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Monday, July 19, 2010

The curious case of Surjit Kaur

Strange are our ways.

When Surjit Kaur’s husband, late Sepoy Sital Singh of the Punjab Regiment, died in World War II in Waziristan, nobody could have fathomed the ordeal his widow would have to face 70 years down time.

Sital, a member of the 5th Bn of 8 Punjab Regiment, was stationed in HQ Waziristan of the British Indian Army where he died in the year 1940 in action. His now 90 years old widow, Surjit Kaur, was granted family pension under the Indian Pension Regulations by the Controller of Military Accounts, Lahore (later adopted by PCDA (P) Allahabad). In the 2000s, somebody advised her to check her entitlement since she was in receipt of ordinary family pension rather than any other enhanced pension that is granted to widows of battle casualties. When she took up the case with the District Pension Disbursing Officer, her existing pension was discontinued on the ground that she was not the widow of a soldier of the British Indian Army - that her husband was an employee of the Burmese Army & the Burmese Govt. From that day onwards, the DPDO started releasing her an ‘ex gratia allowance’ that is granted to Burmese Govt Pensioners of Indian origin who shifted to India after Burma gained independence in 1948 (Actually Burmese Govt releases pension to its employees settled in India and the balance between the Burmese pension and the minimum applicable pension in India is paid by the Indian Govt and the total amount is known as ‘Ex- Gratia Allowance’). The reason for reaching such a conclusion was that the old documents that she possessed somewhere said that her late husband was serving in the 5th Bn (Burma) / 8 PUNJAB, now who would tell them that the 5th Bn was colloquially and informally referred to as 5th Bn (Burma) since the 93rd Burmese Infantry had merged into the 5th Bn in 1922, and even the 93rd Burma Infantry was a part of the British Indian Army comprising Indian soldiers. In any case, how could a Battalion of the Punjab Regt be a part of the Burmese Army was anybody’s guess ! And how could the deceased soldier be an employee of the Burmese Govt when he died in 1940, 8 years before Burma became independent ! The Records Office of the Punjab Regt had transferred the records of 5 / 8 PUNJAB to the Rajput Regiment which supported the claim of the widow but her requests for re-commencement of the correct type of family pension still fell on deaf ears since the DPDO and the PCDA now claimed that because her husband died in Waziristan in Burma (Yes, this is what was claimed), she was entitled to ex-gratia allowance as is granted to families of Burmese govt employees.

But what happened thereafter was truly amazing. When the widow approached the Armed Forces Tribunal with her predicament, the same Records Office of the Rajput Regiment which had been supporting her earlier, this time went for a somersault and started parroting the PCDA(P) line that her husband was killed in action in ‘Waziristan’ in Burma (this the Records office said on oath) and hence was a soldier of the Burmese Army. Recently, the AFT finally brushed aside this dim-witted claim and granted her pension of the applicable type due towards her by honourably treating her a widow of a British Indian Army soldier.

Why I am putting this story down is that it pains me when I keep hearing rants about the bureaucracy or babudom when our own are no better. In this case, just to support the dumb claims of some bored accountants, the Records Office of Rajput Regiment was cruel enough to state on affidavit that a KIA soldier of the Punjab Regiment was an employee of the Burmese Govt and that he had died in Waziristan in Burma. Not just that this lie was totally unethical and unwarranted and a slur on her late husband’s sacrifice but it was also against history and geography of the Indian sub-continent. Waziristan is in modern day Pakistan, not in Burma. She was issued a PPO by the PCDA(P) and not by the Burmese Accountant General. Burma attained independence in 1948 while the soldier died in 1940 and hence had no occasion of being employed by the Burmese Govt and probably the officer who signed the affidavit on oath did not realise that even a person with half a brain could say that ‘Punjab’ Regiment could not be a Regiment of post-independence Burmese Army.

Let us control our own untamed bulls before we point fingers at others. The AFT came to the rescue of this 90 year old lady, others may not be so lucky.


Col NR Kurup (Retd) said...

Just inquisitive. Did the authorities punished the Records Officer who has sworn a false affidavit ?

Anonymous said...

Disgusting. The Records Officer who can lie on oath, in so blatant a manner (EVERYONE in the army should know where Waziristan is!), should be court martialled! Lying under oath is an offence!

Anurag said...

This story should make it to the front page of national newspapers. Incompetency of such proportions is totally unacceptable whether it be the uniformed service or the bureaucracy.

Vasu said...

I think we all are missing the point by condemning the concerned officer.
The truth is that we as armed forces community are very indifferent to our own brethren unless they happen to be from selective coteries (like sqns, regts, courses .....).May be this is a byproduct of our beg, borrow, steal (from whom? a brother officer??) culture which inculcates that look after your own interest even at the expense of our mates. High time we started showing a little more concern for all uniformed pers and their families and not treat them as some hindrance to our work.

faujipsychiatrist said...

No wonder military intelligence, like happily married, is an oxymoron!!!

Anonymous said...

I do not want to be personal .


The best officers are utilised to manage the records of officers.

Are we doing the same for our jawans?

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep,

Your piece desrves to be Framed and kept in evry office corridors as the "Biggest Ever Howler".

Though they do not have the right to say yes, right to say "No" in the form of querries, objections, notes, causing delays delays, rejection for lack of formats, spellings etc is fully exercised by Babudom in India. Maximising benefits for English Masters and denail of benefits to the Indian subject is their fundmental ethos. Nothing has changed due to Independence. This the basic character of bureacracy in Civil or Army, from bottom to top. They genuinely think that to be their job. If an official is not able to find "why a thing can not be done" or "why it should not be done" then he is not considred as master of the subject.

I really fail to understand what can be done to this Babudom who have taken India for a ransom. People are trying hard with automation and what not but the Babudom has to be broken if the country wants to usher into 21st century. This is a colonial yoke which modern administrators can ill afford to keep.


I do not fully agree with you. In the Armed Forces, people actually never cared for all these as there were others appointed to care for each and every aspect of soldiers life. You name a thing and there are people appointed for it. Barracks, light, water, accounts, medical, Education, welfare, supply chain... you name it and there are thousands employed in the name of soldiers. "Soldiers" as the saying goes "was expected to take care of his knees and keep attention on the barrel of his gun". That is all. Today he is forces to cry for every thing.

The problems is that those thousands, like MES or CDA etc have turned exploiters and obstacles. It is due to this realisation that apparent discontentment has set amonst the uniformed men and officers.

Hence, your suggestion that we must look after ourselves now is very welcome.

ranjit kadam said...

Unless these people are shamed in public the episode will happen with another Surjit Kaur.

ninihala said...

This entire episode is shameful. However, let's nt be harsh on that Record Officer who signed the affidavit. We all know that he must have been tutored by, among others, some offr of the JAG Dept. It certainly was not his own creation. Whosoever provided law advise in this issue must be taken to task.

Anonymous said...

How can the story be complete without punishing the guilty babus who passed wrong directives. Criminal proccedeings should be initiated against such persons irrespective of the fact that they are dead or alive

Anonymous said...

we r no less than our civil counterparts ..nevertheless we need to take lessons and improve ourselfs.the inhumane approach by our records need to be curbed

Rajababu said...

Sic,Sic and nothing more.

Anu said...

When the Keeper of our Records has not learnt History, Geography, English Language and the joys of general reading at school and has not been taught common human decency and compassion at home, the end result is a product that produces results that reek of ignorance, the odour of perjury and the stink of insolence & arrogance. I sincerely hope that Mrs Surjit Kaur finds the fortitude and reserve to pardon such men or they may find no forgiveness on this earth or the next.

Anonymous said...

why doesn't somebody get details of the defaulters both in PCDA and army through RTI and shame them in public?

Satish Raj said...

Apropos the comment by Anonymous about best offrs to manage offrs records. In British time most of the offrs posted at records used to be Battle Cas/LMC regular offrs of the same regt. So they had some affiliation, empathy etc. Sorry to be harsh but we seem to manage these sensitive posts with glorified clerks. why have a seperate offr cadre when we have a surefit of BCs/ LMC REGULAR OFFRS of every arm with more to come post deployment in Naxal Belt.High time someone gave it a thought.

SC Batra said...

I had read in emails about US citizens not knowing beyond the limits of their city but Calling Waziristan as part of Burma takes the cake.
This case should be case study by students of INSTITUTE OF DEFENCE MANAGEMENT, SECUNDERABAD.

All I can say is still Mera Bharat Mahan.