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“a Life less ordinary”: The Disabled Officer Cadets

I come from an army background myself, studied in an army school, my best friends are from the army background. A major part of life was back and forth between the Cantt and civil areas. I remember we often compared the environs of the Cantt and civil areas. I have felt the safest in Cantt and around men/women in uniform and have always admired their dedication and passion for the country and comradeship towards each other. I don’t know whether a lot of you know or not but most of the children in army school themselves aspire to join the army. Many of my schoolmates are serving in the army. 

So, when I went to college, many of my friends told me that I was “made for the army.” I never fully understood but I was always proud of my army vibes as all army kids are I believe. But honestly, I have my own reservation about the profession which I would save for some other day. 

You must be wondering why I am narrating my life here in this article which talks about disabled army cadets. Well, it’s going to be long but I request you to bear with me. I want you to understand the gravity of it to the fullest. 

Moving on, in 2018, pursuing my passion for journalism I was working as a sub-editor with a magazine that also had one magazine about defence out of the three. I thought the army was never going to leave me and vice versa. In July, my brother filled out my NCC entry form and asked me to give it a try. Although I was hesitant because I had no idea what goes into the process, I chose to give up on my brother’s request and his affirmation that “one SSB will change your life.” I thought, if it is so, I am not going to miss the opportunity to give it a try and I went for it. 

Fast forward, I reached Allahabad railway station where we were asked to report and like that, I was sitting with questions, thoughts bombarding my mind seeing literally hundreds and hundreds of aspirants. Some came to the SSB for the entry I was going to and some for others, boys and girls in equal numbers, but each had perpetual pouring love for the army. You could see boys in the army crew cut like the one they get in the academy, others with strict body language, dreaming of living a “Life Less ordinary” 

The screening-in tests, psychology test, interviews, group task, everything was just so exciting and enthralling. But one incident that happened during the individual obstacle task, in hindsight, scared me. In one of the Physical tasks, one has to go through a few obstacles in a certain time span. Conquering my phobia of height, I ran to complete the task, but in the josh, I miss calculated and fell from the ‘Burma Bridge’ obstacle and felt a sharp pain at the end of the tailbone. But I continued to complete my tasks and I did within the time frame. However, that pain persisted. I got recommended, we went through the medical and everything was done. While returning my brother came to pick me up. I remember when we crossed a speed breaker or had any other kind of jerks, the end of my tailbone hurt even after 15 days. I couldn’t make it to the merit list due to fewer seats. However, it made me realise, what would have happened if that pain would have transformed into something serious had I hurt my spine. I did not make it to the merit list, and I could have been seriously injured which would have affected my entire life. 

I didn’t know about the woes of the disabled candidates till very late. One of my schoolmates serving in the army himself once posted about the lack of support for disabled cadets and I went to read about it. I was shocked and grieved. 

So, who are the disabled cadets?

Disabled Cadets are those young officers trainees of Indian armed forces who are getting trained to become Indian Armed Force Officers. The cadets undergo rigorous training to combat real situations as a soldier. The rigorous training often gets the soldier injured at some level but most recover and join back academy but Disabled Officers cadets are those who are seriously injured during such training and never recover. The disability percentage may vary like some cadets may be paralyzed and permanently wheelchair-bound while others may have shoulder dislocation. Physical numbness, blindness, deafness, fracture, brain dislocation, spinal injury are some of the disabilities which a disabled cadet might have.

Disabled cadets are evaluated over the medical reports whether they are fit for risky Armed forces life which demands mental and physical alertness of the highest level and if the medical reports say otherwise they are declared medically unfit and are boarded out on a medical basis. Once discharged from the hospital (usually Military hospital) They return to their home where their families look after them and support them as any family stands behind its kin.In the past 35 years over 400 cadets from different military training, academies have been boarded out on medical grounds, due to injuries obtained during training.

Of these, accounting for almost 50 % of the cases are the cadets from the National Defence Academy( NDA). After boarding out on medical grounds, these cadets are paid a lump sum amount based on their disability percentage which was attributed to military service. A small ex-gratia payment monthly is also allocated to them. However, they are not entitled to any other benefit despite being trainees for a Group A service or the other services granted to army personnel. “The ex-gratia paid to boarded out cadets is lower than that entitled to those boarded out on similar grounds but undergoing training as recruits for assignment as future soldiers. Recruits boarded out are entitled to ex-servicemen status, while officer cadets are not. In contrast, all Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) trainees at every level, including officers, are authorised a proper disability pension if disabled during training. According to a media report, trainees for other central civilian services are granted similar benefits or retained in service in appointments where they can be suitably employed.” according to a media report. 

The NDA cadets are usually 17–18 year boys fresh out of school or in the initial years of college, the boarded out cadets, hence, have to re-commence their graduation again. This has been partially offset with the NDA having signed agreements with Faridabad-based Lingaya University and the Andhra University to enable students to continue without losing a term.

The lack of interest and acknowledgement of the problem by the authorities can be swayed pertaining to a women officer cadet boarded out from Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai. The lady cadet was boarded out in 2010 and had approached the courts for rounding off her disability from 40 to 50 per cent. The court in its judgement stated, “Having not yet entered the services and having remained only at the threshold, the petitioner cannot claim equality with those who have served the armed forces before misfortune hit them. The grant of more benefits to such members of the services cannot be extended to cadets/trainees as they have not served the armed forces but were only being prepared for it.”

A committee formed by the defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, in 2015, slammed the government for its callousness. It stated, “Cadets who are disabled with attributable/aggravated disability and boarded out of training academies are granted a disability pension which is surprisingly not called a ‘pension’ but termed as a monthly ex-gratia award. This inane nomenclature has been conceptualized so that cadets could be prohibited from falling within the category of ex-servicemen.” The MoD said that cadets are not governed by Service Acts, unlike recruits. 

The disabled cadets should be given an ex-servicemen status which would enable the ECHS scheme and all other health emoluments an officer is covered in. The defence undertakes appointments from the private sector be it in the administration sector, logistics, management etc. The disabled cadets can be rehabilitated in these positions as they are qualified enough and are selected through a rigorous process.

The major issue in the welfare of the person with a disability is the proper rehabilitation facilities, and the scenario is no different for medically boarded out cadets. Rehabilitation facilities should be supervised in reverence to their graduation, vocational training, mental trauma, counselling etc.

Why it is unfair not to grant these disabled cadets their rights?

Under the ‘Persons with Disability Act,’ “any government employee who is declared medically unfit for the service should be continued to be given complete salary, service benefits, pension etc and shall be rehabilitated according to his status which means all the Grades government employees if disabled don’t have to worry about their medical expenditure or a future and can continue to live with dignity. However, the act somehow does not imply to Armed Forces Officers Cadets. 

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