Forgotten veterans: This is the story of Allah Ditta
His eyes reflect long nights of toil, tears and sweat. His posture and grey beard is telling of his age. His ID card announces his name – Allah Ditta. He is a security guard at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi. As I draw near, he greets me with a warm smile.
Behind this calm facade is a story of great self-sacrifice, of dreams unfulfilled, of expectations unmet and a life unlived…
During the blood-stained days of 1971, Allah Ditta was 19-years-old. Overflowing with a blend of youthful valour and the love of his fatherland, he joined the army and jumped into the fray. He fought fearlessly but when the Instrument of Surrender was signed in Dhaka, Allah Ditta ended up in an Indian prisoner-of-war camp for two and a half years.
Upon his return in 1973, he didn’t expect showers of rose petals, but what fate had in store for him was nothing less than heart-breaking. Those temporarily conscripted during the war were dismissed by the army high-command. Allah Ditta was one of them. With a heavy heart, he returned to his village, but couldn’t cope with the transition; it all felt so hopelessly empty, life seemed so colourless to him.
Three months later, fortune smiled on him and he got enlisted again. For almost three decades, with transcendent pride he donned the khaki uniform and served his country. However, in the late 90s matters took a turn for the worse. For some personal reasons, he couldn’t complete his service and left with a period of service that was less than that stipulated as ‘minimum pensionable service’ in the endless labyrinth of rules and regulations.
In a loud, distinct tone he narrates to me how for the past 13 years, his job has sapped him of his energy and how poverty and sleepless nights have become his fate.
“How long will I continue?” he questions me with a faltering voice, his eyes betraying a world of pain in their depth.
Our discussion veers to current affairs. I notice how, despite the ingratitude of his countrymen, Allah Ditta’s heart still aches for his land. He tells me how the rapidly rising terrorism and sectarianism, and the deteriorating law and order situation worry him.
As someone whose great-grandfather fought both the world wars, I have heard many anecdotes of the brain-racking psychological torture and the agonies that torment not only those in the battlefield but also their families. I can understand what the likes of Allah Ditta go through. While other civilized nations cover their war veterans in glory, we leave them to the vagaries of time. What a twisted psychology we have.
Recently, Obama administration earmarked $198 million for Filipino World War 2 veterans. Gordon Brown was castigated – even by Labour MPs – over his stance on Gurkhas’ right of abode in the UK. The labour government suffered the ignominy of defeat on the Liberal Democrat motion on Gurkha rights.
The world over, war veterans enjoy special benefits and reverence, however in the sub-continent they – especially those conscripted on temporary basis – are dumped and repudiated shamelessly using the ruse of insufficient service. 30 veterans of three wars similarly demanded pension benefits in 2013 in India.
Senator Benjamin Harvey Hill once remarked:
“Who saves his country, saves himself, saves all things, and all things saved do bless him! Who lets his country die, let’s all things die, dies himself ignobly, and all things dying curse him!”
The veracity of these words fails to dawn on the paladins who ride the power chariot. What more can be expected of a human being? From the Rs627 billion appropriated for defence budget, don’t these men deserve even a penny? What a pity that we, as a people, have failed in identifying our true heroes.
In the hubbub of nationalism, the cries of our true heroes seem to have drowned out. Countless Allah Ditta living under similar conditions are awaiting the fruits of their services……awaiting in their last days as life recedes, light fades away and darkness closes in.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.