Guest column | Once a soldier always a soldier
The government of the Punjab has increased the annuity payable to recipients of bravery and distinguished service of the armed forces by 80%, which is commendable as the state already pays the highest annuity to its recipients.
It shows the government’s respect and honor for the soldiers. Also, a considerable amount of time had passed since the last hike. I remembered December 16, 1971, the day the ceasefire was announced in the war against Pakistan.
Everyone who actively participated in the fight heaved a sigh of relief at having emerged unscathed. Soon the first list of Bravery Award winners was published. In the general euphoria that reigned in the country for a big victory, politicians also decided to make hay while the sun was shining. States like Punjab and Rajasthan were quick to announce cash and land awards for the Bravery Award winners.
A soldier goes into battle to fulfill the contract he concludes the day he puts on the uniform. On Judgment Day, a soldier must defend the territorial integrity of the country and be prepared to make any sacrifice, including his life. This is the deal.
Also, no one goes into battle thinking they’ll get a bravery award for it. You are going to do what you have been trained to do to the best of your ability, because defeat is not an option. If your senior officer is impressed with your performance and writes a citation for a bravery award, it is considered something that just happened while you did what you needed to do. If the Center and the state government decide to reward it, it simply accepts it with grace. He also expects governments to honor their commitment.
In fact, it took the government of Punjab 14 years to honor its commitment, albeit partially. Instead of the promised irrigated land, he gave ??5,000 per acre pledged. So that was the end. A few years later, the government of Punjab launched an annuity program for Bravery Award winners and their widows. It was a paltry sum of a few hundred rupees paid quarterly. Around this time, a pan-Indian organization called “The War Decorated” was formed to deal primarily with the widows and elderly relatives of deceased gallantry award winners. He interacted with central and state governments to secure certain benefits such as free train travel, an annuity, and jobs for the children of deceased soldiers. The Punjab did better than other states, but it was still nothing substantial.
Then came the politician soldier, the outgoing Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, who served in the First Battalion of the Sikh Regiment. He served for a short period of three years in the “2 Sikhs”. Despite his short service in the army, the soldier was in his blood. He remained in close contact with his battalion.
He initiated a series of measures for the welfare of retired soldiers and the widows of deceased soldiers. The government job quota was reserved for needy widows and their children. It also granted a substantial increase in the annuity paid to the winners of the State Bravery Awards as well as to the widows of the deceased. He was raised to ??23 100 for the Chakra Param Vir (PVC), ??17,556 for the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) and ??10 165 for the Vir Chakra (VrC).
A similar increase was made in the annuity of the other Bravery Award winners. In addition, his government decided to grant a large lump sum to the new gallantry prize winners, ranging from ??25 lakh to ??1 crore. Needless to say, this has been a great boost to the morale of veterans, especially those closest to the deceased state gallantry award winners.
On September 15, the government of Punjab doubled the lump sum for the winners of the Bravery Awards. So a PVC will get ??2 crores, MVC ??1 crore and one VrC ??50 lakh.
It is impossible to make up for the loss of a family member. However, financial and other assistance provided by states like the Punjab help ease the grief. The government led by Capt has set the benchmark for veteran welfare to emulate. As the saying goes: “Once a soldier, always a soldier’.
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based defense veteran and winner of the Vir Chakra Prize. The opinions expressed are personal.)