It is that time of the year when we commemorate our victory at Kargil and remember the 527 bravehearts who laid down their lives to recapture our lands and keep the tricolour flying high.
At this juncture, I wish to put forth a point made by a few parents of the bravehearts. During a survey conducted by 3 NGOs run by NoK’s of bravehearts, a point was made by the families of husbands / sons who had laid down their lives, that they have nothing with them as an honour or pride for their acts of bravery& selfless sacrifice. To elaborate on this, we all know that there were more than 500 men who lost their lives in the Kargil conflict. We also know that many of these men were decorated with gallantry awards but one will be surprised to know that the number of awardees is much less as compared to those killed in action (less than 100 awardees v/s 527 KIA). So what do the rest of 400 odd families have to show as a mark of honour for the supreme sacrifice of their loved one? It goes without saying that each soldier who made the supreme sacrifice was equally brave and his contribution important in us recapturing our land? So how do some soldiers get decorated with a gallantry award whereas some get lost into oblivion?
Honour for every life lost
To put it right, my point here is not about questioning as to why some were not decorated with a gallantry award. Rather it is about having an award that honours the supreme sacrifice of every soldier irrespective of the circumstances in which he laid down his life; be it a Kargil conflict or during counter insurgency operations. Every life lost is worthy of an honour, the pain that the family goes through after their loved one’s sacrifice cannot be compensated for. But the least that can be done is to honour the sacrifice made, by conferring a Sarvoch Balidaan Padak. There could be many different criterion or rules to decorate a soldier with a gallantry award, but when a soldier dies of wounds ina war or battle; that should be enough for a Sarvoch Balidaan Padak.
If one were to look at the order of precedence of awards in India, we have an award known as ‘Parakram Padak’ which is India’s equivalent of Wound Medal awarded to soldiers. Parakram Padak is awarded to all personnel who sustained / sustain wounds as a result of direct enemy action in any type of counter insurgency operations since 15 Aug 1947.
With due respect to each and every soldier who has sustained injuries and continued to serve and been decorated with this medal, I submit a humble question for consideration by the concerned authorities. Here is someone who has been wounded and lives to get decorated with a Parakram Padak. But a brother soldier who gave his all and lost his life to those grievous wounds gets nothing in his honour. Doesn’t someone’s supreme sacrifice from the wounds sustained while fighting to defend his nation deserve a medal?!
How some other countries honour their bravehearts?
For a country that boasts of being the fourth most powerful military that has fought 5 wars since Independence and is continuously in a state of war with enemies in the neighbourhood, non-stop terrorism and infiltration bids, where lives are regularly lost in counter insurgency operations, it is surprising that the Armed Forces has not thought of such a medal yet. It is even more sad while other countries honour supreme sacrifice of every soldier with an award and medal given to their family, we have no answer to give to our braveheart families on why their loved one’s life sacrificed defending India is not worthy of a medal.
It may be noteworthy that United States honours those wounded or killed in Action with a Purple Heart Award. Likewise, Canada has a Sacrifice Medal for the wounded or those killed in Action. Even our neighbouring country Sri Lanka has an award called the Desh Putra Sammanaya (Son of the Nation award) which is a military decoration awarded to those wounded or Killed in Action.
A Uniform honour
Even as young soldiers are always called upon to risk their lives in counter-insurgency operations and there are regular fatal battle casualties, is it too much to ask for a Medal for Supreme Sacrifice? Can the Government of India and Armed Forces not come up with one such medal for ‘Sarvoch Balidan’? A soldier who has been wounded in a counter insurgency attack and is still serving, wears a Parakram Padak while the family of a soldier who made the supreme sacrifice in the same attack doesn’t have any medal to hold in his honour.
Of course, we have memorials and insome cases, statues and roads named after these bravehearts. But not every soldier has such statues or roads in their honour and the few who do; it is because of local sentiment and family efforts and not a national policy. Also, in the old age, the parents cannot travel to visit these memorials whereas a Medal in remembrance of their beloved son will always stay close to them.
To push the need of a Sacrifice Medal further, in the recent past we witnessed one of our air warriors being taken as PoW and subsequently being decorated with a Vir Chakra. In 1999 too, six of our soldiers were held as PoWs. When their bodies were handed over to Indian officials and post mortem conducted, there were cigarette marks found on their bodies, ear drums were found pierced with hot rods, there were several broken bones and teeth, chipped noses and even amputated limbs and genitalia. Although according to The Guardian, there was no international observer present at the post mortem. Despite all the aforesaid torture and supreme sacrifice, it may be surprising to note that Capt Saurabh Kalia and his men haven’t been decorated with any gallantry award. Would it not be hurtful for the NoKs to note that their son’s sacrifice isn’t acknowledged by the nation he gave his life for? Are petrol pumps or gas stations the rightful honour for such sacrifices?
This is not to undermine and belittle the fortitude of anyone or to question the basis on which gallantry awards are decided but just to push the relevance of a medal for the Supreme Sacrifice / Sarvoch Balidaan Padak.
Condolences and more
While the write up is mine, I am sure many families of bravehearts, Ex Chiefs and Veterans would agree with me. What is surprising is that even 22 years after Kargil conflict and despite having counter insurgency casualties regularly; the Government of India has not come with an award for their Supreme Sacrifice. While every soldier who sacrifices his life cannot be decorated with a gallantry award, it maybe tough to decide the ones who should or should not be. Rather, why not have at least a single award akin to the Parakram Padak for each soldier who gets killed in action and then further decorate conspicuous gallantry with recommended awards, as is being done every Independence Day and Republic Day.
“A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him“G. K. Chesterton
It is for the love of our Nation that these bravehearts give their all. If their sacrifice is not worthy of a medal, it shows us in bad light as a nation that forgets our most selfless soldiers. Let us go beyond offering condolences and bestow due honour to every soldier’s supreme sacrifice by instituting a Sarvoch Balidan Padak.