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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

A prisoner of war in Pakistan, soldier lives retired life in penury

Captain Vijender Singh Gurung speaks fluent English and Hindi, lives alone in a small cramped room with no electricity connection on the outskirts of city, cooks food on firewood, and often works as a labourer to make both ends meet

dehradun Updated: Jan 29, 2018 08:20 IST
Abhinav Madhwal
Abhinav Madhwal
Hindustan Times
Captain Vijender Singh in his home in Dehradun.
Captain Vijender Singh in his home in Dehradun. (Abhinav Madhwal /HT Photo)

A blow from a rifle butt knocked down Captain Vijendra Singh Gurung when Pakistani soldiers ambushed his troops during the 1971 war. He was captured and remained a prisoner of war for 13 months.

The war ended, Pakistan surrendered, Bangladesh was liberated and Gurung was released from detention on December 31, 1972. In the following years, the brave man served the army until he retired; worked as a teacher and with a private security firm before settling down in his hometown, Dehradun.

But bereft of a pension as he joined the army as a short service commission officer, Gurung’s savings dwindled soon and he was forced to do odd jobs and hard menial labour to make ends meet.

The 67-year-old man lives in a small room on the outskirts of the Uttarakhand capital. The room reminds of a time before the world seemed to stray away from him. It has no electricity and he cooks on a firewood oven that also keeps him warm in winter.

Gurung is a bachelor and his sole companion now is a street dog.

Stories about the war veteran’s wretched retired life were widely shared on social media recently, especially rules that denied him retirement benefits because he served the military as a short service commission officer.

Drawn by public outrage, Mussoorie legislator Ganesh Joshi presented the soldier’s case before chief minister TS Rawat and a sum of Rs 1 lakh was sanctioned as relief. Brigadier (retired) Rajendra Singh Rawat, the president of the Uttarakhand Ex-Services League, said his organisation will try to provide Gurung maximum help from the army.

The Tri-Services Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association, a Hyderabad-based NGO that provides help to former soldiers in need, has promised a monthly pension of Rs 10,000 to Gurung.

From searching for a way to survive, Gurung is now trying to find a future. “I don’t have an Aadhaar card … I am hopeful of getting the pension soon, which will help me a lot,” said the man who speaks fluent English and Hindi.

He refuses to share details about his term in Pakistani prison because of the “secrecy clause”, but vividly recalled what happened before that.

The officer was made Second Lieutenant just three months before the war broke out. “I commanded soldiers in the western sector in Fazilka on the Punjab border. Our troops were ambushed and I was hit with a rifle butt making me unconscious,” he said.

He was taken to Pakistan and kept in several prisoner of war camps until he was freed. He was brought to New Delhi via Amritsar and debriefed by the army for 10 days. Thereafter he completed the young officers’ course at Assam Regimental Centre.

“I worked in an Army School in Secunderabad, worked in a security firm in Mumbai and Lucknow but moved to Dehradun in 1984 as this is my home. Since then I had been doing odd jobs and at times receiving support from friends and relatives,” he said.

First Published: Jan 28, 2018 21:43 IST

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