Parameshwaran wrongly mentioned as Maha Vir Chakra awardee at IPKF memorial

As a reporter in Chennai, I was regularly sent to cover passing-out parades at the Officers Training Academy in the city.

The ceremony takes place on the Major Parameshwaran grounds at the OTA. When a cadet steps on a rectangular stone with the words antim kadam (final step) engraved on it, he or she steps out of the parade ground, and an officer is born.

So it was natural for me to look up the Param Vir Chakra awardee at the IPKF memorial in the Sri Lankan capital. Major Parameshwaran died a hero’s death on November 25, 1987, fighting the Tamil Tigers in north Sri Lanka.

The memorial was inaugurated in 2008 to honour the sacrifices of Indian soldiers and officers during the peacekeeping mission in the late 1980s. I had been to the place several times in the past, but those occasions had gone by in a blur of covering Indian VIPs stopping there to pay tributes on their official visits to this country.

On Wednesday, I visited the place again on the occasion of Independence Day. Undistracted, I looked over the black marble. His name was there, inscribed along with the names of all the other soldiers and officers who laid down their lives. But not in the way I had expected.

The inscription read: “IC 32907F MAJ. P.RAMASWAMY M.Vr.C 25 NOV 1987 8 MAHAR.”

M.Vr.C stands for Maha Vir Chakra, India’s second highest military decoration.

No one seemed to have noticed the mistake before. As I stood there, it crossed my mind that there was no guarantee that the names and honours of the other 1200 soldiers inscribed on the stone were all correct.

Since Independence, only 21 Indians have had the honour of having P.Vr.C suffixed to their names. Parameshwaran was the only IPKF solider who was given that honour. He is also the lone Mahar Regiment soldier to be conferred the P.Vr.C, the highest military decoration of India. That must mean a lot to a regiment active since 1941.

The memorial was built by the Sri Lankan Navy. The names were inscribed from a list provided by India’s Ministry of Defence. Though Sri Lanka had floated the idea of a war memorial in the 1990s, it took more than a decade for it to become a reality, in 2008.

It would be another two years before the memorial saw a ceremony to honour the soldiers. No representative of the Sri Lankan government participated in the function on August 15, 2010, which was led by Indian High Commissioner Ashok Kantha.

On September 5, 2010, General V.K. Singh, Indian Army chief of the time, visited the memorial. Even Gen. Singh, who had served in the IPKF, did not notice the error.

Two other services chiefs also visited the memorial, apart from some top-ranking military officers from India. The former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj too have paid tributes at the memorial.