Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Orissa war veteran fights a lonely battle

ROURKELA: Former soldier Shivaram Behera (73) has survived three wars. But the army veteran's battle for government land has become the toughest fight of his life.

Behera, who joined the army on August 1, 1957, took part in the Indian offensive against Chinese aggression in 1962 and the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971. After retiring from the army in 1972, he had applied for the government's provision for five acres of land for ex-servicemen. It's almost 37 years now, but Behera is yet to get his due.

"I have been running from one government office to another ever since I retired, but no luck. Once I was proud of having served my country. But I am a disappointed man today because nobody acknowledges my contribution and I struggle hard to get my due," said Behera, who joined a local bank as a security guard after his retirement. "I have two daughters, who I have to marry off. But I do not have enough money for that. I'm virtually living like a beggar in a local slum," he added.

For his outstanding service, Behera was conferred with several medals such as Pashim Star, Sangram Medal, 25th Indian Army Medal and SS Medal (J&K). "They don't hold any value for me today," he said.

After a lot of pleading, the under secretary in the state government's revenue and disaster management had written to the Sundergarh collector to consider my case on priority basis. This was in December 2007. The Sundergarh ADM had referred the matter to the local tehsildar on August 2009. "But nothing tangible has come out of it so far," the ex-serviceman said.

"More than being deprived from getting justice, the fact which pinches me most is the behaviour of government officials. The officials never even bothered to offer me a chair even after knowing that I have fought in three wars for the country," Behera said. "Probably, God and soldiers are remembered only in the times of crisis and forgotten once it's over," he added.

But like a true soldier, Behera has decided to fight till the last. "Although I feel tired now, I still hope to get the land before my death so that my family members can have something to bank upon," he said.

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