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Injured veterans find a new lease of life

Bravehearts: Inmates at the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre in Mohali.

Bravehearts: Inmates at the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre in Mohali.  

Rehab centre makes them self-reliant but lack of employment worries them

Dribbling the ball through the basketball court on his wheelchair at the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre here, 39-year-old Ajit Kumar Shukla refuses to let his physical disability dampen his enthusiasm for life.

Ex-Gunner with 104 Army Air Defence of the Indian Army, both of Mr. Shukla’s lower limbs were paralysed (paraplegic) after being shot in the chest and abdomen during a counterterrorist attack at Doongi in Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir in 2005, where he was posted on deputation with 58 Rashtriya Rifles.

After being boarded out on medical grounds in 2006, Mr. Shukla got admitted at the PRC in Mohali, which provides post-operative care and rehabilitation to soldiers who are wounded in military or insurgency operations. PRC aims to rehabilitate quadriplegic and paraplegic ex-servicemen by making them self-reliant.

Mr. Shukla, who was part of India’s national wheelchair basketball team that won the bronze medal in the wheelchair basketball tournament held in Lebanon in 2018 – has got a new lease of life at the PRC, but it’s the time ahead that keeps worrying him.

“At the prime of my youth I suffered injuries that changed my life overnight. I was down and out and depressed when I was told that my paraplegic condition could be for life. I was under depression when I first came to PRC. Today, with the help of physiotherapy, sports and meditation I am back to a purposeful life. I am lucky that I am here at PRC but there are many soldiers who do not know about this centre and continue to struggle with their impairment,” says Mr. Shukla.

Staying at a family quarters at the PRC with his wife Niharika and three-year old twins, Mr. Shukla, whose only source of income is his pension, strongly feels that after a soldier recovers from injury there should be a provision of employment for them.

“I have spent about 12 years at the centre here and have become self-reliant to quite an extent. What worries me is that whenever I am discharged from the PRC, how will I sustain myself and my family. I feel if people like me are absorbed in the Army to complete their service in a role where they are fit to perform or otherwise provided employment in government or private sector, it would immensely help,” says Mr. Shukla, who hails from Arrah town in Bihar.

Naik (retd) Balbir Singh of 14 Garhwal Rifles, who turned paraplegic after getting injured in an ID blast in Ladkipura in Anantnag of J&K in 2000, says, “All these years have been difficult for me and my family. My two sons are now grown up. If I am discharged from here I believe they will take care of me. I feel the government of my home State should give a job to one of the family members.” Balbir Singh (53) is from Uttarakhand.

Now PRC has 31 ex-servicemen on the campus from across the country. They had sustained battle or sport injuries. Eight of them are singles and the rest stay with families.

Col. (retd.) G.S. Chadda, director of the institute, says, “We try to make these soldiers self-reliant so that they can take care of themselves. We give them vocational training so that after leaving the institute they can earn their livelihood. We need to understand that they have to bear the expenses of their wheel chairs, which have a life of around 6-7 years. At their home they need assistive technology devices for use in their daily routine. They need a customised economically designed house where they can have access to their belongings etc. For all this one needs financial independence.”

Col. Chadda points out that for making these soldiers self-reliant after recovery, it’s important that they are employed. “I am approaching private companies and other agencies, who can professionally train them in different streams – such as mobile phone repair, call centre etc and later give them jobs. This will be the best gift to out soldiers,” he adds.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 11:38:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/injured-veterans-find-a-new-lease-of-life/article26561793.ece

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