Always a Soldier

Needs for a more encompassing policy to rehabilitate disabled personnel

Mohammad Asif Khan

In Ambreen Zaidi's book, 'Soldiering On: The Remarkable Resilience Of India’s Disabled Soldiers,' a crucial but often overlooked aspect of soldiers' lives comes to light. The book sheds light on the challenges disabled soldiers face in obtaining the benefits they deserve due to bureaucratic hurdles and the lack of a proper framework for disabled soldiers.

The stories within the book reveal a remarkable resilience. Despite their disabilities, these soldiers demonstrate unwavering dedication and determination. They challenge societal norms, showing that 'disability is in the mind.'

One standout example is Lieutenant General Ian Cardozo. He played a crucial role in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War and later became one of the first Indian officers to receive an artificial limb and return to active duty.

His resilience and determination paved the way for the rehabilitation and integration of disabled soldiers in the Indian Armed Forces.

Post-retirement, Cardozo remained an advocate for the rights and welfare of disabled veterans. He served as the Director-General of the Border Roads Organization, overseeing the construction of vital infrastructure in border regions.

In the book, Ambreen narrates the inspiring stories of various disabled soldiers, each one more uplifting than the last. One such remarkable tale is that of Flying Officer Anil A. Kumar. Despite facing a level of adversity that would daunt even the bravest, Kumar refused to be defeated. Paralysed from the neck down, he ingeniously modified his computer, holding the stylus and keyboard in front of him. With this setup, he not only managed to type but also authored articles and even a book."

Another awe-inspiring account is that of Mridul Ghosh, a soldier who emerged from the depths of despair as a beacon of hope. A severe spinal cord injury left him unable to move from the neck down. However, his life took an unexpected turn when he came across the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center. There, he witnessed others like him defying the odds, and it ignited a spark within him. Despite his limitations, Mridul ventured into mouth painting, a pursuit that would profoundly transform his life. Teaching others and even sending his artwork to Switzerland, he found a renewed purpose.

His story, along with others in Zaidi's book, showcases the strength of the human spirit in overcoming challenges.

In an Interview with Force Ambreen Zaidi stated her reason for writing the book stemmed from the desire to bring awareness to the struggles and triumphs of these individuals who had served their nation with great dedication and courage. Ambreen felt that their stories deserved to be heard and recognised, especially since the challenges faced by disabled soldiers are often overlooked or not well understood by the general public.

She states, "I wrote the book to chronicle the lives of disabled officers in the Indian Armed Forces. Their stories deserved to be heard and recognised, as the challenges faced by disabled soldiers are often overlooked or not well understood by the general public”.

Soldiers, particularly those below officer rank (PBOR), face significant challenges in terms of rehabilitation and community support. She noted that there are notable gaps and issues in the system, including delays in receiving disability benefits and the necessity for disabled soldiers to engage in legal battles to secure their entitlements.

Ambreen Points out, "There are conspicuous gaps and systemic issues, including prolonged waits in obtaining disability benefits and the imperative for disabled soldiers to enter legal disputes to claim they are entitled benefits."

Colonel Hari Handa, a disabled veteran whose story is featured in the book, faced a life-altering moment while on duty. He sustained an injury during a mission in a treacherous minefield that would disable him for the rest of his life.

After their injury, Hari and other disabled soldiers faced a long wait for prosthetic limbs at the Artificial Limb Centre. Frustrated by the delay and witnessing the focus on furniture production instead of limb manufacturing, Hari wrote a strong letter to the army's top brass, highlighting the unjust treatment. This led to a protest and a change in command at the centre. Eventually, prosthetics were manufactured, and Hari received one, though it was heavy and inconvenient.

Hari also faced difficulties receiving his pension for several months,  Every month, when he visited the treasury office for his pension, he was informed that his Pension Payment Order (PPO) had not arrived. This frustrating situation persisted for over six months. It wasn't until only with the intervention of the then Defence Minister Bansi Lal that Hari got his pension. others who were not so fortunate have not received their proper dues or the benefits of the much-touted. In an Interview with Force magazine, Colonel Hari highlights the problem of delays in pensions and other entitlements faced by disabled soldiers and officers.

“Disabled soldiers in the Indian Armed Forces often encounter significant challenges in accessing the support and benefits they are entitled to. One prominent issue is the prolonged wait times for disability benefits. This delay can have severe financial and emotional consequences for the soldiers and their families”. He highlights.

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