External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday about the treatment meted out to Kulbhushan Jadhav’s family in Islamabad, saying Pakistan had turned the meeting of a mother with her son, and a wife with her husband into a tool for propaganda.

Pakistani officials had confiscated the mangalsutra, bangles and bindis belonging to Jadhav’s wife Avanti and his mother Chetankul Jadhav, and had also asked his wife to remove her shoes, the External Affairs Ministry had said on Tuesday. In response, Pakistan claimed that there was “something” in Avanti Jadhav’s shoes which necessitated their removal.

Swaraj called Pakistan’s claims “absurd”. “Pakistan says there was a camera or a recorder in the shoes, nothing can be more absurd than this as she travelled in two flights with those shoes on. It is an absurdity beyond measure,” she said.

Swaraj said Jadhav’s mother, who only wears saris, was forced to wear a salwar and kurta. “Both the married women were made to look like widows,” she said, adding that Jadhav’s mother was also not allowed to speak in Marathi. “There were two Pakistan officials present in the meeting who kept stopping her repeatedly, but when she continued [to speak in Marathi], the intercom was switched off,” the minister said.

Swaraj said despite Avanti Jadhav’s repeated requests, her shoes were not returned to her. “If, for security reasons, she was made to take off her shoes, they should have returned them when she was leaving. But they had to be cruel...Thank God, they [Pakistani officials] didn’t say that there was a bomb in Jadhav’s wife’s shoes!” Swaraj said.

She said that Jadhav’s meeting with his family was arranged in the absence of India’ deputy high commissioner to Islamabad. “If he had seen how the women’s clothes were changed, he would have registered a protest immediately”.

The external affairs minister claimed that though both sides had agreed that the media would not be allowed to approach the family, the Pakistani press harassed and hurled taunts at Jadhav’s wife and mother.

Swaraj said though Pakistan had claimed that it had arranged the meeting as a humanitarian gesture, it was not. “Human rights of the family members were violated again and again, and an environment of fear was created for them.”

United against Pakistan

Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said misbehaviour against women of this country will not be tolerated. “Misbehaviour of Pakistan with the wife and mother of Kulbhushan Jadhav was misbehaviour with all Indians,” Azad said in the Upper House. “Regardless of political differences, when it comes to the nation’s dignity and when another country misbehaves with our mothers and sisters, it will not be tolerated.”

Opposition leaders across parties had condemned the way the former Indian naval officer’s wife and mother were treated. On Wednesday, there were chants of “Pakistan Murdabad” (Death to Pakistan) in the Lok Sabha over the issue. “We condemn the way Jadhav’s mother and wife were treated”, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge said. “He should be brought back to India”.

AIADMK MLA M Thambidurai said asking a woman to take off her mangalsutra was an insult to the country. Shiv Sena leader Arvind Sawant asked the government not to remain silent on the issue.

In March 2016, a military court in Pakistan sentenced Jadhav to death on charges of espionage and terrorism. India had moved the International Court of Justice against the verdict in May, after which the court stayed his execution. A final verdict in the case is pending.