Nineteen heart-rending, insult-to-injury stories about soldiers who had to fight long-drawn battles with our system, not with any enemy from across the border, have been compiled in a 253-page book by retired Major Navdeep Singh. Titled ‘Maimed by the System’, is scheduled to be released on Tuesday by former chief of the army staff Gen VP Malik (retd).
Major Navdeep, who also practices as an advocate at the Punjab and Haryana high court, has come out with the book which narrates painful experiences of soldiers or their kin – many of them disabled soldiers or widows of martyrs – and how they fought back against the system.
One of the stories in the book is of Captain Manjinder Singh Bhinder, wholost his life while saving civilians on June 13, 1997, at Uphaar Cinema,Delhi. He is recognised for saving more than 150 lives before he laid down his life. His wife and four-year-old son also died in the fire tragedy.
But his parents were denied pension benefits as his death was “not attributed to military service” by army authorities as they submitted before the court that he had gone to see a film. His parents fought in the Delhi high court that restored the honour of Captain Bhinder.
“It is understood even by a common person on the street that a soldier is supposed to be on duty 24 hours a day, come what may. A soldier is also expected to exhibit sterling leadership qualities and respond to calls of distress or to emergent situations even while on leave,” says the author while discussing the case of Captain Manjinder.
Another story in the book is of Gunner Bachan Singh of Ropar who gotinjured during World War-2 when a shell fell on his vehicle in Libya. He lost function of his right hand which was both due to physical injury and psychiatric scars emanating out of shelling, as per doctors. He was allowed to continue in the army but after Independence he was sent home. In 1949, his pension was abruptly stopped on the pretext that his disability had gone below 20%, even though a medical board said it was 30%. He had to work in a gurdwara to support his family but kept on requesting the authorities for pension.
Finally, a letter to then commander of the army’s Western Command, Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman, set the ball rolling. It was only in 2008, though, that his pension was restored, and he got arrears for 59 years.
Ludhiana resident Sepoy Santokh Singh of the Punjab Regiment, who fought in WW-2, got wounded in the 1948 Indo-Pak war. A bullet came to be embedded in his body. In 1951 he was discharged, and in 1959 his disability pension was abruptly stopped as his disability percentage was considered less than 20%
despite that a bullet was embedded in his body.
Finally, after umpteen numbers of rounds of government offices, his pension was restored in 2001.
“These were times before the RTI Act. These were the times when transparency was a lost word. Still is, actually. Soldiers did not know what hit them,” comments Major Navdeep in the book.
But loyalty to military service is ingrained in their veins. Santokh Singh died in 2006, without arrears of 42 years. Yet, his five sons joined the army, two in his own regiment.