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Sunday, May 8, 2016

My oped for 'The Quint': India, we are fighting our own disabled soldiers...

Here is my recent opinion piece for The Quint:

India, we are fighting our own disabled soldiers

Navdeep Singh

Most nations recognize the inherent stress and strain of military service and its detrimental effect on the health and daily lives of soldiers. India does too, but only in theory, not in practice. Lip service galore, zilch on-ground support.

Not many must be aware, contrary to popular perception, the life expectancy of soldiers is lower than their civilian counterparts. The reason is not far to seek. Living in a regimented lifestyle, most of the year away from their families and at times under the shadow of the gun, 24 hours covered with a tough disciplinary law, soldiers face unique stressful conditions which result in aggravating and accentuating even regular diseases and ailments. It doesn’t take much enlightenment to understand that soldiers face higher stress levels than ordinary citizens living with their families since the former are away from commune living and hence cannot adequately cope up with domestic commitments and stressors, but in a strange and ironic kind of incorrigibility, it is the defence establishment itself which is not ready to accept this proposition which is not rocket science but common sense.

Medical specialists all over the world recognize higher stress and strain in uniformed forces. All democracies endorse this. Disability Rules in India also state the same. The Prime Minister thinks on the same lines too. The Defence Minister also feels so. The apex military medical body also speaks the same. The Courts, including the Supreme Court, have directed thus. But still many of our disabled soldiers are released from service and sometimes even thrown out of service on medical grounds, without pension or disability pension, thereby denying them a life of basic dignity, on the pretext that their disabilities were declared ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service’ by military medical boards- a blatant disregard of practical realities to say the least.

And when such soldiers fight long legal battles for their dues, the official establishment is quick to file appeals till the Supreme Court in order to deny these soldiers and their families a few thousand, and at times a few hundred, rupees. The officialdom is comfortable wasting money and resources on expensive lawyers and litigation but not with releasing lesser amounts to those who have served us.

Nothing could be more shameful for us as a nation.

Our rules, paradoxically, are liberal and sensitive. The rules provide that in case a soldier is recruited in a fit medical condition, then any disability arising during service, except when caused due to his/her own illegality such as substance abuse, is deemed as having been affected by service conditions. This presumption is not unique to India but is followed in almost all democracies since the harmful effects of insidious and invisible pressures of military life are known to manifest themselves negatively on the health of soldiers. Still, benefits are refused on unforgivable excuses such as ‘disability was incurred in a peace area’ or ‘disability was due to domestic stressors’ without realizing that the inability to attend to personal and familial requirements has a direct linkage with the military since it is due to service in the defence services that a person is not there all the time to take care of his/her domestic needs, a fact even recognized by successive Defence Ministers who themselves have underlined the rise in stress levels due to this very reason. Also, for soldiers living in barracks who need permission even to go to the washroom and are required to sign registers and take an out-pass for a visit to buy a toothbrush from the market and are denied basic needs such as physical proximity, emotional warmth or even sexual fulfillment for months together, it hardly matters whether they are serving in a ‘peace’ area or ‘field’ area, and to top it all, the rules anyway progressively provide that service in ‘peace’ or ‘field’ makes no difference for disability benefits..

The Supreme Court, in a series of decisions, has directed the Ministry of Defence to grant benefits to disabled soldiers. A Committee of Experts constituted by the Defence Minister to look into rising litigation against soldiers, of which incidentally I was a Member, had also recommended the withdrawal of such litigation and appeals by the Ministry of Defence against its own soldiers. As explained above, the Medical Services Advisory Committee, which is the apex medical body of the military, has also supported the grant of such benefits. The rules too are favourable. The Defence Minister himself has shown resolve to alleviate the problems of such disabled soldiers. Despite all this, recently, elements in the Ministry of Defence had asked the Army Headquarters to file appeals in the Supreme Court against Tribunal and Court orders wherein disability pension had been granted to disabled soldiers, and the Army Headquarters, it seems, readily complied.

Having worked for disabled soldiers for close to two decades now, what pains me greatly in writing this is the fact that while all stakeholders, including the political executive, are on board and there are all encompassing directions of the highest Court of the land, still the system is held hostage to contemptuous file notings of lower level officials purportedly based on some legal advice egging on the establishment to file appeals against verdicts rendered in favour of disabled soldiers, and the Headquarters of the Defence Services are also meekly accepting this bloodbath without taking a strong stand on file by pointing out this malaise to the powers that be.

In the ultimate analysis, it seems that it is not the directions of the Apex Court or the will of the political executive that would be allowed to prevail in our homeland, but the sadistic urge of a few stray voices that are holding the morale of our nation to ransom. The Courts are clogged with mundane disputes and unwanted litigation thereby burdening the judiciary to unprecedented levels, and here we are, in this great nation of ours, wasting taxpayers’ money in fighting cases against our own disabled soldiers, the ones who silently sacrificed their health to protect us.

Shame on all of us.


Manohar AM said...

Why our political leadership is blind to this barbaric attitude of the beaurocracy? With a single directive all these frivolous attitude can be corrected by the PMO.

Col Avtar said...

Dear Major Navdeep,
I m indeed very grateful and thankful to u for highlighting the sufferings or the injustice to our esteemed soldiers in uniform or retired.
I do not know, yet I recommend that we, on voluntarily basis,create a fund to cater for expensive court cases to help our financially weak comrades. I cannot suggest the management of such a fund.
Such actions by us, as per my personal wisdom, r for better than donations at a place of religon.
col Avtar,Patiala

Manohar AM said...

Being on the periphery is dangerous. The loner on the edge of the group is far more susceptible to predators than someone who is safely surrounded and valued by others. Our bureaucrats in the ministry of defence and the finance feel that they got the superior powers over the soldiers and stay in the periphery and that makes way to injustice.
Serotonin and oxytocin are the “selfless” chemicals. Serotonin is the molecular manifestation of the feeling of pride—we get it when we perceive others like or respect us. On a deep level, we need to feel that we and our work are valued by others, particularly those in our group. This compound reinforces the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, coach and player, boss and employee, leader and follower. At the same time, oxytocin is working to promote empathy and trust, allowing those bonds to deepen—unlike the instant-gratification rush delivered by dopamine, oxytocin has long-term effects that become amplified the more we bond with someone. As we learn to trust them and earn their trust in return, the more the oxytocin flows. This is the chemical manifestation of love. “It’s responsible for all the warm and fuzzies. When we’re in the company of friends, family members and close colleagues, a flush of oxytocin propels acts of generosity that strengthen the connections.
The bureaucrats lack these two chemicals, Serotonin and oxytocin, thus they feel that they are the bosses to the soldiers in field and lack empathy and trust with them. A bond must be created by the authorities between the bureaucrats and the uniformed in the ministry of defence. Then only we can get together in harmonious service of the nation. As an organisation both are inseparable in the present setup in our government. Will somebody look deeper in this aspect, in this angle to solve the problem of empathy?

Alok Asthana said...

Very well put. Our soldiers, disabled and also the able ones, are always bearing the brunt of the system. To some extent, I disagree that the political executive is sympathetic but it is some sadistic guys who get to trouble soldiers. In India, no government officer will EVER go against his senior, nor can he. If they do, I must blame the seniors for looking the other way. But who is the tormentor is not really the point. Since the Indian people do not feel angry when their soldiers are being thrashed around, it doesn't matter who pulls the trigger. In the end, you are again right - Shame on all of us.

Anurag said...


Your article is a just reflection of the anguish not just within you but also within so many of us who are serving the nation selflessly. A salute to you for carrying the fight forward.

sundeep said...

Disability Pension should be permitted for personnel going on Premature retirement also. At present Disability Pension is applicable only to soldiers proceeding on superannuation.

Anonymous said...

Shame on us!!!
I am in total agreement with you Sir.

Abe said...

Dear Maj Navdeep,
Is the disability pension applicable for officers who took PMR as there was no promotional prospects being placed in low medical category few months after return from a full tenure in LEH. The medical board placed me in permanant medical category making me unfit for any command.

I would very much appreciate your help in this matter.

Lt col Abraham

Praveen Singh said...

Respected Sir.

I read the above blogs. It is great feeling that there are some good seniors in the uniform community who after their retirement still thinking about the well being of their sub-ordinate fraternity. I feel a great proud to salute them.

Jai Hind.

Praveen Singh,(Ex L/Nk)

Ritu Singh said...

Sir..This article proved useful as I am jrf qualified and dependant( daughter of late army officer) so quite interested in pursuing research taking defence as context like social inclusion and in particular the state of disabled veterans as our country what I feel doesn't offer many programmes for these veterans as other nations do, sir can you please throw light on other concerns; as few defence personnels I came across they say that Army offers many benefits and yes disabled veterans do get retained,is it true that means no research is required,sir please guide me as I need to prepare proposal, I mean as sustainable development goals focus on inclusion as over arching scheme,so I thought why not we do research in domain of disabled veterans and talk about their inclusion in mainstream instead of expelling out from the system as pension and monetary benefit is the only way to help; what I believe is the move from welfare based approach to right based.I would be grateful Navdeep sir if you guide my path.-Ritu

yes said...

Dear Navdeep,

Your relentless efforts with top class legal acumen and irrefutable logic has and is making a difference to mindsets across the spectrum. Bureaucracy however seems determined to thwart it. The most recent example is the case of broad-banding made admissible of all superannuated with aggravated/ attributable disability by the Hon'ble Supreme court in its dt 10-12-2014. DESW however has perverted it to apply the same only to those who have got verdicts from the court and not to all. I wonder if it attracts contempt of the court?