Those coffins wrapped in Tricolour from our Borders

via Raghavan Nair published on December 4, 2006

The sacrifice of  Major Manish Pitambare reminds us the need for giving the required attention to matters relating to our armed forces personnel. Even since the Kargil war, it is not an isolated sight that coffins wrapped in Tricolor are being conveyed to the family of the deceased in different parts of the country. In those coffins what contained may be some parts of the body of a valiant soldier who laid his life for safeguarding the independence and integrity of this country. It is unfortunate that our nation has been ignoring the armed forces personnel who sacrifice their lives for safeguarding the independence and honour of our motherland. In reality, not all of us know the contribution of our armed forces personnel.


 


Unlike the government servants, politicians, professionals or businessmen they are totally patriotic, secular, loyal to the country, objective, disciplined and trained to function in adverse circumstances. During war they face the enemy under all circumstances and discharge their duties without fear or favour. In peacetime also, they are being called in to deal with situations like earthquake, floods, train accidents, riots, communal violence, terrorist attacks and bomb scares. The best years of their lives are dedicated in guarding our borders, high seas and the skies on 24 hours duty unlike others. An ordinary soldier retires at the age of 35 years to keep the Army young and fit to fight. They are deprived of a family life and nation also does not care much for their family.  They are being kept on the move from Glacier to Sizzling sand, thick jungle and the high seas for months together.


 


An ordinary soldier’s salary and pension are less than that of a Grade IV central government employee who could remain in service for over 33 years and earn full pension. Whereas, the soldiers are being sent on retirement at an age between 35-40; thereby cannot complete 33 years service required to earn full pension. After retirement, they are ignored, discarded and degraded. In a country where an MP or MLA with one year tenure is entitled for life pension, a soldier has to serve minimum 15 – 20 years to earn the minimum pension. The full pension is still denied for not completing 33 years service. It was to avoid this inhuman rule that the ONE RANK ONE PENSION  formula was considered and declarations in this regard was made inside and outside the parliament on 5 September 1991 by the United Front government and by the NDA government as late as 13/14 April 1999. But still `one rank one pension’ has not been implemented in spite of continued efforts put in by the ex-servicemen. But government did not fail to implement substantial increase in salary and perks of the MPs and MLAs.


 


The political parties and its leaders care for vote bank only and go behind fulfilling demands and needs of political parties and religious pressure groups. Civil rights like freedom of speech and forming associations etc have been taken away from the servicemen; thereby they cannot collectively stage an agitation or uprising for pressing their demands. The reason why the army, navy and air force are facing shortage of young officers is for the reason that the government is not caring to provide them with a salary and perks to commensurate with the risk element and hardships involved in discharge of their duties.


 


The Sachar committee sought from the armed forces the number of Muslims employed in different ranks in the armed forces. The move was severely criticized by all and sighted as an effort to bring in communalism in the armed forces too. It may not be to the knowledge of many that during the British time itself the army regiments were raised by sect names like Maratha Regiment, Rajput Rifles, Gorkha Regiment, Dogra Regiment, Mahaar Regiment etc. It was aimed at bringing out the best spirits of a soldier when addressed on sectarian grounds and same system prevails in army even today. But to satisfy minority demands if the government ventures to set up Catholic Regiment, Protestant Regiment, Sunni Regiment of a Shi’a Regiment, the results would be disastrous; thereby such considerations are not possible in the defence forces.


 


Compromises in physical and mental standards of a soldier are not possible for recruitment or promotions.  However, with regard to the service conditions, it is high time for the government to do away with the Acts of the colonial era and enforce new terms and conditions of service for the armed forces personnel. Based on reports about a few incidents of indiscipline in the armed forces where the lower rank soldiers have shot dead their superior officers, a study was conducted in the armed forces. The study team came out with the recommendation to implement measures to reduce pressure on the soldiers by introducing Yoga classes for them, improving living conditions, increasing leave etc.


 


Defence service constitutes only about 6% of the central/state government pension able jobs and about 60,000 personnel retire from armed forces every year. In addition to the improvement to service conditions, there must be a definite plan to rehabilitate such large numbers of ex-servicemen coming out every year, not by choice but due to government policy in this regard. They being fully trained in various disciples, inducting the ex-servicemen to various para-military organizations and other government organization should be envisaged.


 


We are aware of the ever increasing scandals related to arms deals, and also about the cases and investigations going on in this regard for many years. Irrespective of which party comes in power, defence deals have brought them fortune whether it is for Submarines, Guns, Warships, Planes, Missiles, Night Vision Glasses and even the Coffins. When they compromise on such deals, they are compromising with the safety of this country since the end user being the soldier are not provided with the right kind of equipment to fight a fully armed enemy force. Such callous attitude of our leaders is also responsible for those coffins being conveyed to families.


 


Rather than caring for vote bank and remaining in power, they do not show the nerve to find solution to the terrorism going on in Jammu & Kashmir and other parts of the country. The soldiers are destined to face its aftermath silently and the process goes on unabated. Dependents of those valiant soldiers who laid their lives during wars fought between 1948 to 1971 did not receive any kind of assistance from the government and most of them did not even see the dead bodies. Those families are in a pitiable state. The credit for providing substantial financial assistance to the families of soldiers killed in war goes to BJP government and this was introduced during the Kargil war. Sending dead bodies to the family and arranging cremation of the dead with state honour was also introduced by them.


 


 


Let us in small ways arouse awareness about the need for caring about the soldiers and providing them with right type of equipment to fight with, salary and allowance to commensurate with the hardships they are subjected to and also make them feel that their families are taken care of .  In this regard the state governments also have a responsibility and it may be pertinent to mention here that, the Kerala Government gives no consideration to ex-servicemen when compared to Punjab , Haryana, Tamil Nadu etc. With Kerala government the main problem has been that they are not left with any thing to offer to the ex-servicemen because of the never ending concessions they provide to politicians, religious pressure groups, minorities and the like!!

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