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Indian Navy divers are pictured at the conning tower of the stricken INS Sindhurakshak, after the submarine sank following an explosion at the naval dockyard in Mumbai on 14 August. Photo: AFP (AFP)
Indian Navy divers are pictured at the conning tower of the stricken INS Sindhurakshak, after the submarine sank following an explosion at the naval dockyard in Mumbai on 14 August. Photo: AFP
(AFP)

Some thought for our real heroes this Independence Day

If callousness towards national heroes does not make your blood boil as an Indian on Independence Day, nothing will

Maybe I am the sort of loser who goes looking for bad news, but on this Independence Day, here is some stuff I read in the morning:

The Indian Navy has just had its worst peacetime disaster. The recently refitted and the country’s most potent submarine INS Sindhurakshak sank in Mumbai’s naval dockyard following a huge explosion, taking all 18 men on board with it.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard (when will the Iranian revolution end?) has literally kidnapped an Indian ship carrying oil from Iraq from international waters.

Havildar Digendra Kumar, Maha Vir Chakra winner in the Kargil war for his role in capturing the Tololing Peak, has been fighting for the last eight years to get the disability benefits that are due to him. Kumar sustained five bullet wounds at Tololing and was classified as 80% disabled by an army medical board.

Yadvinder Singh, grandson of Bhagat Singh, has learnt via a Right to Information (RTI) application to the home ministry that Bhagat Singh’s name is not listed in the government’s official list of martyrs.

The Sindhurakshak catastrophe is a huge setback to India’s blue water capability. Sindhurakshak was literally the jewel in the crown of India’s far-from-adequate submarine fleet, with the ability to carry Klub class missiles and Brahmos cruise missiles, with better sonars and advanced electronics. India is now down to 13 submarines, whereas its authorized fleet strength is 28. At least two submarines are expected to be retired by 2015, so that’ll squeeze the fleet down to 11. The Scorpene submarines, which are supposed to join the fleet, are nowhere on the horizon. As Saikat Datta points out in DNA: “Today, the navy has to patrol the region from the Horn of Africa right up to the Pacific Ocean near Japan. This needs to be done for strategic and economic reasons as India looks at ever-expanding Chinese naval capabilities… (This) tragic accident… on Tuesday night has hit the navy where it hurts the most."

But do we care? As Ajai Shukla, one of the country’s finest defence journalists, noticed: “On a day when a frontline submarine of the navy has gone down, here’s the Indian Air Force release: ‘Air Force Wives Welfare Association (Regional) holds its annual declamation contest.’ And here’s the release from DRDO (hold your breath): ‘DRDO dazzles in flower show.’ And the ministry of defence, as always focused on Antony, has: ‘Defence minister emphasizes on strengthening and modernizing the capabilities of the armed forces.’ Is it just me, or do you too feel something is wrong somewhere???"

India cut crude oil imports from Iran following sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union. Consequently, today Iraq is India’s largest source of crude imports, after Saudi Arabia. So the Iranians are pissed off, and have so little respect for India that they have seized an Indian ship from international waters. On Facebook, my friend Veeresh Malik, who has spent decades on the high seas, writes: “Nobody had the guts to touch any ship with India painted on its shipside in the late 70s and 80s, anywhere in the world, such was the simple truth and influence that the Indian mercantile marine fleet carried worldwide. When the East and West Germans needed neutral strong flags for sea trade between them, they came to Indian flags. In the Persian Gulf, just having Indians on board meant none of the countries at war would touch you—an example being the Jahre Viking, the largest ship afloat then, bombed with European crew which had to be replaced with Indians so that the ship could get safe passage for repairs." Need one say more?

Kargil hero Havildar Digendra Kumar retired from the army in 1985, but the army refused to grant him disability benefits on the grounds that he had retired voluntarily. After fighting it out for a couple of years, Kumar approached the Armed Forces Tribunal, which, in 2008, granted him all benefits and called the army’s decision “inhuman and unfortunate…that deserved to be deprecated". The army then took two more years to implement the tribunal’s order, and is still denying him the ex-gratia benefits announced by the government for Kargil veterans, which, in Kumar’s case, amounts to about 15 lakh. Meanwhile, the government of Kumar’s state, Rajasthan, had promised him agricultural land as a war hero. The government has delivered, except that the land allotted to Kumar is 500km from Sikar, where he stays. Kumar requested land closer to his home in 2008, but that request, though accepted by the then Sikar collector, has disappeared somewhere in the government files. This is the way we treat the men who would die for us.

But Kumar would possibly see some black humour in the fact that Bhagat Singh, whose name is as intrinsically linked to the word ‘shaheed’ as Mohandas Gandhi’s is to ‘mahatma’, is not recognized by the Union of India as a martyr. According to Mail Today, his grandson met a senior home ministry bureaucrat and made an official request for a meeting with the home minister to correct this incredibly shameful omission. Yadvinder Singh had hoped that Bhagat Singh could finally become a ‘shaheed’ in the eyes of the Indian state by Independence Day, but was told that the minister was busy; he would be able to meet him only after 15 August.

If callousness toward national heroes does not make your blood boil as an Indian on Independence Day, nothing will.

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