A day after Surinder Kaur, a war widow, returned her husband’s gallantry award as a mark of protest against the Centre for delay in compensation, the kin of other martyrs as well have come forward and expressed their anguish at the meagre compensation offered by the Punjab government after a gap of 40 years.
As many as 161 war widows and their family members have been protesting against the state government since April this year demanding the 10 acres of land which was promised to them in 1976. Even after months of protests, the state government remained a mute spectator, which forced them to sit on a 21-day dharna outside the Chief Minister’s residence.
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Speaking to The Indian Express on behalf of the war widows, Gursewak Singh, himself the son of a war widow, Bant Kaur, said that it was with a heavy heart that the Punjab cabinet decided to pay a sum of Rs 50 lakh, which was was accepted by them. “We are pained at the fact that it has taken 40 years for the war widows to receive the compensation which is not only inadequate but is also against the spirit of the decison given by Punjab and Haryana High Court which had ordered that the monetary compensation should be at par with collector rate of the land,” said Gursewak. His father, Sepoy Piara Singh of 5 Sikh Light Infantry had been martyred in the 1965 war in Mendhar sector in J and K.
Having been at the forefront of the protests led by the war widows, Gursewak said that several of them were in dire straits and had no choice but to accept the delayed and meagre compensation. He said that the government officials also told them to accept the offer before the the code of conduct for elections were imposed. “Many war widows fell ill during the protest. Moreover, since we had already lost a member of our family, we did not want them to further suffer the apathy of the government,” he said.
Expressing his anguish that a martyr’s wife had to run from pillar to post for compensation, Lt Gen Depinder Singh (retd), former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Southern Command and Overall Force Commander of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, said, “Instead of making her running around for compensation it is the government which should be running around to help her. The officials should wake up and not only come forward to her aid but help all other brave ladies like her.”
Recalling the war in which Kaur’s husband Halvinder Kashmir Singh died while fighting the LTTE militants, Depinder said that it was an action which equalled that of the Sikh Regiment jawans in the famous Battle of Saragarhi. “These men of 13 Sikh Light Infantry fought till their last breath near Jaffna University after their wireless set was shot to pieces in the action and they were left without any reinforcements,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Congress has also expressed anguish after Kaur returned the Sena Medal Monday.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday, DCC president Col Babu Singh, senior Congress leader Captain Harmander Singh and ex-servicemen cell chairman Col Bhag Singh said the incident showed the total apathy of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and its ally, the BJP, towards the plight of war widows.