File photo of Meghna Girish | @MajorAkshayGirish/Facebook
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New Delhi: A soft-spoken social media-savvy mother is fighting for what she believes is the rightful “honour for her son”, and in the process, has turned the spotlight on the Army’s gallantry award procedure.

“An unsung hero is better than an insulted one,” said Meghna Girish, the mother of Major Akshay Girish, who was among seven soldiers killed in a terror attack on an Army camp in Nagrota, Jammu and Kashmir, in November 2016.

Major Akshay Girish | By special arrangement
Major Akshay Girish | By special arrangement

Stung by the Army naming her son under “Mention in Despatches (MID)” as opposed to awarding him the Shaurya Chakra — as recommended by his commanding officer for his “gallant action” — Meghna has been leading a campaign for Major Girish.

The Shaurya Chakra is the Army’s third highest peacetime decoration while an MID is just an official report mentioning a soldier’s gallant action in an attack. It is written by a senior officer and sent to the Army high command.

“I am not insisting on a gallantry award for Akshay,” Meghna told ThePrint. “What I am asking for is an explanation as to why my son did not get the Shaurya Chakra as recommended by his senior officers. I have not accepted the MID and it should be withdrawn because an unsung hero is better than an insulted hero.”

Her campaign has now received a major setback.

Army sources have told ThePrint that Major Girish’s family has been informed that a review committee, set up by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in January, has concluded that the MID award to the late Major cannot be upgraded or withdrawn.

Meghna had met Sitharaman, helped by BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, after which the minister had tweeted on 3 January, saying, “As assured by the Raksha Mantri, a Committee has been constituted with members, inter alia, as suggested by Meghna Girish to look into the supreme sacrifice made by her son Major Akshay Girish. Smt. Meghna Girish has been invited to depose before and assist the Committee”.

Meghna told ThePrint that on 25 March, she again wrote to Sitharaman reminding her of the committee.

“Elections are around the corner and while we hope to see our government back, you may or may not be our Raksha Mantri,” she wrote. “I appeal to you not to shatter the faith and trust reposed in you to resolve the long outstanding issue of due justice and honour to Major Akshay Girish. Please communicate your decision before 31st March 2019.”

The Major’s mother said on 30 March, an Army car stopped by her gate at 8 pm and some officers showed her a file. “The file just corroborates Akshay’s leadership, bravery and sacrifice to save lives. It neither referred to an award nor made a recommendation,” she said.

The Nagrota Attack

Just two months after the Army’s surgical strike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, dressed in police uniforms, struck the Army’s 166 Field Regiment artillery unit in Nagrota on 29 November 2016. The unit comes under the 14 Corps.

On that day, Major Girish led a quick reaction team (QRT) at about 6.15 am to fight off three heavily-armed terrorists who had managed to sneak into the officer’s residential quarters by killing four soldiers at the entry gate. The families, which included children, were at risk.

According to the Major’s unit, 51 Engineers, he faced a hidden terrorist at close range. Despite being hit by multiple bullets, he returned fire for several minutes until a grenade, launched from a terrorist’s under-barrel grenade launcher, blew up his thighs.

His body was recovered only during combing operations late in the evening after the three terrorists had been killed.

Mother argues that CO recommended award

Meghna said the commanding officer of the 51 Engineers had initiated the note for the slain officer to be awarded the Shaurya Chakra.

“This was further endorsed by the GoC of the 14 Corps and by the Northern Army Commander,” she said. “But it got downgraded to the MID at the Army headquarters. Why?”

She has several messages from the Major’s peers, those of the special forces who led the operations and even senior officers, telling her how brave her son was.

Meghna further said that when she first met the Army chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, in October 2017, he was very courteous and said he would look into the issue.

“When I met him again on 2 January 2018, he said that the citation written by the CO was not very strong. I agree that that the CO did not have battle experience and hence the citation could not have been very strong,” she said. “Even if the writing was not so strong, how come all of them, including the then Northern Commander, recommended him? What is the weight of all these officers then?”

Calling it a “systemic failure”, she now wants the procedure, for the grant of the gallantry awards, to be made more transparent so that the families of those killed “don’t have to go through this again”.

Army sources, however, told ThePrint that due diligence has been followed in the case. “From the first time he was awarded for the Nagrota operations to now, when the review committee looked into the whole issue, due diligence was followed,” a source said.

Asked about Meghna’s allegation that the Army was hesitant to award the Major with the Shaurya Chakra as the attack was an embarrassment for the force, the source added, “Major Kunal Gosavi was awarded Shaurya Chakra (posthumously) for the same operation. There is a proper mechanism in place for awards which has multiple checks and balances”.

The Army’s own Court of Inquiry into the terror attack is still on.


Also read: Not just Abhinandan’s story: Next time you cheer for soldiers, remember their families too


The process for gallantry awards

The Army follows a multi-tiered process in selecting personnel for a gallantry award.

The first note for a gallantry award is initiated by the commanding officer. This is then sent to the brigade headquarters, which then forwards it to the division headquarters with remarks.

From here, the file moves to the corps headquarters where it is processed by a board. The file eventually moves to the command headquarters where another board, consisting of four to five officers, reviews it.

“Only when the GoC-in-C of the command approves the board’s decision that the file is moved to the Army headquarters where another board consisting of the vice chief, the military secretary, the chief of military intelligence and others review it,” a source explained. “Their recommendation is sent to the Army chief who after his remarks sends it to the MoD for final approval.”

Asked if there is scope for improvement, former DGMO Lt Gen, Vinod Bhatia (retd) told ThePrint, “It is a proper system but there is no perfect system in the world.” He added that there are multiple checks and balances in place to ensure that the system works well.


Also read: PM Modi dedicates National War Memorial to India’s fallen soldiers after independence


 

Spike in gallantry awards

There has been a spike in gallantry awards over the recent years in comparison to earlier wars, such as the ones fought in 1965 and 1971.

The Army source, however, explained this by citing the duration of the wars.

“You will have to look at the duration of these wars,” the source said. “For example, the Kargil battle went on for three months and hence you will see a larger number of awards in comparison to earlier ones.”

“Also, the Indian Army is involved in day-to-day operations in a big way. And hence it would be completely wrong to compare today’s scenario with the earlier ones,” the source added.

Lt Gen Bhatia (retd) argued that awards are a motivation but underlined that laid down parameters have to be met.

“There is a certain yardstick that an act of gallantry has to fall within,” he said. “An award is a great motivation. A unit citation is also a great motivator. With Army involved in daily operations at the LoC and in Kashmir, the number of awards will naturally rise.”

 

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16 Comments Share Your Views

16 COMMENTS

  1. I stand by you Meghna.
    These govt servents are good for nothing.

    P M and RM , please look into this matters as top preority . Our country image is at stake.
    One suggestions ~ please transfer on deputation these types of govt officers and beurocrates to Kargil / Aasam , toughest border post for 2 years Then only these people will realise.

  2. Modiji and the present Government is doing nothing for Soldier
    Pak Army takes care at best
    Dieing for India is of no use
    No respect no love that’s what a soldier wants
    Shame on you modiji

  3. Potential martyrs! Choose your Commanding Officers carefully- at least those who are well versed in the Queen’s English to get your valour recognised from the babus of MoD. As if the recommendations of officers in the chain of command were weak too and they were clueless and recommended & forwarded a ‘week’ citation in case of braveheart Girish. It’s not your valour that will fetch you recognition but the quality of tEnglish used in the citation . Many a time a non deserving act gets recognised when supported by a flowery and bombastic citation. It indeed is better to remain unsung than getting insulted and leaving the kin pained.

  4. Kind request to our PM MODIJI to consider .

    Hope the major gets his award for fighting terrorist and saving innocent lives.

  5. Reading the POST, reminds me that as a young officer, when I was just one year old in uniform & fortunate to experience all facets of effect of war – the 1965 war-, I learnt that in times of war and countering insurgency, numerous gallant actions are performed by the soldiers but only some fortunate get recogonised & decorated.
    Fortunate are those who have the privilege of performing, what they learn over the years.

    Through the years, just by learning or recalling a martyrdom, my eyes go moist & throat chokes.

    Later being decorated or not, is mostly dependent upon the expression of words used in proposed recommendations & for functionaries to give a heartless reading.
    A martyr, at critical Moments, does not think, whether his actions are being watched by some for being decorated but selflessly singlehandedly acts the best in solitude and exemplifies the sacrifice. Immediate family suffers the void.

    Decorations are great honours but Unsung Martyrs need to be honoured by occasionally recalling their valour and sacrifices for the GEN NEXT. But that would show some faults in incumbent dispensations.
    It is time for society to take upon themselves for honouring unsung actions of Martyrs, rather than depend upon the decisions of the functionaries that matter in decorations & their visible lip sympathy.

    Martyr takes his final call and in line of duty first & against all odds, moves to LAST POST.

    Recalling valour & honouring & respecting with human care the Martyr’s near ones in their daily life, is the greatest honour, but that is being given a miss by the concerned / common persons & that is the saddest part.
    Wishing some changes in society’s approach to what was visible in 60’s that I witnessed.
    I wish better sense prevails in persons that matter.

    My respectful salutes to the valour and sacrifices and the examples set, worthy of emulation.

  6. A mother who smiles proudly in front of her dead son’s name who gave his life for the Country definitely deserves more than a Shourya chakra award. My respect to you and off course your son

  7. Gallantry awards in India are a farce. In one instance govt awarded 13 gallantry awards for killing an unarmed fugitive and his collegue and that too in a chance encounter. Country’s second highest, third highest and top police medals were awarded so liberally. There is no balance, no sensibility in awarding there medals.
    Who has respect for Indian Gallantry awards.
    They are awarded to mostly chicken hearted pliable fellows.

  8. A sad commentary on the process for ‘Honours and Awards’ in the Indian Defence Services. And the ‘stringent yardsticks’ and due diligence (read finding ways to deny the award) seem limited to the Defence Services alone. When 26/11 happened, the MHA handed out major awards to 11 policemen, and cash and monetary benefits to a host of others. In sharp contrast, only Maj Sandeep Unnikrishnan was awarded an Ashok Chakra.

    In 1999, when a Pak Navy Atlantique aircraft was shot down by a MiG21 Bis in the Kutch sector, I as the Sqn CO recommended both pilots (one a Flt Lt and the other a Fg Offr) for a Shaurya Chakra. However, MEA red-flagged it saying that rewarding those who caused the death of 16 PN personnel (on board the Atlantique) would cause friction with the Pakistanis. And it is disillusioning to have to accept that the MEA won that round, and the Flt Lt received a ‘Commendation’ from the Chief, while the Fg Offr had to make do with one from the AOC-in-C!! Never mind the fact that all 16 PN personnel were posthumously awarded the ‘Nishan-e-Pakistan’!!

    It happens in India!! Sad commentary. I stand with Meghna in her quest for recognition of her gallant son. Jai Hind

  9. If not the son, the mother who is proudly standing in her dead son’s name and proudly smiling should be given an award that is if possible better than the shaurya chakra award. My condolences and all respect to this mother and off course the Don

  10. I don’t think any one should interfere in gallantry awards recommendation process. From the new it’s clears it has to pass multilevel levels. It’s not like CO is happy with you he will recommend you to one

  11. How is it that all operational commanders found Akshay worth of Shaurya Chakra but people in Administrative roles downgraded the citation not one but two steps down. This need a clear justification. Committee formation and such measures are clear eyewash and won’t help. This is indeed sorry state of affairs and must be dealt in a fair and appropriate way

  12. He led bravely at great personal risk, and lost his life while saving others. Has MoD run out of medals? What message is going out to young officers and youngsters aspiring to join? Are we tied down to percentages? Why give medals notrelated to bravery (like PVSM), as lifetime achievement awards?

  13. Since, Smt. Meghna ji has exhausted all administrative channels, right from Army Chief to the Defence Minister, now she is left with no alternative but to approach the Armed Forces Tribunal to get justice.

  14. Let’s face the truth. In gallantry awards too there is a quota system. If you have the right people lobbying for you, you get it. Here the officer who has got it is from 166 Medium Regiment (the parent unit under attack). The one who didn’t get it is from 51 Engineers, an supporting unit.
    So obviously…. The award goes to…..

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