Friday, June 17, 2011

Britain Helps WWII Indian Veterans

Britain funds WWII veterans' well being By Vinod Kumar Menon Date: 2011-02-21 Place: Mumbai

Organisation set up to help veterans from the Commonwealth who fought for England has sent more than Rs 16 crore to India in the last decade alone

MORE than 50 years after the end of World War II, the British haven't forgotten the soldiers from India who fought as part of their army against the Germans and other Axis powers.

Ex sepoy Balu Davlu Dhabhole with his wife Bhagirati outside their house in Kolhapur

Following MiD DAY's sustained reportage of the pathetic state of these veterans and their widows (we broke the story with 'Republic of neglect' on January 26), a former British officer based in the city informed us of the existence of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL), which has been sending funds for these soldiers since the end of the war.

Surprisingly, even though the League has disbursed more than Rs 16 crore in the last 10 years alone (see box), officials from the Sainik Welfare Board and even some veterans themselves were unaware of its existence.

Lt Colonel (Retd) Graham Tullet, a former British Army officer who is part of the RCEL, said the League provides welfare support for ex-servicemen and women of Common-wealth countries who served the British Crown at some point in time and reside overseas.

Earl Haig founded the charity in 1921 and its scope increased following the Second World War. Today, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is the grand president of the League, which has 56 member organisations across 48 countries. It covers the Caribbean, West, East and Southern Africa, the Indian subcontinent, South-East Asia, the Pacific and Australasia.

RCEL acts as a link throughout the Common-wealth for local organisations set up to help these veterans. Financial support is also given to small self-help projects that can generate local income.

"The objective is to ensure that no eligible ex-serviceman or woman is without help in their time of need. When Britain was facing a bleak future, help arrived from all corners of the Commonweal-th. Now the people who helped us at such a critical time need our help and support. It is our turn to give," said Tullet.

'Show us the money'
Colonel (Retd) Shankarrao Nikam (91), who fought for the British Army and now lives in Kolhapur, was surprised to learn about the existence of the fund. "I have never heard of any such money coming into the country. And, if it is true, why do war veterans and their widows have to beg for a decent living even today? Where has the money gone?"

Colonel (Retd) Suhas Jatkar, director at the state department of Sainik Welfare HQ at Pune, too, admitted that he was unaware of the RECL and the help that it extends.

"We have a total of 9,183 beneficiaries under the World War II category. Of this, 1,396 are veterans and 7,787 are widows," said Jatkar.

Colonel (Retd) Akhil Sharma, general secretary, Indian Ex-Servicemen League (IESL), Delhi, said the organisation has been receiving money from RECL. As per their records, around 8,000 World War II veterans and their widows are alive across India, of which 463 are from Maharashtra, and they are given a monthly pension of Rs 300.

When informed about the discrepancy in the figure maintained by them and the Sainik Welfare Board, Sharma said that they go by the records maintained by their office in Mumbai, which takes care of Maharashtra.

Commenting on the discrepancy, an official from IESL's Mumbai said, "That may be because we do not advertise and ask people to come forward and register.

All those who voluntarily approach us and satisfy us with documents and records proving that they served the British Army in World War II are enrolled and their details are sent to our headquarters in Delhi. The monthly pension amounting to Rs 300 is sent to them from there."

Sharma said they receive approximately Rs 2 crore a year from RECL and the account of the fund is audited and a copy is sent to the UK.

1,396- Total World War II veterans alive today in Maharashtra
7,787- Total widows of World War II Veteran in Maharashtra
9,183- Total beneficiaries as on December 31, 2010
Britain Helps WWII Indian Veterans
Sad commentary on the Veteran Welfare of Soldiers in India indeed!

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