'An unsung hero is fine, but an insulted one is not.'
Meghna Girish, martyred Major Akshay Girish's mother, tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih about her ordeal to get justice for her son who lost his life fighting terrorists in Kashmir.
Major Akshay Girish fought the last battle of his life against Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists and gave up his life saving innocent lives.
Now his mother Meghna Girish is fighting a battle for the honour of her martyred son.
Her home in Bengaluru bears her husband and her name at the door, but inside it is resplendent with photographs, uniforms, medals and things that belonged to her soldier-son.
Three years after his martyrdom in Jammu and Kashmir, Major Akshay remains the most important person in the home.
The walls of the home are seeped with his memories.
There is a vase of fresh flowers below his pictures, an album celebrating his life and a graphic panel shows the last battleground where he sacrificed his life.
"This is where Akshay was when the terrorists shot at him from this window and threw a grenade," says Mrs Girish, pointing to a picture panel, which is a replica of the buildings that were under siege that November day in 2016.
The terrorists had come with a well-planned operation. They entered the camp, killed four soldiers and occupied two buildings which were living quarters of officers and families.
The effective response of the Quick Response Team led by Major Akshay averted a major tragedy.
Seven Indian soldiers were martyred that morning, including Major Akshay.
The major's unit recommended his name for a Shaurya Chakra, but instead his name featured in the military's mention in dispatches acknowledging his meritorious service or act of gallantry not gallant enough for a gallantry award.
"He was fighting terrorists for two-and-half hours as the leader of his team. He was in the open while they had the advantage of being inside the building. He went inside to save lives. His team ensured that the terrorists did not escape, foiled their plan of attacking officers, their families, and averted a hostage situation. He stood by the code of the soldier's ethics and honour at the cost of his life. If this is not gallant enough, then what is the definition of gallantry?" asks Mrs Girish.
She bears her grief and anguish with laudable grace.
The daughter of an army officer, the wife of a Indian Air Force pilot and mother of a martyred son, Mrs Girish is a dignified woman with immense faith in the government and hopes that the injustice done to her son will be rectified.
She has petitioned the government asking why after being recommended for a gallantry award, her son instead was merely given a diluted mention.
"No award is necessary. Akshay is not here to wear a medal. We just want that diluted mention in the dispatches taken off because an unsung hero is fine, but an insulted one is not."
"The only thing a soldier fights for is his honour. We are asking that if there has been a mistake or oversight, then it should be corrected. Justice should be done."
Mrs Girish had e-mailed then defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman who ordered a committee to review the case.
Mrs Girish and all members of the quick response team deposed before the committee for three days in January 2019.
The committee was meant to comprise military and civilian members, but the panel featured only military personnel.
The only response she received after her deposition was in September by the Indian Army's additional directorate general of public information saying the issue has been looked into and no review was necessary.
"This is contrary to the assurance of the raksha mantri. Why then was I called to depose before an army committee?" asks Mrs Girish.
She has written two applications to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and is yet to receive a response.
She has also registered her petition on the prime minister's grievance redressal Web site and has got a registration number that her grievance is under process.
"It is difficult, but at the same time you have to have faith in the government. I am a patriotic Indian and am pursuing this fight for justice by following the right procedure. I have faith in Modiji and will go with this faith no matter how long it takes," says Mrs Girish.
Major Akshay's unit and regiment have also written asking for a review.
"This is about justice and a soldier's honour. The decision-makers must stand by their soldiers. They should prioritise because a soldier's honour is the nation's honour."
Mrs Girish says she is not cynical and is a patriotic Indian with great respect for the armed forces, but worries why it is taking so long to get a response from the government.
She even wonders that when officers are given gallantry medals for adventure sports, why was her son's bravery in the face of the enemy not worthy of honour?
Among the pictures of Major Akshay in the living room are drawings by his six-year-daughter Naina.
Ever so often, she makes drawings for her father and asks her grandparents to put them up near her father.
His wife and child lived in the home for one-and-a-half years after his martyrdom.
Recently, his wife remarried, and Mrs Girish proudly and with great affection calls her daughter-in-law her daughter now.
"His wife now has another mother-in-law, so she is my daughter now," says Mrs Girish with a smile.
They live nearby and Mrs Girish picks up her granddaughter often from school.
Major Akshay's wife, twin sister and father are the force behind Mrs Girish's quest for justice.
"I may be the face of this fight, but they are all standing behind me. I also draw a lot of strength from many different people. There is a lot of strength out there."
The family has started a Major Akshay Girish Foundation which will felicitate 1971 War veterans on December 15.
The legendary Major General Ian Cardozo is the chief guest.
As Mrs Girish puts fresh flowers into a vase in front of her martyred son's photograph, she says it matters to her that her son is not disrespected.
"He has fought his last battle. If he had come back, no medal would have mattered, but it's my parental duty to see that he is not insulted."
"Akshay never stepped back from his duty, so how can we?"