The 77-day-long “Operation Vijay” lost more Indian soldiers than the combined number of martyrs of several wars India fought. (Wars of 1947-48, Old Kashmir, 1965 Indo-Pak and 1971). Indian Army’s casualties were 527 killed and 1,363 wounded. Leena Parmar, who has researched the experiences of Kargil war widows in accessing and managing the substantial financial packages from the government, prepared a report published in Manushi, February 2004, which should be noted and implemented by the government. As the first battle in India fought under the electronic media eye, the detailed reports on the casualties of the Kargil war evoked greater sympathy and emotional reverence for the heroic sacrifice of the army. This was followed by airlifting the bodies and sending them to Delhi, then to the capital of the state the martyr belonged and finally to to their respective villages. Each martyr was given a state funeral that was attended by thousands of villagers and dignitaries.
Apart from this each widow was recognised for her sacrifice and felicitated by the nation. Most importantly, for the first time, the government worked out an unprecedented compensation package for the families and delivered it as soon as possible. These factors make the Kargil war widows different from other war widows in India. This too is not fair as soldiers fighting insurgencies, terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir (Operation Rakshak) and in North East have fought bravely as the Kargil fighters did. Some lost their lives and some lost limbs. Though India has fought wars previously, the compensation package and its dispensation was unique in the Kargil war. Compensation paid out was to the tune of `25 to 30 lakh (US$ 50,000-70,000) and most of it within 15 days of the death. This included contributions from the central government, state government, group insurance, benevolent funds and the National Defence Fund (NDF). Not to forget donations of several social groups and relief funds. Upto `2 lakh was also placed in a long term deposit by the NDF towards the education of children on which interest was paid monthly and the amount matured when the child attained the age of 18 for girls and 21 for boys. A son or brother of the deceased was also enrolled in the army.
This package was no doubt sufficient to make the family financially independent. In this context Sociology Department of Rajasthan University, Jaipur undertook a study. This was done to assess the relationship between education and the impact of the compensation paid to Kargil war widows (as well as Operation Rakshak) belonging to Rajasthan. News reports of July 9, 2012 say eleven widows of Kargil war received arrears in the range from `10 lakh to `12 lakh within a week, after they approached the Indian ex-servicemen movement (IESM), Pune. These arrears were pending since January 2006. Recently the Zilla Sainik Board officer, Lt Nitin Pande contacted these 11 widows and collected their pension details. These cases were then followed up by the IESM with the bank for revision of pensions and disbursement of the arrears. The Adarsh scam is an example of governmental apathy, or worse, callousness towards the armed forces. If any project was planned for providing housing to war widows or war disabled troops hailing from Maharashtra, it should have been made in some of its districts and not in Mumbai. In 2009, when I met national security guards commando PV Manesh, of the Madras Regiment, who was awarded the Shaurya Chakra for outstanding bravery during the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
His major injuries were paralysis, perforation of the skull by a splinter, which has been covered with a plate; one splinter embedded in his brain is what he has to live with. It causes him migraine and periodic visual blackouts; his right hand is stiff and without full sensation and his feet are adversely affected too. Manesh was able to start walking slowly only after two years of Ayurvedic treatment. He needs it for the rest of his life. He has paid for this Ayurvedic treatment from his own pocket as the Armed Forces Medical Services does not consider reimbursement for treatment under any medicinal system other than allopathic and neither has any step been taken so far to amend the stringent medical audit rules of the forces — a classic case of an insensitive bureaucracy. His battalion and the Madras Regimental Centre have been very supportive. While the centre gave him `2 lakh, he is posted to Madras Regiment’s Territorial Army battalion at Palghat, Kerela, so that he can avail to the Ayurvedic treatment at least four times a year. There are more such stories that can throw light on the irresponsiveness of the system towards the soldiers who fight for us.
- Commando Dignedra Kumar Mahavir Chakra, disabled after he was hit with five bullets, he was promised 50 bighas of non-irrigated land after being discharged. Disabled and without any land awarded, he somehow survives on a meagre pension of `2,400 and one hectare of land inherited from his father.
- Roshan Lal Wazir, hit by nine bullets, is yet to receive the gas agency promised to him after suffering 80 per cent disability, his left limbs almost nonfunctional. He can barely walk and lives with two sons and wife in Jammu on a paltry pension.
- Bahadur Singh of 19 Grenadiers got bullet brushed through his ears and a splinter hit his eye and legs. Having lost his vision and retired from the army, he now lives in a single room without a job and a meagre pension waiting to be rehabilitated.
Maj Gen Ian Cardozo, AVSM, SM, Chairman, Rehabilitation Council of India and Vice President, War Wounded Foundation said that there are procedural differences in perception of disabilities between the Armed Forces Medical Services and civil medical authorities. The Armed Forces Medical Services for instance awards 60 per cent disability as against 70 per cent that civil medical authorities award for cases of amputation below the knee. Cardozo, who underwent three amputation surgeries for his injury in the 1971 India-Pakistan war feels that Kargil casualties are over-graded. All casualties fatal or disabled in any war should be graded by the same yardstick. Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, an amputee of the 1971 war, was supported by the Armed Forces Tribunal on getting his disability enhanced. He went to the Supreme Court as the recommendation had not been implemented. Even the Supreme Court’s decision for enhancement has not been implemented.
The 5th Central Pay Commission recommended that the increment of over 50 per cent disability should be 75 per cent but even that has not been implemented. The common refrain after my interaction with some other disabled soldiers is that “the government seems to be against war disabled personnel”. For Capt JK Sengupta, of 16th Cavalry, who lost both eyes after his tank was hit in the 1965 India-Pakistan war said that it took inordinately long for him to get his compensation. There are many more cases of being short-changed or deprived, which is indeed a great pity. Col Anil Kaul, VrC, minus an eye and a few fingers (Sri Lanka), says it all in his book Better Dead Than Disabled.
— The author is the editor of Word Sword