The Plight of Ex-Servicemen and War Widows

22 Jul, 1999    ·   231

Wg. Cdr. N. K. Pant (Retd.) outlines the hardships of the war widows, ex-servicemen, and disabled soliders - the worst affected in any war

One of the unfortunate fallout of Pakistan's well planned armed intrusion on the Drass-Kargil-Batalik axis of the LoC and our army's subsequent successful intense operations to dislodge the well-entrenched enemy forces has been an increase in the number of war widows and former soldiers' dependants-a majority of them in rural India. The number of ex-serviceman also is likely to go up considerably as the services of a majority of the injured soldiers may no longer be required any more on the grounds of medical fitness. With the breadwinners gone or disabled the unfortunate family members of the martyred warriors and disabled heroes of the battlefield will have a harrowing time to make both ends meet.



Obviously, the onus of caring for war widows, dependants and medically pensioned disabled soldiers rests on the nation's shoulders. Yet the army, from its scarce welfare funds, is busy drawing up plans to set up more hostels for war widows and children of soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for the defence of the country. Even the War Widows Association with almost no resources has offered to provide free boarding, lodging and transport facilities to the relatives of soldiers being treated in Delhi for injuries suffered while fighting in Kargil. The majority of the killed and wounded soldiers are in the age group of 23 to 25 years, and most of them have left behind young widows and infants. Many of the wounded will also have to be provided with artificial limbs together with vocational training, jobs or assistance in setting up business ventures. Though the parties in power at the Center and States are making loud promises at the moment for rehabilitation of war widows and injured soldiers, the slow grinding and corrupt wheels of the bureaucracy will put up innumerable spokes in the wheel when it comes to actual implementation.



The armed forces personnel constitute only six percent of the total work force of Central and State government employees but have to retire at a much younger age in comparison to their civilian counterparts. This is understandably because the forces have to be kept young and fighting fit. Of the 60,000 uniformed men who retire every year, sixty percent are around 35 years of age. This is a stage when a person is fit, experienced and full of vigour, and also has the maximum responsibilities towards his family. Surely, the prospects would appear bleak when a trained person capable of undergoing any amount of stress and strain associated with varied jobs finds himself without any work on chivvy street.



The former disciplined soldier's moral drops further when he realises that civilian employees comprising 94 per cent of total Central and State government work force remain in service till they attain the age of sixty years. Under these circumstances what can a young ex-serviceman do but curse his fate which took him to the icy heights of the Siachen glacier or the high altitudes of Kargil to face enemy bullets and the fury of extremely harsh weather.



In fact, unlike their civilian counterparts, the ex-servicemen, in the absence of official entitlement to free medical facilities, happen to be completely at the mercy of Military Hospitals, w hich are inadequately equipped to deal with the Medicare of former soldiers, both normal and disabled, war widows and their family members. Official callousness in this regard has forced the Confederation of Ex-Servicemen Associations to file a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court in the first week of May 1999 seeking a direction to the government to provide free Medicare facilities to this neglected class of citizens.



These simple and brave souls, most of whom belong to rural India , have indeed made great sacrifices, undergone painful privations and untold hardships while serving the motherland. The sacrifices at Kargil must elicit a magnanimous response to the genuine problems of ex-servicemen and war widows from the power-hungry politicians and indifferent bureaucrats.