Lance Naik Gulzar Singh stood before me visibly distraught and ashen-faced. He appeared scared. He was a brave man who had never flinched during the 1971 India-Pak War. Aerial attacks, sustained artillery shelling and ground fire didn’t break him. Now, with imploring eyes, he stood before me. Just back to our barracks in March 1972, he had been served orders of his release from service, without pension. Clearly perplexed, uncertainty and helplessness gripped him: ‘Ab main kya karunga, saheb?’
He had put his life on the line and was now up for release into a world full of uncertainties, which he feared more than the uncertainty of war. Bonding with soldiers is a two-way street of trust. My inability to help is an image that still haunts me over 50 years later.
A sense of oneness adds to self-esteem and motivation. Studies have shown that a soldier makes the supreme sacrifice in war not because he is more courageous or patriotic than his civilian fellow-mate, but because of the belief that he cannot let himself down in the eyes of the nation. This feeling needs to be inculcated during peace time. The simple jawans must not be hit where it hurts the most. Battle physical efficiency tests are bracketed for standards up to 30 years of age with a slight relaxation thereafter up to 35 years and so on.
The list of Param Vir Chakra awardees beyond 30 years of age is long. Naib Subedar Bana Singh was 38 when he was awarded the PVC in Siachen; Subedar Joginder Singh (41), NEFA, 1962; Maj Shaitan Singh (38), Rezang La, 1962; Lt Col AB Tarapore (42), Phillora, 1965; and many other braves.
Our Born-to-Battle unit had the distinction of two highest gallantry awards for bravery in war and peace. Second Lt Arun Khetarpal (21) in the Battle of Basantar, 1971; and Col NJC Nair, awarded the Kirti Chakra at 33, was critically wounded in an ambush a decade later at 43. As CO, he lifted a soldier on his shoulders to lob a grenade which caused the insurgents to flee. Posthumously, he was awarded the Ashok Chakra.
Glib talk to camouflage the real intent of the Agnipath scheme has not worked. An honesty of purpose in dealing with national security will pay dividends and the opposite can only be at our peril. Meanwhile, let’s hope no more Gulzar Singhs are released into a world of helplessness.
The article was first published by The Tribune on 2nd September 2022 and was republished with the due permission of the author.
Col Bimal Bhatia is an alumnus of National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla was commissioned in 9 MAHAR in June 1971, and saw action in Shakargarh sector.
In Artillery, a Silver Gunner in YOs course he did Long Gunnery Staff Course. A graduate of Defence Sevices Staff College who served at Army War College, Mhow.
Awarded the gold medal in Master of Journalism and Mass Communication at Punjab University, he bagged several awards. He has written extensively in various media. He has been a Corporate HR Assessor.
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)