Woes of War widows

Brig Harcharan Singh
In all the societies, the soldiers , veterans and martyrs are treated with lot of respect..When a soldier sacrifices his life during the course of his duty , the media hype may last for few days and thereafter the focus shifts to other TRP related news events.
The family is left alone to fend for itself. The death of the Soldier causes psychological distress to parents, widow and children, leading to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of varying degrees.The more vulnerable are the Veer Naris ( widows of martyred soldiers ) ,who are generally of young age, majority hailing from rural areas and less educated , who have to undergo problems peculiar to patriarchal society, with hardly any formal institutional structured system , to cater for emotional support to Veer Naris. In Jammu and Kashmir ,we have around 650 families, from where , at least one soldier has given his life for the country.
With inputs from the past experience , a lot of planning has been done by the Govt , to ensure a sound financial support to dependents of martyrs. The Central Govt grants / pension / other service benefits for NOK of martyrs families. Similarly, to look after the parents of the martyrs, there are provisions for allotment of 25% share of Army Insurance and upto 33% of pension to look after their needs . In addition, free Medical facilities are provided to dependents , through ECHS. However, incentives given by different State Govts have different scales and rules on these benefits. In J&K,ex gratia and Compensatory appointment in Govt class IV post is given to the NOK of Martyr. In nutshell, the financial and health issues of NOK of martyrs are adequately covered , so there is a requirement to address the other inadequacies,as being analyzed now.
Problem areas of martyrs requiring resolution. The problem areas are summarised ,which are being elaborated.
Requirement of Psychological Support
Death of a soldier creates a void in the family and the family faces a psychological challenge.With passage of time and with past experiences, Armed Forces and Central / States Govts have improved upon various Welfare Schemes to ensure a sound financial package is in place to support the family of the Martyr, including the parents and the Veer Naris. However, what seems to be lacking is an institutional support to enable the family to cope up with the psychological distress , which leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, if not addressed. In the Patriarchal system of our society, the widows not only lose their husband, but unfortunately, they also lose their status and importance in their families. Also, the War Widows face problems related to their legal rights of inheritance of ancestral property.Additionally, the issue of remarriage of widows is not a common norm in the society.The remarriage of widows within the same family may be an preferred option ,as it ensures retention of property within the family ,without further division. The rules framed by the Central Government ensure that Veer Nari retains her pension , even after remarriage. In many cases, remarriage within the family is being practiced as an preferred option. Denial of the legitimate rights to the widows and forcing of family decisions on widows concerning choice of remarriage and transfer of ancestral property/land by the elder male members leads to tension and affects mental health of War widow.
Guidance to Children
With the death of a soldier, dedicated guidance of a father is no more available to the children, career counseling and future guidance remains a much desired field of concern. Through chains of Army Public Schools existing in the state, professional guidelines and counseling could be easily conducted for all children , specifically for children of Veer Naris.
Inheritance of Ancestral Property
Indian law caters for rules to be followed by Citizens of various religious faiths, for inheritance of property. However, it is seen that patriarchal set up of society does not encourage widows to demand their share of ancestral property and in majority of the cases, no questions are raised on the arrangement of central control of property by an elder male member of the family,which may lead to legal complications on physical control/ ownership of such land / property. Also, in many cases, it was observed that ancestral property was intentionally disposed of or manipulated by the family,to deny the rightful share of the widow. The local Revenue authorities do not support the widow in getting her share in the land / property. Such disputes and resultant court cases, invariably affect the mental health of Veer Nari and her family. We all are aware of the provisions given in the Constitution of India on Equality, Prohibition of Discrimanation and Equality of Opportunity given in Articles 14,15,& 16.
Legal Support to Veer Naris
The denial of legal rights to Veer Naris may lead to a long drawn legal case, to be decided by the courts . The legal system of the country can not cope with the ever increasing load of court cases .It was In the backdrop of this problem that the soldiers were given facility of AFT, for speedy trials and disposal of the court case . There is an inescapable requirement to dispose of such cases of Veer Naris on priority.
Impediments to Mental Health
The death of a soldier leaves a void in the family. The complications arising due to issues connected with lack of social support , denial of rightful rights and a social system which expects a widow to accept decisions made by others concerning her life leads to mental stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Veer Nari. Certain remedies are discussed below.
Recommendations For Speedy Resolution of Problems
Role of State Administration. Recently, very positive and proactive steps have been initiated by office of Div Com and DCs of Kashmir Division,, executed as a integrated approach, along with Army and Sainik Welfare Deptt, to provide effective Grievances Resolution to Veer Naris and ESM. All DCs have conducted Interactive Sessions with ESMs and Veer Naris along with nomination of a Distt Nodal Officer for ESM. On the Spot decisions have been given to ESM/ Veer Naris during Interactive Sessions by DCs. The same resolve and positive approach is desirable in Jammu Division as well. Long pending Encroachment case of land of War Widow Colony, Jammu. In October 2020, Govt land was allotted for Sainik Colony at Srinagar , thereby settling a long outstanding request of ESM. Policy of Visit of DCs to houses of Martyrs would be a much desired and welcome step, which should be treated as a matter of pride and respect by the visiting dignitary. A land encroachment case of War Widow Colony at Jammu,must be cleared at the earliest by Revenue Authorities, Jammu, pending since 2015.
A Matter of Honour — Adoption of Families by NGOs/ Citizens An initiative was started by Sainik Welfare Deptt,to request NGOs/ Citizens to adopt families of Martyrs/Veer Naris. Response was encouraging , with around 166 adoptions by NGOs / Citizens.The aim of these adoptions is to provide much needed psychological support to the family ,along with Career Counseling/ Guidance to Children of Veer Naris. Also, through these adoptions , the citizens have found a new method to convey their gratitude to the soldiers for their sacrifices. Similarly, during Flag Day Celebrations, a new initiative was started by Sainik Welfare Deptt, wherein, the school children presented patriotic theme based songs. Also, in coordination with Kala Kendra, Jammu, a Patriotic Theme based Painting Competition was started for the school children. Aim of all these initiatives was to connect society/ students with soldiers and remind them the stories of bravery and sacrifice. Special interviews of Veer Naris/ Veer Mata were started by the media, to apprise the public about those Who Gave Their Today For Our Tomorrow. Many coaching institutes agreed to provide free coaching to children of Veer Naris . All these indicated the resolve of society to support families of Martyrs, if approached.
Denial of Legal Rights — Share in Ancestral Property/ Land. After the death of a soldier, many Veer Naris are not offered the legitimate share of Ancestral land, & most of them accept the fate accompali. It is recommended that the share of War Widow is finalized by Revenue authorities , based on relevant rules.No disposal of property or hurried transfer to other siblings should be allowed in the family, before the share of Veer Nari is finalized, as per the rules.The onus of implementation of division of property should rest with local Revenue Authorities. Nodal Officers appointed in each District of Kashmir Division, could act as a Single Window Clearance for ESM.
Legal Support to Veer Naris. All legal cases of Veer Naris should be finalized on priority. The AFT system had given a big relief to ESM/ Serving Soldiers for expeditious disposal of legal issues. A system on similar lines is recommended for Veer Naris as well.
Counseling Centers. After the death of a soldier, psychological counseling would be helpful in getting impartial & mature advice. There is a requirement for Conflict Resolution amongst the family members ,rather than escalation of various issues, leading to a point of no return.Army could play a constructive role in this. At the level of Corps HQ, which are all well connected by road, a facility for counseling should be opened for Veer Naris. It will have dual benefit of availability of facility of legal expertise also.
The Army and Society have a place of respect for the martyrs and their families. The problems of a widow in our society, in order of priority are more connected with mental health.Over the passage of time, the programmes conducted for War Widows generate communication, whereas, there is a requirement to get connected with these families. Army is doing a lot of work on welfare of Veer Naris , but there is a definite requirement that our local NGOs/ Citizens also play their role by visiting these families, to express gratitude of the nation for the sacrifices made by them.
(The author served as Director Sainik Welfare Department (J&K) from Sep 2015- Sep 2020)