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September 23, 1999
Army sticks by Kargil widows
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
The Army has decided to continue with its policy of favouring the dead soldier's wife, over of the parents, while distributing compensation.
The issue had come to the fore in the Army Headquarters after Kargil, with reports of discrimination and even brutal assaults, including the murder of a Kargil widow for her money, coming in.
Widows of Operation Vijay got compensation in the region of Rs 3 million. Of this sum, Rs 200,000 was paid to the parents, while Rs 100,000 each was deposited in the names of minor children if any, up to a maximum of two children. The rest - at least Rs 26,00,000 -- was handed over to the widow.
The payment to in-laws and children was a "special decision, otherwise the widow kept the entire compensation," say army officials.
But the issue refused to die. There have been many representations to the army headquarters against the 'discrimination' against the parents.
With protests pouring in, a section of the Army top brass had preferred a review of the present compensation policy. However, "The Army has taken a decision not to change its policy. We think this is the most appropriate policy," says a senior official in the Army Headquarters. Despite the representations, "we think there is no need for a review now."
Adjutant General Lieutenant General SS Grewal recently told a group of reporters that there "was no question of changing the rules", and advised parents to "treat your daughter-in-law like your daughter and she will never even think of leaving the house".
But the parents of soldiers have protested, saying that the wife is being unduly favoured while they, who brought up the soldier, are discriminated against. And in certain cases, the protests have taken a violent form.
The worst case was in Uttar Pradesh, where the widow of a Kargil martyr was killed by goons allegedly hired by her father-in-law, who himself is an ex-soldier. According to information available, Shivkumari, widow of Rifleman Ram Nihore Yadav, was killed on August 8 while she was coming back from the district headquarters in Sultanpur, after collecting her pension. She was all of 19 years old.
She was shot dead near her village of Sarai Achal by cycle-borne assailants. She had been living with her parents, ever since her father-in-law filed a case claiming the compensation. Her father-in-law, Ram Adhar, had demanded that the compensation be kept in a joint account.
There have been other stray incidents reported from Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh too, of harassment of widows. "In some cases, they had been forcefully married off to the brother of the dead soldier; in some other cases, they had not been allowed to move out of their in-laws' house. But these are all stray incidents," says an officer with the Army Headquarters.
There have also been reports of widows walking out on aged in-laws, he says. But, there are no formal complaints registered with the Army, as "they are all cases to be handled by local police".
The Army, on its part, is counselling the widows and in-laws, through the Army Wives Welfare Association. "We can only tell them what to do, finally it is up to them," say officers.
The Army says it has gone deep into the problem arising out of the compensation amount being given to widows. "This time there has been a drastic increase in the compensation amount, and some families have already received petrol and gas stations. All these seem to add to the tension," says an official.
"It is not that widows were always misbehaving after they got the compensation. Most of the times, the attitude of the in-laws changed after the compensation came in."
Lt Gen Grewal had said the "young widow too needs love, care and attention. If she gets it in her in-laws' house, she will never think of leaving. After all, there is social security there. Secondly, when a tragedy of such magnitude befalls her, she needs special attention and care. It is for the in-laws to provide it to her.''
The Army says it is the widow and children of the soldier who face the most uncertain future. The widow has to "bring up her children, and she needs steady income to sustain herself too. She has a long road before her."
There have been stray protests already against the Army's decision not to change its compensation policy. A group of ex-servicemen, whose children died in action, in a statement issued in Punjab recently claimed that the decision was discriminatory and that the Army should take into consideration the plight of aged parents as well.
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