Peacetime War: Civilian apathy to real heroes of Republic of India

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by TrueSpirit, Jun 23, 2013.

  1. TrueSpirit

    TrueSpirit Senior Member Senior Member

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    For connoisseurs of the 1962 Indo-China border conflict, the name of rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat is etched in stone, quite literally in Arunachal Pradesh's Jaswantgarh.

    In an otherwise dismal performance by an under prepared Indian Army and even more under prepared political leadership, Jaswant Singh stands out as a beacon. While it is mandatory for every officer and soldier posted on the Indo-China Line of Actual Control (LOAC) to pay tribute at Jaswantgarh – the site of a heroic standoff between the rifleman and advancing Chinese troops near Tawang – and while legions have been written about him and a Maha Vir Chakra bestowed as honour, the actual story of what happens to a soldier's family after death or disability is a sordid tale of wrangling, neglect and utter official apathy.

    Five decades after the war, the soldier’s frail mother continues to fight for a piece of land which was allotted posthumously to her son. The case has reached theSupreme Court and no one can quite predict how it will play out in the end.

    The facts of the case run like any other land dispute – except that this involves a war hero. Additional district magistrate, Dehradun in his remarks states, “Leela Devi, mother of Shri Jaswant Singh Rawat who was martyred during the Indo-China war was allotted 1.48 acre land in Raipur. Out of this, 1.08 acre has been allotted to her but 0.40 acres land is under the possession of Umed Singh Rawat….,” a bland statement of facts which does not take anything into account except banal official modalities.

    While the media and the country has been abuzz with former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. VK Singh's battle of attrition with the government – the general claiming to fight a war of integrity and the Defence Minister AK Antony speaking vehemently on issues related to the welfare of ex-servicemen – there is precious little happening on ground as far as the ordinary Indian soldier is concerned.

    The scene is so bleak that it is surprising that young men continue to opt for a career in the services - not thinking twice before laying down their lives. In bargain, the biggest losers are the ones who may have escaped death but are left fighting for what are their legitimate dues.

    While the Kargil conflict managed to put the spotlight on the multiple problems of ex-servicemen, the story of those who are alive but have been rendered unfit to continue with their very demanding profession, makes for a pathetic reading.

    Naik Ges Bahadur Gurung is a living testimony to the way the system treats its soldiers. When Gurung lost his leg during the Kargil operation, he could have scarcely divined that his problems had just began.

    The State Bank of India, Dehradun, entrusted to assist the valiant soldier, has instead ordered a recovery of Rs 3,72,506 because of a gross official mix up - his pension was increased to an amount for which he is not entitled. “Today, I am fighting a battle which is bigger than the one I fought in the mountains of Kargil” rues Naik Gurung.

    Tragically, his battle is not against an enemy but against the system which he was tasked to protect. With three daughters to look after, his problems have compounded after SBI served a notice on him stopping his pension since August 30, 2011. A decade after Kargil, his problem still remain to be identified. In 2000, when Naik Ges Bahadur Gurung was invalidated from service, his eldest daughter was five. Now as she waits for her intermediate results which will make her eligible for higher studies, the crippled army man is extremely worried. In an emotional appeal, Gurung wrote to the SBI and other authorities, "I am faced with the problem of feeding my family as the bank has stopped the pension of a disabled soldier like me.”

    Gurung's story is by no means new, nor is it confined only to soldiers. It also includes officers who have fought several wars that have been laid at the doorstep of thecountry.

    Take the cases of Signalman Hari Singh and Lt Col Virendra Kumar Choubey, both of whom are victims of gross official apathy after serving for years in insurgency-torn Jammu and Kashmir. Both continue to run from pillar to post seeking disability dues, something that is legally and justifiably theirs. The smile of Signalman Hari Singh may camouflage his 100 per cent disability as reckoned by the Army Medical Services, but his story tells you why Indians are less and less willing to serve with the services.

    Stoic Hari Singh, with the smile that comes naturally to battle-scarred veterans, says to keep the wolves away he picked up the job of a security guard at the Punjab and Sindh Bank in Dehradun. “My bank had stopped my disability pension completely and I had to run to many authorities who are now working to restore status quo. I was not being paid even after repeated reminders and requests.''

    What Hari Singh did not reveal and we learnt through his documents, is that he is categorised as 100 per cent disabled with highly damaged lungs. He also suffers with high blood pressure and has to take special care against dust allergy, a result of serving for years in inhospitable and hostile Jammu and Kashmir.

    The case of another war veteran, Lt Col Vinod Kumar Choubey, who served in the valley during the last decade, reveals the severe limitations that a flawed civilian-administered system imposes on injured soldiers.

    Despite the army headquarters officially entitling him to a disability pension based on recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, Choubey has not received anything by way of compensation so far. In another display of mean-mindedness, the former army officer is now pleading for an income tax exemption, an enactment provided by law to wounded soldiers.

    Choubey was entitled 20 per cent disability pension but had to fight for his dues. An officer like him had to take the help of the Uttarakhand Ex-Servicemen League (UESL), a voluntary organisation committed to the welfare of soldiers and their families, to get his entitlements. If a senior officer like Choubey had to adopt this course of action, it is not hard to imagine the plight of the poor jawan or non-commisioned officers (NCOs) who are not educated enough to be aware of their rights.

    Or Subedar Hayat Singh, who bears a perennial pain with his smile after he lost a hand during operational duty during the course of an exercise in Rajasthan. Although, Hayat Singh was lucky to have not suffered the fate of some of his comrades, to see injured soldiers run for the most basic benefits, galls him no end. “It was my fate and I do not blame anyone for this. But it pains me immensely when I get to know of fellow soldiers who do not merely not get their dues but are humiliated when they have to run with their documents even in bad physical shape.''

    Ironically, it is not that the country has not erected a system to address such issues, but a casual glance at the mounting files of cases lying with various redress centres reveal a chilling indifference to the travails of men in uniform.

    Insiders say that district sainik boards and state sainik boards have kept no proper count of soldiers, which is their primary responsibility. It also shows that even the creation of a new department may not be enough if the political and administrative will is missing. In September 2004, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) set up a department of ex-servicemen welfare. The main objective of creating this new department was to give focused attention to welfare programmes for ex-servicemen and their dependents, including pension benefits, re-employment and rehabilitation. Its charter of duties also includes liaising with state governments. While it is able to do its basic work, the culture of following up the cases in remote areas of the country is unattended to.

    Just how widespread is this problem? In order to maintain a youthful profile of the armed forces, approximately 60,000 service personnel are retired/released every year at a comparatively younger age. At the time of superannuation, the majority of service personnel are at an age where they have numerous unfinished family and other social responsibilities which necessitates taking up a second occupation.

    According to official figures, there are more than 20 lakh ex-servicemen (ESM) and about five lakh widows registered with the director general resettlement (DGR). The ESM population is mainly concentrated in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Haryana, Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

    The DGR or Kendriya Sainik Board (KSB) is assisted in their task by various Rajya Sainik Boards (RSB) and District Sainik Boards (DSB) which are under the administrative control of respective state governments.

    The central government bears 50 per cent of the expenditure incurred on the organisation of RSBs while the remaining
    50 per cent is borne by state governments, since the welfare and resettlement of ESM is deemed joint responsibility of the centre and the states.

    The mismanagement can be gauged from the example of DSB, Maharajganj in Uttar Pradesh. When Maharajganj MP Harshvardhan Singh tried to find out the population of ESMs in his area, he was frankly told that there is no such record available. It was on his insistence that a quick, albeit unreliable, census was conducted. The MP told TSI, "Nobody cares about these soldiers.”

    Says Brigadier (retd.) RS Rawat who has been waging a lone war in search of more such cases, "There are various dimensions which come to the fore only after we go deep into the problems. There are endless numbers of war widows who live in the back-of-the-beyond areas of hills like Uttarakhand. As has been the practice, neither is the widow’s date of birth nor their names mentioned in the pension payment orders of the soldiers and this has caused a lot of problems.”

    Rawat recently visited Peepal Koti and Dewal Gheshbalas in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand and identified 150 such people for assistance. Not just that, soldiers having to pay bribes to get their entitlements is a telling story of how India treats its bravehearts.
    Story of Brig VD Juyal
    It is quite likely that no one outside of defence circles would have heard of Brigadier VD Juyal, but it is a story worth telling. Juyal was one of the 17 Indians entrusted to form the officers' cadre of independent India’s army, post 1947.

    Commissioned at the Sandhurst Officers Academy in England and recipient of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in recognition of his gallantry, Juyal remains a forgotten man since his death in 1988.

    The story of his widow is even morally ignoble. Vasanti Juyal, 86, is yet to get her entitlements revised and quite obviously, no one in authority is bothered. At her old Dehradun home, she displays rare photographs and certificates of the officer and the gentleman who was her husband. "Once the Brigadier was gone, we got busy dealing with our own difficulties." She and her widowed daughter-in-law - Vasanti lost her son seven days before her husband - did not let anything affect their family relations and the 5,000 bighas of property which they inherited. While the widow was completely forgotten, a determined Brig. Rawat pursued her case of pension revision. Writing about her case on February 28 this year, the Adjutant General’s branch in the army wrote, "As on date she should receive a family pension (with 58 per cent dearness relief) of Rs 32, 227 whereas, as reported to this HQ, she is receiving only Rs 6,450 which is very distressing.” The only thing that can be said is that someone is finally waking up.

    Source: Peacetime War
     
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  3. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

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    There is a saying in my mother tongue - a soldier and farmer are remembered only in times of war and famine respectively.

    Hope our government pays heed to the sacrifices of our brave servicemen and women.
     
  4. TrueSpirit

    TrueSpirit Senior Member Senior Member

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    I believe it is mostly the Jawans/NCO's who are the target of this administrative malfeasance. JCO's are also victims but to a somewhat lesser extent. And, officers' % is least. So, what I interpret from this is, that not having enough academic background to be able to wade through the bureaucratic conundrum is the crux of the issue.

    Second, because most of the time, these Jawans/JCO's are away from their hometown/constituencies, they cannot cast their ballot, often. This reduces their importance in the eyes of local govt representatives (MLA/MLC/Mayor/Sarpanch), as well. I believe, there are already provisions for such a scenario but implementation & awareness needs to be worked upon. The kind of banana republic we are, it is of utmost importance that we form core interest-groups who vote en-masse to ensure one's relevance & continued survival in the era of votebank & appeasement politics.

    Third, the constant relegation of military authorities against their civilian counterparts should come to an end. Only then, the senior officers would be able to get things done for their ex-servicemen & families. But this is the most onerous of tasks.

    Many more things could be done. Defence personnel can share their opinions.
     
  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    It is true that there is a total apathy of the Govt administration, including CDAs and PAO to ensure that the ex servicemen get their due.,

    The sad part is that being on the move (postings, training, exercises) and more concerned in doing their duty, they are not aware of the various orders that come out giving the change in status of their pay and allowance or DA rise etc.

    Capitalising on that void, the Govt makes hay while the sun shines.

    Further, within the short span of their leaves, which is now truncated for operational reasons, they do not find the time to take up their cases with the Govt bureaucracy and land officials. The result is that only frustration grows as the Govt sleeps and makes indifference to the soldier an art on its watch.
     
  6. TrueSpirit

    TrueSpirit Senior Member Senior Member

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    Sir, can the local govt. representatives make a difference if they want to (if it in their interest) ? I mean, the MP/MLA/MLC/Mayor/Councillors/Sarpanch etc.?

    Or, is it beyond them to be able to do much, except verbal platitudes ?
     
  7. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Yes, the domestic issues of the soldier are local, be it land, disputes, purchase of property etc.

    But they are mostly uninterested in assisting hastening issues.

    Though many here would criticise the British and their Raj, but it was incumbent on the District administration, during those days. to address issues of the soldiers pronto and a letter from the CO addressed to the DM ensured personal attention and reply of action taken!

    Also, if a soldier was detained on some law and order issue, then the CO had to be informed in 24 hours or the nearest military authority. Nowadays, nothing of the sort happens even though the law exists.

    This brought up the morale and self esteem of the soldier in the village and so, many looked forward to a career in uniform, notwithstanding the hardships and deprivations.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2013
  8. TrueSpirit

    TrueSpirit Senior Member Senior Member

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    I am not sure if anybody would have the exact answer as to why is it, that the law continues to exist but its implementation has become tardy.

    Maybe, because British Indian armed forces were an instrument of state oppression (whenever the need arose)- to ensure the continuity & proper functioning of the Raj, that our erstwhile imperial masters considered it a serious business to look after the soldiers, basically in their own interest, to secure the existence of the Raj.

    While, in today's electoral democracy, our civilian leadership does not need the armed forces so desperately (instead, it fears & envies it), so they give two hoots to the welfare of ordinary soldiers. Armed forces would, anyway, do the job assigned, given their code & tradition.

    As you rightly pointed out, servicemen are hardly ever able to cast vote in elections. Even if they can, the numbers are not big enough to affect any electoral outcome (save, certain constituencies in Himachal, Haryana, Punjab & some pockets of Rajasthan). Could this be the crux of why their grievances are not heeded to ?
     

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