THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: How? Why? Two troubling questions that T V Ramakrishnan Potti and his wife Vasundharadevi have been asking themselves and the Indian Navy during the past one year. When the INS Sindhurakshak tragedy turns a year old on Thursday, they will still be waiting for the answers.
“Our son is gone. He isn’t going to come back, we know that. But there is such a thing as accountability. Who is responsible for the disaster?” Ramakrishnan Potti asked on Tuesday, his voice trembling with thinly suppressed anger and despair.
His son Lieutenant Commander R Venkita Raj, 35 then, was among the 18 personnel - and one of three officers - killed aboard the ill-fated Kilo Class submarine on August 14 last year in Mumbai. The Russian-made ‘Sindhurakshak’ sank after an explosion and 11 of the bodies, including that of Venkita Raj, could not be recovered. “They say that the submarine has been recovered. But we are not sure, nobody has officially informed us. We read in the paper that it could have been sabotage, but has any one confirmed it?” Ramakrishnan Potti asked, glancing at a photograph of Venkita Raj on the wall. “After the disaster, we’d gone to Mumbai and the Naval officials were all over us, promising that they’d be with us every inch of the way. Now where are they?’’ he asked.
A retired government servant, he lives with his wife at Poojappura here. Venkita Raj’s wife Harini and their four-year-old daughter Deekshita are in Coimbatore, where, according to Ramakrishnan Potti, Harini is undergoing training to be a teacher as part of a naval rehabilitation scheme.
As the young officer’s body was never retrieved, it was with enormous difficulty that the family managed to obtain his death certificate. They had performed the final rites in Mumbai after the disaster, on the assumption that a fragile human body could not have survived the explosion that wrecked the sub. To certain questions, they were never given clear answers by the Navy, and some actions have pained them. “They asked us to surrender the canteen card, which we did. We were never told why. It is not that we use it often, but if there’s something that’s rightfully ours is it wrong to ask ‘why?’. We asked them (the Navy) only for a few things, such as my son’s body if they ever retrieved it,” said Vasundharadevi.
“My son left me for the Navy when he was 19. I didn’t want him to go. But I respected his decision. He was a brave boy,” she remembers. He was also hardworking and bright. The 19-year-old who had signed up as sailor made it to Officer Cadet in three years.
“When he took a decision, he would stick by it. He was very determined,” Ramakrishnan Potti said. “I used to wonder sometimes whether he wasn’t a bit too determined. But he used to say that you can’t survive on fear,” he said.