By: anurag baruah
October 16 2023
Image used for representational purposes only (Source: Nasir Kachroo via Reuters Connect)
(Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of suicide. Reader discretion is advised.)
In response to criticism that 21-year-old Indian Army soldier Amritpal Singh's funeral on October 13 did not receive a guard of honor, the Indian Army on Sunday said that there had been "some misunderstanding and misrepresentation of facts."
Singh had been serving with a battalion of Jammu and Kashmir Rifles in the Poonch sector and was found dead with a "self-inflicted gunshot wound" on Wednesday, October 11, while on sentry duty, according to an Indian Army statement.
The Indian Army said that according to the extant Army Order of 1967, military honors are not extended to funerals when the death involves self-inflicted injuries. The Army also claimed that the absence of military honors for the soldier had nothing to do with him being an Agniveer.
Singh became an Agniveer under the Indian Army's Agnipath scheme ten months ago - in which the military can recruit personnel under 23 years old but is not obligated to retain them after four years.
Family members alleged that they had to transport the soldier's mortal remains in a private ambulance, with no Tricolor draped – a custom for the last rites of armed forces or other paramilitary forces.
The Indian Express quoted Singh's father saying that an "Army Havildar and two jawans had accompanied his son's body to the village," but "no Army contingent was present for a guard of honor." The Times of India also reported on October 14 that no army officials accompanied his final journey, carrying allegations by family members that only three personnel in civilian clothing were present. The report said that in the absence of the Army's guard of honor, in a gesture, the Mansa Police provided one to the deceased soldier at his last rites.
After Singh's funeral on Friday in his native place in Punjab's Mansa, former Union Minister and Member of Parliament (MP) from Bathinda Harsimrat Kaur Badal, and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Raghav Chadha claimed that Singh received no guard of honor before being cremated because he was enlisted in the Army under the special Agniveer category rather than in the regular category.
Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann criticized the Army for sending Singh's mortal remains in a private ambulance and questioned why they could not give a guard of honor to the deceased soldier whom he termed "a martyr of the country." He also announced a compensation of one crore rupees to the family members of the dead soldier.
The chief minister also highlighted his long opposition to the Army's Agniveer scheme - which was previously subject to protests nationwide.
Former Meghalaya Governor Satyapal Malik, Punjab Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, and senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia also alleged that Singh had not been accorded military honors merely because of his Agniveer status.
Other social media users also alleged the same on X (formerly Twitter). Some posts also claimed that Singh attained martyrdom following a conflict during duty near LOC in Jammu and Kashmir but was not accorded a guard of honor because he was an Agniveer and not a regular soldier. Posts even claimed that Singh was shot dead by terrorists in J&K on October 10.
“Armed Forces do not differentiate between the soldiers who joined prior to or after implementation of the Agnipath Scheme as regards entitled benefits and protocols,” the Army statement said. It added that mortal remains were transported under Army arrangements along with an escort party to the soldier’s native place for the last rites.
On October 14, the Indian Army’s White Knight Corps, headquartered in Jammu and Kashmir’s Nagrota, had said that his mortal remains were transported in a civil ambulance arranged by the Army. “Mortal remains of the deceased, accompanied by one Junior Commissioned Officer and four Other Ranks, were transported in a Civil Ambulance hired by the Unit of the Agniveer. Accompanying Army personnel also attended the last rites,” the statement read.
The statement added that “the cause of death being a self-inflicted injury, no guard of honor or military funeral was provided, in accordance with the existing policy.”
On Sunday, the Army also noted that since 2001, 100-140 soldiers/year have lost their lives due to suicides/self-inflicted injuries, and no military funerals were accorded in such cases. The Army also stated that the disbursement of financial assistance is prioritized, including for the conduct of funerals, according to entitlement, in such cases.
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