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26 August 2015

One rank, one pension and the Iron Lady

In a nutshell: one rank, one pension means having a uniform pension for Indian defence personnel who retire in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. At least 22 lakh retired military personnel and some six lakh war widows will become eligible for the scheme if approved by the government. The practice now is to fix the pension based on the Central Pay Commission's recommendations at the time of a person's retirement.

For example, a major general who retired in 1996 draws a lower pension than a lieutenant colonel who retired after 1996.

Here at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, retired military personnel have come together to demand the one rank, one pension scheme, said to be one of the election promises of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A few ex-servicemen who are leading the protest have decided not to consume any food until their demand was met. Two of them had to be taken to hospital after their health deteriorated.

This could arguably be the first time that people related to the military have used fast-unto-death, a common form of protest in India against extreme apathy of the authorities, to seek a solution.  

A traditional headgear gifted by a social organisation to Irom Sharmila, at the office of human rights activist and lawyer Babloo Loitongbam, one of the first people to provide logistics and legal help to Sharmila when she started her protest in November 2000. (Photo taken with a phone camera during a chat with Loitongbam, Imphal, July 2013)

In another age and time, anti-war activist Irom Sharmila from India's north-eastern state of Manipur, decided not to consume food until her demand was met. Her goal is to make the government remove a law that gives sweeping powers to the military to act against suspects, including civilians, without trial in a court of law.

She hasn't eaten any solid food for quite some time, and her survival depends on for how long the authorities will continue to force-feed her.

Today, fast-unto-death is the crossroad where Sharmila meets her object of protest.

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Journalist. Taking a walk in India. | Email to journeybasket[at]gmail | Special thanks to M.S. Gopal | All rights reserved. No commercial use.

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