'We Just Followed Orders': Disabled Army Veterans Fight For Rights


War veteran Colonel Anil Kaul has written several letters to the army headquarters

New Delhi:  Colonel Anil Kaul, 66, has written several letters to the army headquarters, but says he is still to receive a satisfactory response. He is a war veteran, who lost his right eye and left hand while saving 250 soldiers in a rescue mission in Sri Lanka's Jaffna in 1987. He got a Vir Chakra for his bravery, but says that the institutional support needed for him to get back on field was missing. He had served the army for 32 years, but his career took a sharp turn post his injury.

"We got disabled while following government orders. It was not due to a road accident," says Colonel Kaul. "I was retained in service. First thing that comes to mind is how to use a weapon. How do I use it? I don't have a right eye. I had to re-learn. Was there any organizational support? No. Only friends helped informally," he adds.

Disabled veterans are speaking out now, as there was a proposal floated recently to shut down the sole official care centre in Dehradun, meant to take care of visually impaired veterans. Though the Defence Ministry clarified that there will be no such drastic measure, it has raised concerns among those already fighting for the cause.

62-year-old Major General SK Razdan was a paratrooper who had joined the army in 1977. He helped modify aircrafts for combat which were utilized in Operation Pavan against Sri Lanka, and also wrote on the concept of operational wellness for special forces. He was awarded a Kirti Chakra for Vayusena. In 1994, during an operation to save 14 civilians in Kashmir, he got shot through the spine, and was paralysed waist down.

He was medically treated and joined back at the army headquarter in one year, but says even existing facilities like the army hospitals are not equipped enough to deal with disabled armymen.

"Even if you go to the army hospital and ask them to show you how many toilets they have for physically disabled, I wonder whether they will be able to show you. I was at the base hospital last year, with some fever like symptoms. But there was no single toilet there for people on wheelchairs, and I got bed sores as a gift from that hospital," shares Major General Razdan.

Compensation for disabled veterans is also a problem.

"A person whose world is shattered with a battle injury, is suddenly in a different frame of mind. At that point if someone comes and tells him to take lump sum compensation, the person sees that as a ray of light in a dark tunnel. But actually it is hara-kiri. At whichever rank he was on the date of being injured, the pay he gets that day, is what the compensation is based on. I was Lieutenant Colonel at the time I got injured, they calculated as per my age and decided that I can only serve nine years. But I served longer and rose to higher level. But they paid me Rs 2 lakhs 81,000 and said good night," says Major General Razdan.

NDTV reached out to the army headquarters for official figures on disabled veterans and the support provided to them. But there has been no response so far.

Unofficial reports from NGOs working with disabled veterans suggest there are 2,000 army personnel with disabilities who are currently serving the armed forces.

Colonel Pradeep Kapoor runs one such independent NGO, Volunteers for the Blind Foundation. He says, "There are 59,000 disabled veterans, and only two NGOs looking after them, with a full capacity of 4,000. And recently the army headquarters has a proposal to trim the funding of one such NGO, which takes away from the limited support bases provided to such veterans. A Naik who has been working for ten years let's say with organisational support, suddenly all the support is taken away from him, how will he feel? And world over, there is a move to treat the differently abled by giving them rights, not a welfare scheme. That is how the government must respond."

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