Honorary Captain Karam Singh's family is upset that efforts of three generations have failed to stir the authorities to grant them their dues

To protest continued apathy by the Union as well as the Punjab government, the family of the recipient of the second Param Vir Chakra (PVC) Honorary Captain Karam Singh, has decided to organise a public auction of his medal. The family is upset that efforts of three generations have failed to stir the authorities to grant them their dues.

Then a Lance Naik with the 1st Sikh regiment, Karam Singh was the first living soldier to be decorated with the country's highest wartime award for his heroic deeds in the Tithwal sector of Jammu and Kashmir during the 1948 conflict with Pakistan. Capt Karam Singh braved the enemy despite receiving 16 bullet injuries. Previously, he received military medal for bravery during the World War II in the Burma sector as a soldier in the British army. He was among the five soldiers selected by the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to hoist the Indian National Flag for the first time after Independence in 1947.

Talking to The Hindu, the hero's 21 year-old-grandson, Satnam Singh, narrates how the family was ignored by different governments while granting benefits to war decorated soldiers. While the Union government did not find the family eligible for allotting a gas agency, the State government has not considered them for reservation in any job.

"The reason they offer is both ridiculous and disheartening. The Union Defence Minister, Army Headquarters, Punjab Chief Minister's office and Sainik Welfare Board argue that our family was not eligible to any benefit as my grandfather was alive when he received the PVC. All benefits were given only to those who received the decoration posthumously," he says displaying the large bunch of papers, which are copies of "futile" communications the family has made with various authorities.

The matter was taken up in 2007, when General J.J. Singh was Chief of Army Staff, while Satnam Singh has again written to the present Army Chief, General Bikram Singh in July 2013. "But the army headquarters has not bothered to respond," Satnam Singh says that he has submitted his requests for justice at least four times to the Punjab Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal.

During his previous tenure, the family had represented their case before Mr Badal at a Sangat Darshan programme in Barnala town. "Though they all agree that our family deserves to be recognised on account of my grandfather's achievement, yet nothing moves. I have been made to shuttle between the Chief Minister's Office and Sainik Welfare Board as officers efficiently pass the buck," he says.

Before his death on January 20, 1993, Capt Karam Singh and later his wife Gurdial Kaur, who also died in 2010, pursued the matter of allotting a gas agency to the family, a benefit which was extended to those who had received Maha Vir Chakra. Subsequently their two sons Paramjeet Singh and Harjeet Singh, who made a living through farming on the family's ancestral land in Mallhian village of Barnala district ran from pillar to post. Both brothers are in frail health and now restricted to their homes. For the last three years, Satnam Singh, the second son of Harjeet Singh, has taken up the issue.

Referring to records, Satnam Singh says till date, 21 PVCs have been awarded, of which 14 were posthumous. Of these four PVCs were awarded to soldiers from Punjab. Except for the family of Capt Karam Singh, the remaining awardees who include Capt G.S. Salaria, Subdedar Joginder Singh and Flying Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon do not have living heirs.

In another case, the Punjab government had offered Rs 25 lakh, a monthly pension of Rs 1500 and 25 acres of land to Capt Bana Singh, who was also a living recipient of the PVC for his heroic deeds in the 1987 Saichen glacier operation. However, he refused to accept the largesse from the Punjab government as he could not change his state of domicile. "Why and how they can forget our family?" asks Satnam Singh, who wants a job for his elder brother Pardeep Singh.

Though the Punjab government has reservation for ex-servicemen, Satnam Singh points out that there is no preference to the decorated heroes. However, the same government rolls out benefits to sportspersons who win medals in international tournaments, even though there is a sportspersons' quota in some recruitments. "But here we are talking about PVC, the country's highest wartime decoration," he says.

Satnam Singh also points out that the family of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who was killed in a Pakistani prison last year, received Rs one crore from the Punjab government, Rs 25 lakh from the Government of India, jobs for both his daughters, and a gas agency. "Can anyone explain that how was my grandfather's sacrifice or contribution less in any manner?" he asks.

Satnam Singh recalls that after a three day protest by Rasoolan Bibi, whose husband received the PVC posthumously for destroying enemy tanks in the Khem Karan sector in the 1965 war with Pakistan, even the Uttar Pradesh government presented her family with Rs five lakh and gave a job to her grandson.

The caption for the archival photograph accompanying this report has been corrected for a factual error.