A salutary step | Daily News

A salutary step

The decision taken by President Maithripala Sirisena to extend the salaries, entitlements and benefits granted to war heroes killed in action or those disabled, to the life time of their widows and wives is to be commended. Currently salaries and benefits to widows of the men who died in action and the wives, in the case of the disabled servicemen, are paid only up to the age of 55. This is on the basis that these service personnel would have gone on compulsory retirement on reaching the age of 55 as in the case of all Government servants.

However, given the unique circumstances attached to these men who laid their lives on the line in battling an implacable foe to protect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, no sane person would begrudge this special privilege extended to their widows and wives. The army alone lost 19,901 men with 16,168 disabled during entire period of the Eelam war. These widows and wives of these fallen or disabled war heroes are regularly paraded at commemoration ceremonies to remember the war-dead by political leaders, no doubt, to derive maximum political mileage. In addition, disabled war heroes are regularly paraded at the Independence Day ceremonies at Galle Face since the days of the commencement of the war. Little is known of the type of lives they lead and their circumstances, at the end of the day.

One must not forget that most of these fallen war heroes and those disabled had joined the force while being married and raising families. These dependents needed to be looked after on a permanent basis. In the case of those who were killed nearing the end of the war, there, no doubt, would be children who are still in their school-going age. Cutting the salaries to the widows of war heroes and the wives of disabled soldiers’ midway would sound extremely cruel indeed when one considers the sacrifices made by these valiant men on behalf of the motherland. In the case of the injured, there are special needs required by them that have to be provided on a permanent basis, including medication. If the salaries to their wives are cut off midway, it would be impossible to cater to these needs and they would be pushed into a worse plight than that which they are currently placed.

In this respect one should greatly appreciate and acknowledge the services rendered to the disabled servicemen by sate bodies such as the Ranaviru Authority under whose umbrella functions the Ranaviru Sevana which care for the permanently disabled servicemen housed in special centres. The Authority also periodically looks into the welfare of the widows of fallen war heroes, disabled servicemen and see to their needs such as housing and education of their offspring. Also much credit is due to former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the Wellness Homes which is his brainchild, for the permanently disabled war heroes, built with state of the art facilities in tranquil settings that has done much to cheer up these gallant ex-fighters, now laid low.

It is time that the contribution of these valiant men is recognized in more tangible forms than mere token gestures for public consumption. We have a special day dedicated for the commemoration of the war victory where all fallen war heroes and the disabled servicemen are glorified in speeches that are largely political. It would be more fitting if the well-being of their dependents is looked into on a permanent basis ensuring those in their families, who have been left behind, do not live in want. The President's decision to pay permanent salaries and benefits to the widows of all fallen war heroes and wives of the disabled service, hopefully, would be the first step in a larger scheme where the state would be a constant source of succor to war hero families.

Be that as it may, steps should also be taken to ensure our disabled servicemen are not made pawns of the power games of politicians. Besides, theses men should be treated with the dignity that is due to them. Parading disabled soldiers on the streets for political gain must stop forthwith. It is a pity that these disabled soldiers were brought to the streets by some power hungry politicians even during the recent anti-SAITM agitations. Even certain Buddhist monks who are never short of praise for our war heroes deign to make a mockery of the supreme role played by these valiant men by parading disabled soldiers sans limbs and eyesight in public, as a weapon to attack the Government making a public exhibition of the helpless plight of these war heroes who were once battle-hardened warriors.

There certainly are politically motivated organisations and hirelings of defeated politicians who are hell-bent on exploiting the helpless circumstances of the disabled service personnel even when the Government has granted all their demands. With major elections round the corner one cannot discount more of the same in the coming weeks and months. These elements are well aware that the plight of war heroes are a ready sell with the rural voter. 


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