Hundreds of kilometres away from his home in Rajasthan’s Sriganganagar, 18-year-old Harjinder Singh was trained by seasoned commandos in guerrilla warfare in the biting cold of Samba in Jammu and Kashmir.
Once equipped, he and his teammates were to be inducted into the Special Service Bureau (SSB), a force of mostly border residents trained in guerrilla tactics to defend themselves and the nation in case of foreign attacks, and were promised so after their training.
That was in 2000. Fifteen years have passed and Singh, now 33, works as a daily wage labourer in Sriganganagar, barely able to make ends meet for his family.
“In 2001, the Special Service Bureau was renamed as Sashastra Seema Bal and was shifted from the cabinet to the Ministry of Home Affairs and redefined as a border guarding force posted along the Indo-Nepal border,” Singh said.
“A year after our training, the base in Rajasthan was shifted and the government forgot about all the volunteers who had trained as guerrillas,” he said.
Along with information sharing and keeping vigil on cross-border activities, the SSB was also training volunteers from the border population as guerrillas and recruiting them in its force. Besides SSB, over 5,000 SSB volunteers, both men and women, were recruited by other forces such as BSF, CRPF and state police.
“I was given training in handling weapons and combat at Sarahan village in Himachal Pradesh and was assured of recruitment in the SSB. Now my husband is ill and my two children are yet to complete their studies. We are in dire need of an income source,” Kamla Devi, a former SSB volunteer from Sriganganagar, said.
“For the last 16 years we have submitted a number of memorandums to successive governments but to no avail,” Singh said, adding that they have demanded employment for those eligible and pension for elders.
After repeated protests and appeals, the SSB organised a month-long verification camp in Sriganganagar and Jaisalmer in June-July last year.
“All our certificates along with identity proof and medical certificates were verified by the SSB officials. They said that the recruitment process could start after the verification is completed,” said Krishan Lal, another volunteer.
In a letter dated September 21 2015, the Home Ministry informed Singh that the physical verification of volunteers was still going on in a few states and further course of action would take place only when an actual list of all former volunteers is prepared.
On August 1, un-recruited SSB volunteers from across the country marched to Parliament and met home minister Rajnath Singh who promised them nothing.
“There are more than a lakh volunteers who have been struggling for years and some of them have died of poverty. It is strange that the government doesn’t pay any heed to our demands but volunteers from Manipur have been given employment in SSB in recent years,” said Brahmanand Dalakoti, president, SSB Volunteers Welfare Committee.
Left with no option, Singh wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 23 seeking permission to grant him euthanasia if the demands cannot be met.