Thursday, August 13, 2015
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS : A GREAT STORY WELL NARRATED AND WELL LINKED TO THE ONGOING OROP STRUGGLE by Maj Gen Raj Mehta
Posted : Aug 13 2015 12:47AM
IN Punjab, January is bone-chilling cold. Canals, fields, dwellings, roads are wrapped in fog which persists till the sun brings in mild respite. Way back in 1992, this proud, ancient and fertile land was however aflame: it was Punjab’s winter of desolation and discontent.
Khalistan was being bandied around and terror killings were the norm.
The Army, deployed in discreet support of Director-General KPS Gill’s police force, was tasked to win “hearts and minds” by its reassuring visibility and presence. The combat mode was to be adopted only when unavoidable; our focus being on assuring a hurt, anguished, hard-working people that the granary of India needed its world-class people-power to return to winning ways.
My unit was deployed in the Samana tehsil of Patiala district. It shared borders with Haryana across the Ghaggar and was considered disturbed and sensitive; being home-base for the dangerous, ultra-active Khalistan Commando Force.
Showing the flag one day with my Quick Reaction Team (QRT) — eclectic all-India all-castes mix, including local Jat Sikh lads — I halted at a small hamlet, Patran, 60 km from Patiala, for a “mood-of-the-people” assessment, when an elderly man sought my help.
“That bebe (elderly woman) who is selling boiled eggs on the pavement is a soldier’s widow, sir. She is near-blind, forsaken by all… Help her. Buy eggs for your men."
I was deeply moved by the sight of the frail, spectacled, shivering old woman with unkempt, receding white hair; a torn shawl and resignation written all over her persona. A stack of boiled eggs lay in front of her in a grimy wicker basket. I paid for the eggs, asking my QRT to consume these in front of her. Her weathered face lit up, murmuring a light reproof about being overpaid.
I gently asked her for her husband’s details. She looked with faded, care-worn eyes. “Kuj nhi hona saab… chhado. Tusi ande khao.” (Nothing will happen, sir, just enjoy the eggs).
Men don’t cry, of course, being genetically coded to hide public display of emotion.
Instead, we got her to take out her second tranche of eggs from her ramshackle hovel and distributed these among the growing crowd of onlookers. The money she received seemed to lift some gloom from her persona.
With trembling hands and a moving expression of sepia recall, she pulled out a faded dupatta-wrapped package from her tin money box.
It was her late husband’s pay book and had his photo: a beardless handsome Sapper Pioneer Sikh who had died young; and hers as a pretty lass; and barely legible ink-pen entries of his brief career and death in Africa in 1944.
Though overcome with the enormity of the task, I needed to prove that we cared. Three months and many tears and frustrations later, the Military Pay Office finally put over Rs 5 lakh unclaimed dues into her account.
She was back to being a widow but one for whom recognition and financial sustenance had finally come. She would now eat eggs; not sell them.
As a critical spin-off, the government’s deafening silence on one-rank one-pension isn’t about veterans seeking unfair dues; it’s about people like brave widows seeking dignity and earned dues for which their soldier-husbands and peers have lived and died for.
It’s time for the government to honour the one fraternity for whom the bell tolls 24x7: soldiers.
(SOURCE - VIA E-MAIL)