A delegation of retired defence personnel Sunday marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan to return over 5,000 gallantry and meritorious service medals and submitted a memorandum signed in their blood, demanding "equal pension for each rank".
The retired personnel, however, did not return the medals as they wanted to give these to President Pratibha Patil in person. The president is the supreme commander of the armed forces.
"These medals are precious to us and we can't give these to anybody. As the president did not accept them personally, we brought back all the medals. We gave a memorandum signed by over 6,000 ex-servicemen with their blood," said Lieutenant-General (retired) Raj Kadyan of the Indian Ex-servicemen's Movement (IEM).
The IEM is demanding that irrespective of the date on which a soldier retires, he or she should get the same pension, which rises every time there is a wage revision.
According to Kadyan, a central government ruling on March 8, 2010, narrowed the pension gap between soldiers retired after and before January 2006 but they wanted the difference to be completely removed.
"We feel so dejected today that we are compelled to return our lifetime honours for our rights. Despite a raw deal being meted to us, we are ready to lend our support in any hostile situation," said Major-General (retired) Balbir Kataria.
Earlier in the day, around 1,000 ex-servicemen from the three defence forces held the protest at Jantar Mantar, the 18th century observatory on the edge of the commercial district of Connauht Place, and collected their gallantry medals.
"We fought for the country without caring for our lives and are now compelled to fight another battle for our rights. We are demanding one rank one pension, and as a protest are returning our honours that we won by putting our lives at stake," Commodore (retired) Lokesh Batra said.
Despite the central government rejecting their demand, the ex-servicemen have decided to continue their struggle.
"We will continue our struggle peacefully and it is a shame for the country that soldiers have to return their gallantry awards and meritorious medals," said another retired soldier who did not want to be identified.
According to IEM office-bearers, a soldier who retired before 1996 gets a monthly pension of Rs.3,670, but one who retired between 1996 and December 2005 gets Rs.4,680. A soldier who retired after January 2006 gets Rs.8,700.
Effectively then, an army havildar, who retired earlier, gets pension money that is less than what a soldier retiring after January 2006 gets, though the havildar enjoys a higher rank. The mismatch applies to all ranks, the ex-soldiers pointed out.