Seven months since writing my own blog, the Wuhan Virus that caused this unprecedented global pandemic shows no signs of letting go its grip on humankind. After exporting death and ill health via Covid 19 worldwide, instead of an apology and truth, China has added to its reputation of ‘mean & untruthful big-bully’ by trying to land-grab along our country’s long border with it. In the midst of toughest of times, as if unending Pakistan sponsored terrorism and border skirmishes weren’t enough, our brave young soldiers are having to stay put on those icy heights all winter long, protecting our motherlands sovereignty and integrity. Handwara was followed by Galwan and 25 of our bravehearts made the supreme sacrifice for us to sleep in comfort and peace. Many others soldiers from our Military and Paramilitary Forces have also given their all in line of duty. And while there is an outpouring of respect for the soldier and sympathy with the family for a day or two, how grateful are we as a nation and as a people?
So much more is happening in our country today that is worrying and it is becoming crystal clear that reel heroes are not real heroes. However, I am writing to try and sort out some specific thoughts that have been troubling me for a while now. It is 55 years since the Indo-Pak war of 1965. The last bullets then had been fired on 22nd September and the warring nations declared a ceasefire from 23rd Sept. Many bloody battles were fought by brave soldiers from the Indian Armed Forces. Heroes who led their men into Asal Uttar, Dograi, Phillora, Chawinda were deservedly decorated. But what has the nation done to honour the bravery and sacrifice of thousands of other soldiers who gave their all, yet remain unsung? How many schools, hospitals, roads or parks have been named after our bravehearts? Do we have a Remembrance Day or even a Remembrance Flower that we as Indians can wear with pride to honour all our braves who have made the supreme sacrifice defending our freedom in wars and battles?
One newspaper clip that was shared by Maj Gen Pachory on social media caught the eye and filled many hearts with sadness. The family of 22 year old ‘Sarvoch Yodha’ Capt Harjit Singh paying tributes on his Balidan Diwas saying ‘Let Nation and Government forget you but you are still alive in our hearts’. The searing pain in the hearts of his family members is not because their soldier made the supreme sacrifice, but because the motherland seems to have forgotten him. Successive central and state governments have broken promises that were made. The tiny ‘Remembrance Day’ clip made many of us ashamed enough to try and locate fallen soldier Capt Harjit Singh’s brother. Thanks to twitter and facebook, we had Shri Jasjit Singh Ji’s mobile number within a day. Many of us have since spoken with the war hero’s youngest brother, expressing our gratitude and paying tributes on behalf of all Indians. Here I am sharing what I learnt about one unsung warrior and his family of patriots.
Capt Harjit Singh’s father Late Sardar Trilochan Singh was a police officer but he left the service in 1942 in connection with Quit India Movement. A true patriot, he and his wife Late Sardarni Inderjit Kaur were both from Uttar Pradesh. Their first child Harjit Singh was born in Lucknow and studied in Govt Jubilee School & College. He got selected to NDA when he was in XI class in 1959 & got commissioned as 2/Lt in 10 Mahar Regiment in Feb 1964. While on annual leave of two months in Aug 1965, he received orders to report immediately to his regiment as war had broken out. Though he had come for Rakhshabandhan, Desh Raksha was more important and he left without celebrating with his sisters and brothers. His last letter was received from Sialkot Sector where he was martyred on the morning of 22nd Sept 1965 the day Cease fire was announced. Even after his martyrdom, Capt Harjit Singh’s father was ready to send his other sons also in service of country but they did not get selected.
Only 2 brothers & 2 sisters are still around and they continue to hope that the state government will at least acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of their braveheart soldier brother by naming a school, park or road in his honour. In solidarity with Capt Harjit Singh’s family, with deep respect and shared pride & pain, I ask each one of you as co-citizens…is that too much to expect?!
This takes me back to a conversation I had with Mala Sen, the daughter of another war hero, Brigadier K P Lahiri VrC. We were talking about how different states treat soldiers and braveheart families and Mala said ‘Do you know, West Bengal did not even once felicitate my father or honour him in any way? My father is now up in the stars sharing stories of his battles with your Akshay, but my mother would be so happy if his state honours my father at least in her lifetime.’ In the 1965 War, then Lt Col Lahiri led my father’s parent battalion 1st Garhwal Rifles to capture Gadra City, Miajilar, Nawa Tala and Jesse ka Paar. The roll of honours included seven valiant soldiers killed, two officers and 38 brave Bhullas who were wounded in action. For its efforts, the Battalion was bestowed the Battle Honour of “Gadra Road” and Theatre Honour Rajasthan.’ Col Lahiri was awarded the Vir Chakra and went on to once again play a crucial role in the 1971 War for liberation of Bangladesh. He lived in Kolkata all his retired life but was never felicitated nor honoured by the State Government.
The same apathy continues to be shown even today in differential treatment of soldier heroes in different ‘home’ states. While the Telangana Govt was quick to honour Col Babu for his heroic sacrifice fighting the Chinese this June in Galwan and supported his family with 5 Crore Ex Gratia and a good job for the Veer Nari, some other state Govts including West Bengal gave a pittance of 5 Lakh as Ex Gratia to the martyred soldiers families. Shockingly, states like J&K seem to give more benefits to ‘surrendered militants’ that to families of martyred soldiers!
This hurts more badly than one can express. Doesn’t every soldier fight for the honour, safety and welfare of our country and our people? So why is a soldier and his family treated differently depending on his ‘home’ state? Why do state governments value or devalue valour and sacrifice? Can this be justified? Should there not be at least some semblance of uniformity in terms of honour for the soldier hero and employment, housing, medical help and so on for their family? I ask these questions to each one of you reading this blog in the hope that we will at least collectively try to advocate for what is right. That some of us will try to support efforts of families like Capt Harjit Singh and Mala Sen to try and reach out to authorities in their home states for deserved honour to our real heroes. Delay can happen but denial is wrong and to forget the contribution of our soldiers is being ungrateful and unpatriotic.
I pause here to try and get back to some positives in these tough times. The monsoon has been good and hopefully our farmers will have bountiful crops and get a good return for all their hard work that puts food on our plates. Citizens have been generous in helping those who are facing very tough times with job losses, pay cuts and medical bills. Organizations have come forward to distribute rations, PPE kits and assisted with food for migrant workers and helped elderly access medication during lockdown.
We at Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust have also managed our programs of motivating youth through interaction online, via digital media and webinars. We were also able to continue awarding students with achievement awards and scholarships and helped few children of soldiers access online classes by providing laptops and tablets. We have also been fortunate enough to have been able to help few martyr families access long overdue benefits from the government like housing site and family pension. To support untiring efforts of covid warriors, Akshay’s Trust has contributed to the PM Cares fund, distributed masks and face shields among grassroots healthcare workers, policemen, bus drivers & conductors and migrant workers.
Our bravehearts have connected us with many wonderful caring people from diverse fields, with the spirit to do good for our country and our people. We have had the generous support of many individuals through their time, expertise, efforts and at times money that makes a big difference to people in need. Together with two other organisations VRFA and MCTMMT committed to taking forward the legacy of soldiers heroes Col Vasant Venugopal AC and Capt Tushar Mahajan SC, we have planned an advocacy initiative for a life of dignity for families of brave soldiers who have made the supreme sacrifice defending our country. Many volunteers are supporting our efforts to connect with families and gather information towards a national consultation on this issue. We thank each one of you for your untiring help.
As I look up from my writing, I see Akshay continuing to light our lives with his glowing smile and his ever-optimistic outlook. Like their grieving families, we too were heartbroken after so many of our soldiers were killed protecting our nation from terrorists in Kashmir and stopping the enemy along the LAC in Ladakh. Yet, while speaking with Handwara Yodha Major Anuj Sood’s sister Shruti, thoughts of Akshay and Anuj having a good time ‘up there’, together in the stars, makes us smile. While they were around on earth, posing as a ‘civilian in awe of army officers’, along with his friends Arjun and Shruti, Akshay had a whale of a time fooling newly commissioned officer, young Lt Anuj Sood! Shruti shared this photo from that day in 2010 where Akshay is posing ‘fan-like’ with Anuj’s identity card! It was only at the end of that fun evening that young Anuj got to know Akshay was his senior not only in NDA but also in the Army! Strange are these ‘connections’ and wonderful are such friendships. And yet, one can’t help feeling……. ‘If only Anuj and others hadn’t been called away……… if only Shruti and Akriti also did not have to live with the same sense of loss and pride that Neha and Sangeeta have to…….. if only his parents did not have to experience what we do….if only… But then as we all know, some things are beyond our control. And so, we take comfort in Akshay’s mantra of ‘always look for the silver lining behind every cloud…and remember that no matter how long, light exists at the end of every tunnel.’
This August, Naina wanted to see ‘the flag papa came in’ and then took it upon herself to ‘clean papa’s things’. One day she decided to proudly paint her ‘first portrait of papa’ and did a great job! Our littlest one continues spreading joy and cheer. In little over a month now, she will turn 7. In a month after that, it will be four years since Akshay left. Funnily though, he has not left me even for a moment and I know he will continue to be our guiding light. That is reason enough to be filled with gratitude and to strive to try and make a difference.
We wish each one of you a happy Navratri, Deepavali and Christmas in the months ahead. And most of all, may each of us remember to hold our hands over our hearts and pray for our soldiers on the borders. I end with sharing this poem ‘Marigold’ by War Hero and disabled soldier Maj Gen Ian Cardozo AVSM SM. He wears the orange paper marigold as India’s Flower of Remembrance in memory of all our soldier martyrs at every important event. May we also be inspired by his thoughts to honour our bravehearts and wear the marigold with pride.
Thank you for continuing to be part of our journey. Your support means more than we can say and as always, we look forward to your thoughts and ideas on our way forward. Many of your valuable suggestions have helped us make a difference so please keep them coming.
May you all stay safe & healthy and may the pandemic and the war clouds miraculously disappear.
Best wishes and Warm regards to each one of you,
Jai Hind Ki Sena. Jai Hind