Forgotten sacrifices: After gun salute, a life of silent suffering
Deaths of soldiers in Pathankot airbase attack puts focus on past martyrs and the plight of their families.india Updated: Jan 08, 2016 19:50 IST
Every terrorist encounter, followed by the developments that unfold, kicks in a sense of deja vu.
Coffins wrapped in the Tricolour, the last salute to martyrs and moving images of young children orphaned and brides widowed tugging at the heartstrings of the nation.
Their supreme sacrifice is hailed, some candle-light marches are organised and TV studios are abuzz with debates on how the Indian state needs to strike back hard.
However, when the dust settles, it’s business as usual for everyone except the families the bravehearts leave behind. It’s only the beginning of their struggle, one that can last for a lifetime.
Far from prying eyes, deep in the hinterland – most jawans come from villages – the families fight hard to come to terms with the new reality of their lives.
The security forces have clearly laid down rules for compensation to be awarded to the martyrs’ families and protocols are there to extend the support needed by them. But it has often been seen that the families are left to fend for themselves as red tape and sheer apathy add to their miseries.
Politicians announce compensation and jobs for the kin but rarely follow up on their promises.
The martyrs’ families fight new battles day in and day out, but the country wakes up to their plight only when the next coffin comes in.
Martyr: Sukhdev Singh, home guard
When: July 27, 2015 in Dinanagar
Armed with a vintage 303 rifle, home guard Sukhdev Singh, perhaps, did not have any chance against a group of terrorists who attacked the Dinanagar police station in July last year. He was only 40 when a hail of bullets from automatic weapons brought him down in the Punjab township, one of the four security personnel killed in the terror attack.
Hailed as a martyr by the Punjab and central governments, the family of the slain security man was promised all help by the state – a job for his eldest son, free education for daughter and younger son, and Rs 10 lakh as compensation. Besides, a gate in his memory at his ancestral village of Attepur in Pathankot district.
Nearly six months after Singh’s martyrdom, family-members said that the government gave them Rs 10 lakh but completely forgot about the other promises.
So much so that his son, who was recruited into Punjab Police soon after the incident, has also been paid only part of his salary monthly, Singh’s wife Chanda said.
She added the authorities of the private school where two children are studying have “humiliated” them several times over fees which the government had promised to pay.
Sukhdev’s aged mother Satya Devi said that monetary compensation only brought them temporary relief. Villagers in Attepur recalled chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s promise -- during his visit to Sukhdev’s house after the incident – that a gate would be erected to honour the martyr. It has remained a promise. Till now.
Martyr: Satpal Wasson, sepoy, 6 Dogra Regiment
When: June 4, 2015 in Manipur
The high-decibel, jingoistic political rhetoric after Satpal Wasson and 17 of his brothers in arms were killed in a militant ambush in Manipur belie the uncertainty his 39-year-old wife, Reeta Devi, is going through. The martyr’s widow depends solely on financial assistance from the army for her two young children’s education.
“He didn’t die playing football but sacrificed his life for the nation. Is this the way the J-K government treats martyrs? What kind of message is it sending out?” says father Bishan Wasson, a retired soldier, in Jammu.
A rule states that a close relative is entitled to a government job or financial assistance if a soldier dies in action — killed by militants or in cross-firing between terrorists and security forces. But the support is rarely extended.
Satpal’s wife Reeta too has yet to get a government job or financial assistance from the state. Son Ayush, a class 4 student, has accepted the harsh reality — that his father will never come to give him a hug. Sister Arushi in kindergarten is too young to know.
“She often asks, when will papa come? We tell her your papa has now become a star. And then she says, Oh!”
Martyr: Sunil Jang Mahat
When: May 15, 1999 in Kargil
The brave 21-year-old soldier fell to perhaps the first volley of enemy bullets during the Kargil war.
“Sunil’s battalion was to move to Pune but the Kargil war broke out and the first batch of soldiers to march into battle included my son. On May 15, he was hit. He was the first and youngest martyr in the Kargil war,” says father Nar Narayan Jang Mahat, a retired Subedar from his son’s regiment who fought in the 1965 and 1971 wars.
His family was promised several things in his honour, including a stadium in his name, renaming of a road leading to their house and installation of a bust near the Gorkha Rifles Regiment Centre (GRRC) in Lucknow.
But 17 years on, the promises were yet to be fulfilled. “Our son is now a forgotten hero,” the father says.
His family is upset that the army honours high-ranking captains and majors but forget personnel of lower ranks. Mother Bina Mahat says: “The UP government has not initiated any efforts to mark our son’s sacrifice.”
Martyr: Baljit Singh, superintendent of police
When: July 27, 2015 in Dinanagar
When a group of Pakistan-based terrorists attacked the Dinanagar police station in Punjab’s Dinanagar township on July 27 last year, superintendent of police Baljit Singh was in the forefront of the operation to flush out the attackers.
But a single bullet to his head cut short the life of the brave police officer, a collective loss for the nation and a personal tragedy for his family.
However, Singh’s Kapurthala-based family has expressed satisfaction with the government’s prompt response in fulfilling its promises and support.
The SP is survived with his wife Kulwant Kaur, son Maninder Singh and two daughters — Parminder Kaur and Ravinder Kaur. The state had announced Rs 25 lakh as compensation, besides the offer of the post of deputy superintendent of police to his son and free studies to his children.
“Government has lived up to their promises...,” said Kulwant Kaur, wife of the slain SP. The Punjab government had to amend its rules under tremendous political pressure to provide the job of post of DSP rank to slain SP’s son, who was eligible for an inspector as per compassionate policy of the government.
Martyr: Sachidananda Mallick, army naik
When: Kargil; June 28, 1999
When 30-year-old Army Naik Sachidananda Mallick’s body was brought to Kandia village in Odisha’s Kendrapara district, about 200 km from Bhubaneswar, thousands including top government officials and political leaders turned up to pay their last respects.
Over 26 years later, his wife, Nibedita Mallick, runs a gas agency in Bhubaneswar. Her 18-year-old son is a first year engineering student.
But it was not so easy when her husband died. “I was very shy and scared. I did not know how to react and how to pick up the threads of life again,” says the 44-year-old.
She got a compensation of Rs 21 lakh, a plot in Bhubaneswar and an assurance for the gas agency.
But while the grief bound the family together, the compensation money created fissures.
Litigations over the money marred relations with her in-laws. Half of the compensation amount is still stuck, pending a court decision, while the pension is shared by her and her mother-in-law as per a court order.
As her conditions improved over the years, Nibedita reached out to her husband’s aged father and mother and they too responded positively, rekindling old bonds.
“Everything is now normal and court cases have become secondary because everyone realised the futility of animosity over the years as all of us had suffered in the aftermath of Sachidananda’s death,” said the martyr’s cousin, Nihar Ranjan Mallick.
(With inputs from Rahul Singh in Delhi, Vinay Dhingra in Pathankot, Tarun Upadhyay in Jammu, Parampreet Singh Narula in Kapurthala, Oliver Frederick in Lucknow and Priya Ranjan Sahu in Bhubaneswar.)