75-year old Honorary Captain Thomas Philipose, MVC was deeply disturbed by the untimely demise of ten soldiers in an avalanche at Siachen Glacier in February last year.
He could not sleep a wink the night the bodies were sent home. Neither the Kerala Chief Minister nor other state cabinet ministers were present to receive the body of Lance Naik Sudheesh -a native of Kollam- one of the martyred soldiers.
“The bodies of all other martyrs including that of Lance Naik Hamunanthappa were received by the respective state Chief Ministers, cabinet ministers and MPs. They were laid to rest with due honour. But not Sudheesh….only his friends and family were with him during his last journey. We gave our sweat and blood for the country…and this is what we get from the state government,” says Philipose, while speaking to The News Minute.
It was then that the retired army man -who is also the recipient of the second highest gallantry award Maha Vir Chakra- decided to take matters into his own hands to deal with this appalling apathy shown by the Kerala government to war heroes from the state.
He has now built a War Memorial in a three-cent plot at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta. It is to be formally inaugurated by MLA Veena George on Saturday. The Memorial bears the names of nearly 20 soldiers who lost their lives in service of the nation. As many as ten ex-army men too will be honoured during the inaugural ceremony.
“The Kerala government has never accorded respect or honour to its soldiers, including me. I am the only Keralite to be decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra. It is high time that I become a medium through which soldiers like Sudheesh get their due,” avers Philipose.
He was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra in 1972, for bravery shown in the Cactus Lily Operation during the course of the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
“Maha Vir Chakra is equal to Bharat Ratna, you see. The state government has never done anything for me or for other brave soldiers from the state. In the North, there are roads and memorials build in my name. But you see nothing of that sort in my own home state. This just goes to show how lightly they take us,” remarks the decorated serviceman who served the nation for 32 long years from 1960 to 1992.
A member of the Kerala State Ex-Services League, Philipose -as a mark of protest- chose not to seek any government aid in construction of the Memorial that took almost six months to be completed, with an expenditure of nearly seven lakh rupees.
The abysmally low allowance (compared to the Centre’s allowance) paid by the state government to ex-servicemen just adds to the insult.
"Our government must learn from other states, which welcome their soldiers with open arms and treat them with respect for the rest of their lives. There are people like me who have fought a number of wars for the country, yet remain neglected by successive governments. But we are proud Indians, and we will forever remain so," he reiterates.