They died protecting India. And their families went off our radar
THEY WERE widowed young. But memories of their gallant husbands, lost in the killing fields of the Northeast or J&K, gave them the strength to carry on.
Today, however, these 'Veer Naris' — the term used in army parlance to describe them — are questioning a nation which is quick to forget its heroes.
Archi Sharma's husband, a major in the armoured corps, was killed in Kashmir in March 2004. His valour earned him a Sena Medal for gallantry — a decoration that entitles his wife a one-time 'princely sum' of Rs 3,000 from the UP government.
But she is yet to get even that paltry amount. "Money does not mean a thing to me," Archi told the Hindustan Times from Meerut. "But can't we treat a martyr's wife with a little more respect?"
Jaya Babbar is still awaiting the Rs 5 lakh compensation promised her by the Assam government after her husband Major Inderjeet Singh Babbar died fighting insurgents.
Getting housing and finding jobs for themselves is also a problem for war widows. Ask Shivani, 33, what is the one thing she wants the government to do for her. "It would be wonderful if I am allowed to retain army accommodation for a little longer, till the time my own house is ready," Shivani told HT from Chandimandir, Haryana.
Her husband Major Navneet Vats was killed in a gun battle with terrorists in Srinagar in November 2003. Army widows are entitled to retain government accommodation for three and half years. They want the facility extended to five years.
Raising children without the security of a permanent job is another concern. Poonam Guleria, whose husband Captain Deepak Guleria was killed in J&K seven years ago, is a teacher on contract at an army school. Her suggestion: "Procedures should be simplified to provide permanent jobs to widows in army schools as long as they meet the criteria." Poonam has an eight-year-old son.
"Once a soldier is dead, he is a forgotten story," said Jaitri, widow of Major Yashen Acharya from Mumbai. Awarded the Sena Medal, Yashen was 35 when he fell to terrorists' bullets in J&K.
But widows emphasise that the army has been an integral part of their support system and stood by them at every stage. It is the politicians and the state governments who have let them down, Archi said: "They invite us for functions to cash in on our image. That's about it."