The nation today mourns the death of Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad and nine others who perished at the Siachen glacier. The high and the mighty of the Indian establishment, the Army top brass and politicians of all hues have come together to pay homage to these bravehearts, who gave the supreme sacrifice of their lives atop the world's highest battlefield.
Our hearts swell with pride at their selflessness and their valour but I couldn't help but notice the family members of the fallen heroes, who, grief stricken as they are, appeared to be simple villagers struggling to come to terms with the tragedy. They looked lost and out of place in the glitz and "glamour" of the ceremony (one television channel even called it a "function"). These poor villagers have probably lost their only breadwinners and are not sure how they would get on with life without that monthly remittance from the frontline.
Hundreds of soldiers, and officers, have perished in inhospitable terrain and several hundreds of others have fallen fighting internal and external disturbances, guarding borders and warding of invaders. Yet, as a nation, how many times have we given even a thought to what these valiant men get in terms of salaries and allowances?
As has been pointed out several times, the salaries and allowances of a soldier are less than half of what a government "babu" gets, with virtually no lifetime support for their families after they fall in the line of duty. Even if there is, it's often never enough for the family to pull through in comfort.
They are a cheerful lot and are the real bravehearts in actions and in deeds but we don't care for them. They are given the proverbial "step motherly" treatment when they serve and most of them perish with the nation not even knowing what happened.
The pomp and the show, the glitz and the glamour, will soon end and it will be life as usual for our politicians and the Services top brass. What will also not change is the attitude towards these sentinels of our frontiers without whom we will never be able to feel as safe as we do now.
The "fauji" will never be a priority with our establishment and he will continue to grin and bear it - and follow orders!
Isn't it time we improved their lot and give them a decent living standard? Isn't it time we look at these young men with respect? Should they continue to be ignored?
They stay away from their families for months on end and work their pants off at all times yet when it comes to remuneration, they get the proverbial peanuts.
India has one of the world's finest armies, the best soldiers, dynamic officers, top class training facilities and unmatchable commitment. Yet, we only remember their sacrifices when a Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad happens and this is also quickly forgotten.
Twenty-four hours from now, Siachen will be off the radar and our media will have other things to report on. And this incident, which claimed the lives of ten of our finest men, will be buried. That's the tragedy!