The word “martyr” (or shaheed) has not been defined clearly by successive governments, the reason why a large number of Central Paramilitary Forces personnel who die in the line of duty do not get the honour, which their counterparts in the Indian Army, Navy and the Air Force do. When an Army soldier is killed in the line of duty, he is called a martyr, and his kin get a compensation of Rs 80 lakh. This amount is just Rs 15 lakh in the case of paramilitary forces. The soldier’s family members also get benefits such as free housing, education, train and air travel, which is not the case with paramilitary forces. In fact, a Committee of Secretaries in the UPA government decided in 2011 against giving paramilitary personnel martyr status because the two forces did not use same weapons while on duty. This decision is being reconsidered by the NDA government, with the Additional Solicitor General requesting the Cabinet Secretary to do so.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has replied to RTI activist Gopal Prasad that Government of India has not defined the word “martyr” and added, “However, the government does not discriminate different armed forces as far as their sacrifices are concerned … all kinds of forces are given honours like ‘Ashok Chakra’, ‘Kirti Chakra’ or ‘Shourya Chakra’ for their bravery.”
According to estimates, more than 31,000 paramilitary personnel have sacrificed their lives in the last 53 years, but they are still not called martyrs. “We often hear about these personnel dying in anti-Maoist operations or other anti-insurgency operations, but it is unfortunate that they are not called martyrs,” said Prasad.
Last month, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain told the Delhi High Court that a proposal to give martyr status to paramilitary personnel who lose their lives in the line duty was being considered. The submission was made during the hearing of a PIL seeking “martyr” status for paramilitary forces. The Delhi High Court has listed the case for further hearing on 23 November.
The Court had sought the response of the Centre, Department of Personnel and Training and Ministry of Defence on a petition filed by advocate Abhishek Choudhary. The petitioner said, “This is sheer injustice that these paramilitary forces dying for the country are not given proper recognition and monetary support as being given to the Army personnel. There should be no discrimination. All those sacrificing their lives for the nation should be treated equally.”
Gopal Prasad plans to file an intervention petition when the matter comes for hearing on 23 November, requesting for a directive from the court to ask the government to amend the Constitution and define the word “martyr” so that all those personnel who sacrifice their lives for the country get proper respect.