DO YOU HAVE IT IN YOU????? The heroes of the Indian Army and what they stand for
We live our victories in two ways, if you really ask me. One in a special moment, that one moment in time when we get our glory and another is at the times when failure hits us but we do not succumb to it. I told my friend,
“You have lived your victory in that first time, now it’s time you live your second victory.”
I wasn’t talking to an ordinary guy, he wasn’t just another guy in the block, my good friend. He was a young army officer who wore his Sena medal on his chest with pride, my real hero. From among all my friends I had been the most proud of Piyush. But today his face was wrought with anguish as he asked me,
“Am I so indispensable? I am ready to give my life for this country and I nearly did but now who cares. As I look at the medals pinned to my chest, I wonder-Kya khoya, kya paya.”
Piyush Sahni, sorry, Captain Piyush Sahni from an infantry battalion of the Indian Army is brave, idealistic, young, second generation army officer, the only son of his parents who hail from Dehradun, devoted to his uniform and keen to protect his country even at the cost of his life. I have known Piyush from the time he was shot thrice in his body and one bullet hit his forearm and wrist and he lay in an army hospital battling for his life. He had killed four militants in the valley of insurgency struck Manipur in an incident which brought him face to face with militants. His troops suffered casualty as well but the militants were all killed owing to Piyush’s bravery and courage. As he lay in the hospital I had first been introduced to him by a mutual friend. What remained with me long after I came home was his winning attitude and his faith in his uniform. He appeared like someone who believed that his duty had been worthy of the sacrifice he had made. His survival had been bleak but not his spirits. His future was uncertain but not his determination. That was three years ago.
Today Piyush told me, “Now I am a permanent medical category. I have many restrictions and limitations. I am partly crippled now. Who gives a damn. No one. Where are these people whom I fought for when I need them. Are they there when I need a helping hand with my luggage at the railway station because now my hand is not strong enough to lift them up or when I want to play badminton or squash or cricket. I have to live with it everyday. And a part of me dies everyday.”
I have no answer to that. The Army categorizes battle casualty and medical disability of its officers and soldiers into temporary and permanent medical
category depending on the nature and percentage of disability. This it does to minimize their risk while at duty and also to ensure they can be still of use to the organization as such. They are also made to shift arms from the infantry to some other battalion where they do not go to the field. One would have thought that everything goes smooth as provisioned for by the rules of the army but it’s not so. Young officers who joined the army to be a part of the fighting arm- the infantry, get disillusioned by this shift, it feels to them as if for their bravery and sacrifice, instead of the honor that should follow, they meet an unbefitting end. The thing they were best at, is taken away from them and much against logic and reasoning, it actually holds true for many young men in the army.
Years ago there was a campaign to lure young men to join the army. It was so captivating that I could never really forget ‘DO YOU HAVE IT IN YOU?” even if I tried to. Young, brave, handsome men in uniform commanding troops, taking the lead, holding the sword of honor in the passing out parade in the academy and guarding our nation with the strength of their youth all flashed in that 2-minute clipping on television. It must have had a lasting impact on thousands of people, people who led their only sons to join the army, guys who joined the army on their own to live that dream. Little did they know that like most dreams this dream would break too. One day when circumstances would ask them to make their ultimate sacrifice with their life/youth for this country, if suppose they survived and had to live as a battle casualty with a medical handicap, they would face the reality. They would learn that a campaign and an advertisement on television should have been just limited to the virtual world alone. They would learn that the country that they were willing to die for wasn’t even looking at their sacrifice. They would learn that the Army would fail to stand for them, fully compensate for what they lost, give them their due and recognition, and to allow them to carry on with the same dignity that they were accustomed to. The government of India and the lack of forethought in addressing the need, welfare and future prospects of the battle casualties and injured medical disabled soldiers of the Indian Army fighting militancy or in war like situations shows that the army seems to have failed in its attempt to advocate for its heroes and the government on its part, to care for the young men who had it in them to guard its borders but the government did not have it in them to guard their honor.
Men in uniform who get injured and become disabled fighting militancy or in war like situation do not get anything except for the insurance from the army that covers them for their medical expenses. If they win a gallantry award such as a sena medal or shaurya chukra, they are entitled to a meagre allowance of 1700-2000 per month added to their monthly salaries for the rest of their life. If in case of disability of that degree that they cannot be usefully employed in the army any more they are boarded off from the organization before time with something called disability pension. But it’s a bad deal, I know it and so do all those smart and intelligent young officers and soldiers of my generation. “ It’s not the money………,” I was once told by an officer, “………it’s about the love and care.”, and I see reason in that statement. It’s after all love that brought them to choose this profession.
What is most appalling is how little the state governments actually choose to do for those injured or killed fighting militancy or war like situations. A senior officer from Army headquarters in Delhi told me that different states have different packages for their gallantry award winners and basically, the two criteria for the state governments to decide the amount, is the number of young from the state joining the armed forces and the available funds at its hands. So while Punjab may give off Rs. 3 lakh and a plot of land Delhi just gives 50,000. Haryana may give 2 lakh and a plot of land but a state like Manipur just gives a paltry Rs 10,000.
Can you think about the gap here? A place as distraught with militancy as Manipur, only to be compared with the likes of Jammu and Kashmir, gives just 10,000 rupees to a medically handicapped soldier who fought to guard its solidarity. And the journey to claim this compensation is long, confusing, and plain humbling for this man.
I cried a tear for Piyush as he sat across me. I saw the injustice and the situation he was in. He told me not to cry because he has cried enough and so have his parents and he cannot bear any more tears for him any more.
I just want to tell the Army to handle these young and inspiring men to be taken care of with utmost respect and concern in a manner befitting to the sacrifice they made. I just want the State government of Manipur to not humiliate the heroes of our country any more. I think the state governments should think of revising the ex-gratia amount for the injured soldiers and the process of claiming it should be made easy and swift.
“The great choose to be the torch bearers carving a path for themselves and for others to follow, so be one. And live life with pride, fighting for what’s rightfully yours. This world belongs to people who are capable of doing that. No Piyush, you are worthy and unique, never feel you are indispensable. The government has shortcomings and there are major gaps in its provision. But you must fight and raise your voice to be heard. I am proud of you and so are all your friends. Don’t lose your spirit because that is what sets you apart.” This was my message to my friend and to all those Piyush out there today.
I am proud of you and you are indispensable.
**(From the excerpts of my article on a leading English daily)
Humanitarian, having worked with the United Nations Organization
Columnist/aspring novelist with Penguins,