Raw Deal For Braveheart

Raw Deal For Braveheart

26 January 2012
Mail Online India
Gautam Datt

New Delhi: The nation's pride soared as marching contingents of the armed forces strode down Rajpath amid a striking display of India's military muscle power during the 63rd Republic Day parade on Thursday. But the family of martyred young army officer Lieutenant Sushil Khajuria - named a day earlier for Kirti Chakra, the second highest peacetime gallantry medal - was shattered. Not because they had lost him in the prime of his youth (he was only 26 years old). Or because his life had been cruelly cut short just a few months before he entered into wedded bliss (he was tying the knot on February 4). The Khajurias were feeling let down because of the appalling attitude of the authorities - the Union and state governments as well as the army - who appeared to be belittling the supreme sacrifice made by the braveheart. Sushil had breathed his last after taking bullets in a heroic gun battle with militants at Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir on September 27 last year. His brother, Major Anil Kumar Khajuria, told Mail Today that no one from the state government had come forward to meet the family and express its support. 'It is sad that all we have from the authorities are a few condolence letters,' he said, pointing out that even the Commanding Officer of Sushil's battalion, 18 Grenadiers, had not cared to establish contact with the family. 'Nobody bothered to reach us,' the Major lamented. Army sources, however, claimed senior officers had been in constant touch with the family. The Jammu-based Khajuria family was also dismayed by the fact that it had not heard anything about the ex gratia payment though four months had elapsed since Sushil laid down his life. 'We are not interested in the money, but it is a matter of pride and respect for us,' Anil said. The martyred Lieutenant's friends and relatives had earlier hoped that he would be awarded Ashok Chakra, the highest peacetime gallantry medal. A campaign was launched on social networking sites by friends so that his act of bravery received due recognition. His family was, however, content with Kirti Chakra. Sushil was a second generation armyman. His father, Som Datt Khajuria, retired as a naib subedar. While Anil is a serving Major, his other brother is a para commando. With the passion for serving the nation running in his genes, joining the army was the first and only career option for Sushil. Enlisting in the army was not a 'job' for the three brothers. But the family feels so slighted now that it has decided not to let any of its other members don the olive green. 'Judging by how authorities have responded to the sacrifice, we think his bravery was an act of foolishness,' the family said, expressing anguish and anger at the apathy of the authorities. The kin of an army officer who dies in action are entitled to an ex gratia of Rs 20 lakh from the Centre and Rs 5 lakh from the state government. But the family said that all it wanted now was a small place to erect a statue in the memory of Sushil. 'There are no more expectations. We do not want to make representations and chase officials to seek compensation,' the family said. The fierce encounter that claimed Sushil's life lasted four days. It was triggered when a group of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba militants attempted to sneak through the Line of Control via the Awathkul forests near Kralpora, around 130 km north of Srinagar. The terrorists had sneaked in during the intervening night of September 26 and 27, but the intelligence network alerted troops in Shamasbari range to intercept them. Soldiers of 18 Grenadiers, of which Sushil was a part, and a column of police personnel belonging to the antiinsurgency Special Operations Group were dispatched to launch a cordon-and-search operation. He managed to kill one of the terrorists after making deft moves in a close-range battle. Another terrorist retaliated but the Lieutenant repulsed him, forcing a retreat. Lt Khajuria then managed to surprise the second terrorist and killed him as well. He went on to crawl to evacuate one of his injured colleagues, Havildar Ravi Kumar. In the process, he got hit and succumbed to his injuries on the third day of the gun battle. His award citation said the officer killed two terrorists before he laid down his life. 'This was his third brush with militants in a span of two months,' his brother recalled. A Jammu boy who joined the Officer's Training Academy in Chennai, Sushil was commissioned in Army Service Corps on March 20, 2009, after completing the short service course. He was, however, attached with 18 Grenadiers on a Kashmir assignment. 18 Grenadiers is one of the most decorated units of the army. It had won a Param Vir Chakra in the Kargil war and bagged six gallantry medals during this year's Republic Day function. Sushil was one of three officers named for Kirti Chakra. The other two officers are Captain Ashutosh Kumar of 5 Rajputana Rifles and Lieutenant Colonel Kamaldeep Singh of 13 Rajputana Rifles. Ashok Chakra was awarded posthumously to Lieutenant Navdeep Singh who also laid down his life fighting terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.