New Delhi: The year was 2017. Lance Naik Gopal Singh Bhadoriya, from the Rashtriya Rifles, laid down his life at the age of 33 during a gun battle with terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kulgam district. A year later, he was posthumously approved for the Shaurya Chakra, India’s third-highest peacetime gallantry award after the Ashok Chakra and Kirti Chakra.
The medal arrived earlier this week — four years late and via a courier service.
Gopal’s parents have now refused to accept the gallantry medal, demanding its conferment from the President. The soldier was also part of counter-terrorism operations during the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
“We will not accept the Shaurya Chakra by post. It must be conferred by the President as is protocol,” Munim Singh Bhadoriya, Gopal’s father, who lives in Ahmedabad, told ThePrint over phone.
This delay was the result of a four-year legal dispute between the soldier’s widow Hemavati Chauhan and his parents over who gets the service benefits, besides the Shaurya Chakra.
LANCE NAIK GOPAL SINGH 1 RR gave his life for nation, braving terrorists in J&K in 2017
He was conferred SHAURYA CHAKRA
Due to dispute b/w his wife & parents, award was put on hold
THREAD 🧵 pic.twitter.com/884zxI7iNJ
— Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj (@DeepikaBhardwaj) September 5, 2022
“Due to a dispute between the parents and the fallen soldier’s wife, proceedings had to go to court. After a long legal battle, the parties came to a settlement through a court order,” Vikas Manhas, an activist who works with families of deceased soldiers, told ThePrint.
The dispute & settlement
A plea filed by the parents of Lance Naik Gopal Bhadoriya in 2017, which has been accessed by ThePrint, gives details of the dispute.
According to the plea, the soldier married Hemavati in 2007. But in 2011, the couple entered into an agreement to dissolve the marriage. This agreement was registered with a notary in November 2011. They later filed a decree for dissolution of the marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act.
However, the plea reveals, the dissolution was not pursued since Lance Naik Gopal was busy in service and Hemavati had “shifted abroad”. The dissolution application was dismissed in March 2013. The plea also mentions that there was no subsequent contact between the soldier’s parents and his wife for many years.
The plea further notes that when the soldier was chosen for Shaurya Chakra in 2018, H claimed his service benefits. This claim was contested by the parents and a legal battle ensued.
In September 2021, following a mutual agreement between the parties involved, the City Civil Court in Ahmedabad declared his parents the rightful claimant of the Shaurya Chakra. It also said that all other service benefits, including pension, ex-gratia payments, and aids that are receivable from the Centre or state government or the Army, must be divided 50-50 between the two parties.
‘President must award Shaurya Chakra’
“We received a parcel at 5 pm on 5 September (Monday) which had the label of a gallantry award. I did not open the parcel and immediately returned it,” Munim said.
He added, “We want to receive the Shaurya Chakra only from the President. This is in accordance with the protocol. We will not accept it via post.”
LANCE NAIK GOPAL SINGH BHADORIYA
who immortalized in J&K was conferred with SHAURYA CHAKRA.
Wife & parents dispute barred them from receiving it.
When parents won the rights to receive the award, it came in a parcel.@rashtrapatibhvn kindly call parents and do the needful. pic.twitter.com/lxMjEysTQk
— Vikas Manhas (@37VManhas) September 5, 2022
A letter was also written by Munim to the Ministry of Defence in July — accessed by ThePrint — requesting the government to ensure that the family receives the Shaurya Chakra from the President.
“Any other form of conferment is denying my son due honour,” the letter said.
“I have complete respect for the Army. This is just about ensuring my son gets his due and is respected for his sacrifice,” Munim said.
Lance Naik Gopal was also awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal for his service during the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. Bhadoriya had carried an injured Subedar Major out of the Taj hotel amid heavy gunfire by terrorists. He had carried the injured soldier out of harm’s way and into an ambulance.
President awards medal
Army sources ThePrint spoke to said under normal circumstances, the Chakra awards are conferred by the President during an investiture ceremony. While the sources were not aware of the exact nature of Lance Naik Gopal’s case, they said that if the person who has been awarded a Chakra was not available or her/his next of kin was unavailable, the award is sent by post.
In July, the soldier’s father had received a letter (accessed by ThePrint) from the Army explaining that if an awardee is unable to receive the medal during the investiture ceremony, there will be no subsequent ceremony to confer the medal. It also declared that Director General Signals would confer the medal to the parents, and “would be honoured to preside [over] the award ceremony” whenever convenient to the family.
Sources also added that according to the Army’s policy, in case the award has been given posthumously, and if the recipient is married, her or his spouse would receive the award, not the parents. If they are separated and not divorced, the spouse will still receive the award.
(This story has been updated to correct an error in a name.)