Over the past week the tensions between India and Pakistan have been high over violations of ceasefire and the brutal killing of two Indian soldiers. The beheading and mutilation of the two brave soldiers and the Indian government’s response since compel me to ask the question: Why does India not have a veteran affairs department?
India has one of the largest armed forces (over 1m in service) in the world and has so far fought four wars since Independence. Its soldier’s man the ‘world’s highest battlefield’: the Siachen glacier. More soldiers have died due to the harsh weather conditions than actual combat in this region. Yet thousands of troops are stationed there even today. There have also been regular media reports of poor working conditions in the Indian Army in general, pushing these brave men to the brink of suicide. According to a study by the Defense Institute of Psychological Research, an average of 100 suicides per year has been reported since 2003. Not to mention the lives frequently lost to cross border terrorism and ceasefire violations such as the one earlier this month.
While the Indian government provides a pension plan and other retirement benefits, there is a need for a nodal agency, a one-stop-agency that ensures that these men are well taken care of. Currently the responsibilities are divided between the Ministry of Defense, the Rajya Sainik Boards and the Kendriya Sainik Boards. The ambiguity and/or overlap of responsibilities between the Center and State governments cause problems for veterans awaiting their benefits.
The US has a veteran affairs mechanism that serves its veterans after their time in service with aspects such as health care assistance, insurance, vocational rehabilitation, employment, education, and funeral benefits. It provides assistance to the family and survivors of the martyrs – people, who suffer, dedicate a lifetime alongside the serving military member of the family. India needs to find a model that really nurtures not just its brave soldiers but also their families who pay the ultimate price. These soldiers and their families are providing the freedom to the Indians in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the world.
Fighting a war, serving ones country under harsh conditions with the ever looming risk to life takes a lot of courage; and this courage, dedication and patriotism deserves to be honored and celebrated even after these men have hung up their uniforms.