Written by Brig KS Kahlon (retd)
The Armed Forces Flag Day is celebrated each year on 7 December to pay homage to valiant soldiers and martyrs, and to renew our solidarity with the service
The remembrance day is named as Armed Forces Flag Day, because on this day funds are collected from the sale of special flags to enlist public co-operation and support for rehabilitation of battle casualties of all wars the country had fought and ongoing counter insurgency operations which have left many broken homes without a bread-winner.
A large number of service personnel have become disabled imposing a severe burden on their families. It also reminds us of our obligation of looking after disabled comrades-in-arms, widows and dependents of those who have sacrificed their lives for the country. Flag Day has now become an old and time honoured feature of our national life.
The Indian Army comprising about 9 50.000 troops served in the Overseas WW-1 during 1914-18. Out of them 74,187 Indians were killed about 67,000 wounded and Punjab lost about 13,000 sons of the soil and almost equal number were wounded.
Similarly during WW-Il from 1 Sept 1939 to 2 Sept 1945 about 87,000 Indian soldiers were martyred, 34,354 were wounded/disabled, and 67,340 were taken as Prisoners of War (PW).
Of the latter, 11,000 died in custody. At the end of the WW-Il, thousands of warriors were denied pension and were left at the mercy of state governments, which did not care much.
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, grand-daughter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh voluntarily served as nurse during the WW-I and provided healing touch to the wounded soldiers. To celebrate the victory of the Allies and for the noble cause of humanity she led the fund raising campaign on November 1, called “Remembrance Day”. This day was also known as Poppy Day.
On this day, paper “Poppies” were distributed to the public, in return for their donations.
These collections were organised by the British Ex-Servicemen Association and were primarily meant for the benefit of British ex-Servicemen and their families. The Association however had the discretion of donating a portion of these collections for the benefit of the Indian ex-Servicemen community. After independence, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, decided in July 1948 that such collections should be utilized for the welfare of serving and
retired defence personnel and their families.
On 28 August, 1948, the committee decided that from 1949 onwards the Flag Day will be observed on Dec ember each year.
Defence personnel are doing yeoman service not only in times of conflict but also during peace time. They guard our land, sea and air frontiers round the clock under extreme conditions and maintain constant vigil on our adversaries. They also render valuable service in the event of calamities like floods, earthquakes, drought etc. When everything fails, the Armed Forces are requisitioned to maintain law and order and on many other rescue missions. They are thus guardians of our National Integrity and sovereignty.
The requirement of keeping Armed Forces young and active necessitates retirement/release of service personnel at comparatively early ages between 35-45. Over 60,000 personnel retire every year aggregating a total of more than 31 lakh inclusive of widows with Uttar Pradesh topping the list, followed by Punjab and Haryana. These men are still young, physically and mentally agile, well trained, disciplined, possess plenty of drive and initiative. Proper rehabilitation of released/retired personnel, their widows and their dependent children contribute to a large extent towards the maintenance of high morale of the Armed Forces.
It is pertinent to mention that from 1947 till 28 Feb., 1999 in all wars the country fought a total of 18,043 officers, JCOs and Jawans were martyred in various operations and 32,498 wounded. During the Kargil Operation, we lost 527 all ranks and 1363 were wounded.
Thereafter casualties keep taking place unabated in counter insurgency operations and proxy war. Undoubtedly the Central and State Governments have taken a number of measures for the welfare of battle casualties but that is not enough. There is a need to have a National Policy and Commission for the welfare of the defence personnel.
The community has to play its part not only to supplement the government efforts but to generate an atmosphere in which service personnel feel assured that they have the support of the entire community, which raises their morale.
The significance of the day is brought home to the potential donors in a variety of ways like publicity, variety shows carnivals, dramas and other entertainment programme. Education institutions are involved in generating awareness campaign amongst the masses about the role and contribution of defence services in Nation building activities
The focal point of the management of the Armed Forces Flag Day is Kendriya Sainik Board and Director General Resettlement, Ministry of Defence at the Centre and the Raiya Sainik Boards/Directorate Sainik Welfare at the State level. District boards carry the message of the Flag Day to the remotest corner through official and non official agencies.
Token flags and car flags in red, deep blue and light blue colours, representing three services are distributed throughout the country in return of donations.
Collections made are posted to a fund known as “Armed Forces Flag Day Fund”. Let us all pay our homage to yesteryears warriors, who made the country proud.
(The writer is a former director of Sainik Welfare, Punjab. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)