This book held my attention from the word Go and was probably the fastest I’ve ever read a book in recent times. Before I move ahead, I want to state emphatically that this book must be read by one and all to recognize, understand and then celebrate the spirit of our brave wounded warriors from the armed forces. Our soldiers are known the world over for their bravery, integrity, valour and high morale and are the pride of our nation. Sadly, many of us have never taken time out to delve into what happens to the soldier who is injured or disabled in the line of duty. They are forgotten in the blink of an eye.

There is a huge lack of awareness amongst the civilians about the sacrifices made by the armed forces personnel in the line of duty. A majority of our citizens are clueless about the apathy met out to these soldiers. Therefore, this book is significant as the author, Ambreen Zaidi probes deep into the suffering and trauma endured by our wounded soldiers and their families. She travels the length and breadth of India to meet these brave hearts, understand their problems, and write about them to help people around become aware. Her research brings out a multitude of problems being faced by these courageous warriors every day, including dealing with red tape and unending procedures laid out by the government.

The foreword by Major Navdeep Singh, a practising lawyer at the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh, sets the tone of the book. He clearly identifies the crux of the matter and how adversarial the whole system has been towards our wounded warriors. Navdeep is also founder president of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association at Chandigarh. He has painstakingly explained how things have gone wrong and that the system needs a corrective path.

There are living legends among us and the author showcases many such unsung heroes who have overcome their disabilities and the challenges thrown at them and come out even more determined and stronger to face all eventualities. From Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi’s indomitable spirit to Squadron Leader Herojit Rajkumar Singh’s amazing feat to Colonel Hari Handa’s headstrong attitude and Lieutenant Colonel Chinmaya Prakash’s achievements, their stories are a source of inspiration.

Leading Aircraftman Mridul Ghosh exemplifies strength and resilience, Major General Ian Cardozo emphasises the spirit of never giving up, Lieutenant Colonel US Gill’s story highlights the systemic shortcomings in dealing with our wounded warriors at every turn and Major DP Singh’s triumphant victory over his disabilities plays a pivotal role in breaking down barriers.

Naik Deepchand Prakhyat and Ex-Cadet Shubham Gupta are beacons of hope even through all the tribulations they have faced while Havildar Sanjeev Kumar’s Never Say Die spirit comes shining through. Honorary Captain Gyanendra Kumar Rai’s story is of hope amidst the shadows of grief and Flying Officer MP Anil Kumar remains an inspiration for one and all. The heart-rending poems in between the stories tug at your heartstrings.

The narrative in the book gives us an exclusive peek at the thoughts and feelings of what these legends have experienced in their lifetime and what their families have gone through. It is very easy to get involved in their personal and inspiring lives as you turn each page. You identify with the soldier’s longings and frustrations, their feelings and emotions as well as the anger and hurt due to benefits that are rightfully theirs being denied to them. It is terribly sad to read about the long legal battles they have had to fight for their benefits and their rights and how it took a toll on them dealing with an insensitive bureaucracy and very often than not their own higher ups that lacked empathy at every stage.

The author sums up with a brief introduction to the Spinal Cord Injury Centre, the Artificial Limb Centre and the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre and BEG Paralympic Node, all established in Pune where injured soldiers in the line of duty are brought. The existing policy gaps and anomalies are summed up by Colonel Pradeep Kapoor.

What resonates in every story is the pride these battle wounded soldiers carry on their shoulders and how they have turned their disability into an ability. They have worked hard on turning their adversity in to an asset. It’s all in the mind they say!

The book comes out at a time when the central government has come up with new disability pension rules that literally undermine and discriminate the wounded warriors. The new rules are regressive to say the least and have riled up all the veterans. Death and disability pension for soldiers is an extremely sensitive subject and requires broader parliamentary, media and public debate. Unfortunately our politicians, the media and serving or retired soldiers (except those directly affected by the development) often have only a posturing understanding of the subject. I would recommend these file pushers and rule makers read such books and other stories and articles written by esteemed and knowledgeable people on our wounded warriors to understand reality.

As I read the chapters on some of our brave hearts, I felt immense respect, empathy and admiration for them. It pains you to read how they have been treated and how they’ve had to fight for their compensation, pension, rights.

Ambreen Zaidi is an army wife and a noted columnist and author. Her debut book The Warrior Widows has been widely appreciated and acclaimed. It is available in both Hindi and English. Ambreen writes fearlessly on the issues closest to her heart, and is on a mission to help the families of our soldiers killed in action and those who were disabled while serving the nation. She was recently awarded by President Droupadi Murmu for her work.

In the author's own words, “After meeting the soldiers featured in my book and many others I have realised that we have to create a revolution of sorts, to bring awareness amongst the citizens of India, the policy makers, people at key positions in the government so that they have a more empathetic approach towards our disabled soldiers. This will ensure that in the future none of them have to approach the legal channel to get their disability benefits that are rightfully theirs.”

This book will soon come out in the Hindi version as well to give it a wider reach.

Poignant lines from the book:

May we forever honour and cherish these brave souls, for they have taught us that courage knows no bounds and the human spirit can triumph over any adversity – Jai Hind.

Soldiering On: The Remarkable Resilience of India’s Disabled Soldiers by Ambreen Zaidi

Prabhat Prakashan 2024

Paperback 199 pages

Rs 300