A former JAG officer writes to Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, asking him to ensure 'Indian Military Veterans like me command respect and dignity in my own country too, just as we do, ironically, in other democracies'.
Dear Shri Manohar Parrikar,
I write to you today after attending Veterans Day celebrations in Washington DC on November 11, 2014, as a former Indian Army Veteran. I would rather prefer calling ex-servicemen as ‘Veterans’ without giving them a feeling of gender bias or being left out as the term ‘ex’ conveys.
Having served the Indian Army, given my youth to the nation and being a third-generation Army officer I am proud to say that the qualities of ‘guts and glory’ run in my blood.
With this open letter, I intend highlighting the fact as to how Veterans are respected and revered in the United States of America, which I never witnessed back home in my own country. This, I say with conviction after having a first-hand experience at various events, which reflect the honor meted out to the Veterans of the Armed Forces. The country and its citizens do not give any differential treatment to non-US Veterans like me. Rather the kind of attention and respect I have received here as a Veteran is applaudable.
The Veterans Day Celebrations made me feel how American citizens (including civilians) were proud of their soldiers who defend their borders. Each person who knew that I had served my nation came to appreciate my role and hugged me. I wonder why our Indian civilian population would not pay attention to the soldiers who have sacrificed their youth for India. The root cause for all this is that we do not glorify the important role of our Armed Forces in the World Wars and respective wars in the annals of history in the curriculum taught at school level.
Are our men and women in uniform only to be remembered for a short attention span? They are called only on occasions such as Republic Day and when in dire straits especially during natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquake for relief work. Not to mention the ‘aid to civil authority’ in times of domestic turmoil just because the local police and administrative authorities (the so called babus) could not handle the situation.
I would like to emphasize that USA has special programs and scholarships (yellow ribbon program) to encourage veterans to continue their higher studies. Please note that this scheme is alike for officers and troops. One such example is yours truly.
I am presently pursuing my Masters of Laws in a top ranking US Law School and the University has awarded me at par scholarship as a foreign veteran. There are various networking events and recruiting workshops that are conducted only for the veterans.
The US Veterans face the same myths of ‘irrelevant experience’ and ‘rigidity in thought and action’ while moving to the civilian world however the US government and its policies make the transition simpler. The US Department of Veterans Affairs and other authorities as well as universities make the Veterans’ ride smooth to move from the battlefield to the boardroom. US Companies receive tax benefits on hiring Veterans. It is pertinent to mention that US troops (not just officers) have been making a mark in the corporate arena by displaying their leadership qualities.
My concern at this point in time is that why our Armed Forces personnel are not glorified for their heroic acts. Our soldiers have been fighting in the toughest terrains possible in this world.
Why are the Veterans treated like a ‘burden’ by the serving officers and the Ministry of Defense? Why does a Veteran have to struggle to get his paltry sum of disability pension by resorting to long drawn and expensive litigation doing rounds of Armed Forces Tribunal and higher Courts? Why are the majority of appeals filed by the Ministry of Defense in the Supreme Court against their own disabled soldiers and old pensioners? Why are you- the decision makers, shielded and insulated from the real problems suffered by the veteran stakeholders and made to sign on the dotted line wherever the military or civilian bureaucracy wants resulting in unilateral decisions which are forcibly imposed?
Why do you not directly get to hear the authentic voice of the Veterans and the problems that they are facing? Why is the status of military personnel on a constant decline in the official pecking order? Why are there not enough continuing legal programs for our soldiers except the antiquated vocational courses of Director General of Resettlement? Why is the Kendriya Sainik Board not being pro-active on policies on Veterans? Is showing an agenda on paper enough?
I say this not as a disgruntled Veteran but as a responsible former officer of Judge Advocate General’s Department who has served in the Integrated Headquarters of Ministry of Defense and worked with these institutions closely.
May I also remind you that your party in its manifesto had promised minimizing appeals against soldiers with respect to the rulings rendered in their favor by judicial bodies, an issue which was also strongly raised by Ms Smriti Irani when she was in opposition, however sadly nothing seems to have moved in that direction, there being not even an iota of change in the attitude of the Ministry in the said regard.
I request you, as the new Defense Minister, to implement progressive policies for all Armed Forces personnel (not just officers but also the troops) and Veterans of the three Forces.
As for the Indian citizens to look up in awe towards the Indian soldier and appreciate the role of Armed Forces at all times, this change in attitude and thought has to be instilled in the minds of the younger generation by highlighting the glory of the Forces. This is also the reason for the low rate of selections in the Armed Forces in the past few years at the Commissioned Officer level.
My country has the third largest Army and an equally capable Air Force and Navy, that craves for attention and respect for the valor it has shown over the ages.
It is for you to take a call on this Raksha Mantri Ji, it is for you to ensure that Indian Military Veterans like me command respect and dignity in my own country too, just as we do, ironically, in other democracies.
Loveleen Kaur Mann Former Captain, Judge Advocate General’s Department Indian Army