources said he told senior IAF brass that he was subjected to severe mental harassment though he was not tortured physically during the captivity.

Varthaman arrived in the national capital by an IAF flight around 11:45 pm Friday, nearly two-and-half hours after he crossed over to India through the Attari-Wagah border.

The IAF pilot was first taken to the Air Force Central Medical Establishment (AFCME), a compact and specialised medical evaluation centre for aircrew of all the three services. Later, he was brought to the Army’s Research and Referral hospital.

After he was captured, Varthaman showed courage and grace in handling the most difficult circumstances for which he was praised by politicians, strategic affairs experts, ex-servicemen, celebrities and people in general.

When Varthaman, son of an IAF veteran, crossed over to India Friday night, his right eye above his handlebar moustache appeared swollen. A video on social media showed that he was badly beaten up by a mob before being rescued by Pakistani security personnel.

Tensions between the two countries escalated after Indian fighters bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan early Tuesday. Pakistan retaliated by attempting to target Indian military installations on Wednesday. However, the IAF thwarted their plans.

The Indian strike on the JeM camp came 12 days after the terror outfit claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Kashmir, killing 40 soldiers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the return of Varthaman, saying the nation is proud of his exemplary courage. “Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan! The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians,” tweeted Modi on Friday night.

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