Vrinda Sharma

“Merit of sacrifice cannot be done away with by quoting a date”

CHANDIGARH: “If a soldier dies in action a minute past midnight of January 1, 1999, his family is entitled to various monetary benefits and government jobs. But if another soldier in the same operation sacrifices his life a minute before midnight, there is nothing for him,” says the son of a colonel who died during Operation Rakshak in 1995.

Punjab’s policy of “honour and gratitude”, formulated to offer monetary support to the kin of martyrs, defines a “war hero” as a soldier killed or disabled in action post-January 1, 1999, and extends benefits to the families of only such soldiers. The soldiers who died during Operation Rakshak before the cut-off time set by the policy are referred to as “soldier killed in action”.

“The date of sacrifice can’t define whether a soldier is a war hero or not. The merit of the sacrifice cannot be done away with by quoting a date,” protests the kin of a “soldier killed in action”.

According to the Punjab Sainik Welfare Board, there are more than 1,500 soldiers from the State who have died in action before 1999.

Sainik Welfare Board Director Brigadier I.S. Gakhal says, “The Government had to draw a line somewhere. If we try to trace sacrifices made by Punjabi soldiers then we will have to go right up to World War I and World War II. How far back can we go?”

Known as “the sword arm of Indian Army”, Punjab has seen a decrease in recruitments to the force in recent years. While the Sainik Board attributes this to consumerism and lust for the private sector, families of the martyrs waiting for recognition blame it on the discouraging government policies. Brig. Gakhal adds that all those who sacrificed their lives for the country at any time are by no means lesser martyrs and no less worthy of respect.