Only a soldier knows what his medals are worth. And there can be no crueler fate for him than to part with these symbols of honour, worn so proudly on the puffed out chest.
On Sunday, some 200 retired soldiers took the toughest decision of their lives as they returned their medals to the President in support of their longstanding demand for one-rank-one-pension (OROP).
Colonel Kanwar Bhardwaj (retd), 65, didn’t flinch when he laid down his Sena Medal, awarded for gallantry in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, in a cardboard box at Jantar Mantar, where thousands of ex-servicemen sat in dharna.
Then he quietly dropped his most precious possession. A closer look revealed it was the Shaurya Chakra awarded to his son Captain Umang Bhardwaj, killed in a terrorist encounter in Kashmir in 2002. “It was a hard decision but I chose to follow my conscience. Soldiers have been given a raw deal. My son would have done the same," Bhardwaj told HT.
The medals were taken from Jantar Mantar to Rashtrapati Bhavan in a police vehicle and handed over to a deputy secretary-rank officer. Ex-servicemen organisations claimed that over 10,000 veterans, including 300 generals, took part in the dharna. The veterans said they would reclaim the medals if their demands were met.
Major General Satbir Singh (retd), vice-chairman, Indian Ex-servicemen Movement (IESM), said: “All pre-2006 pensioners will now receive lesser pension than not only their compatriots in service but also their juniors.”
MoS Defence M.M Pallam Raju told Lok Sabha last December that the OROP demand was not acceptable due to administrative, financial and legal reasons.