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Tuesday, November 9, 1999
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Lost son, refused pension
By Rajendra Sharma
Tribune News Service

CHANDIGARH, Nov 8 — "My tragedy was too deep for tears the day my only son, Capt M.S. Bhinder, perished in the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy in Delhi three years ago after chivalrously saving the lives of 160 persons. His wife, Jot Roop, and their four-year-old son, Ruskin, too perished in the fire with him.

The tragedy has now become even deeper with Army Headquarters refusing to pay me the promised special family pension and the Punjab Government failing to honour its commitment to raise a memorial to his memory at Chowk Mehta — his native place — in Amritsar district," says 70-year-old Capt Vardip Singh (retd).

The special family pension was promised by Maj J.S. Virk, Officer Commanding of 61-B, Cavalry (which Capt Bhinder served), at the cremation ground immediately after he had lit the pyres of his son, daughter-in-law and grandson, says Capt Singh.

Army Headquarters has written to him to say: "Having examined the case under reference in accordance with the existing medical and administrative provisions, it has been decided that special family pension in respect of Capt Bhinder is not admissible since the cause of his death has been found to be neither attributable to nor aggravated by military services."

He has been advised to prefer an appeal to the Ministry of Defence, in case he is not satisfied with the decision of Army Headquarters.

The Captain says his son could have easily saved himself, his wife and their son from the fire. He could not, however, withstand the way certain miscreants were robbing young women of their jewellery and cash. His soldierly qualities prompted him to sacrifice himself and his family for saving the honour and life of others. His bravery had been acclaimed by one and all who witnessed it or heard of it.

Captain Singh says Bhinder's son died on the spot, while his wife was rushed to Safdarjang Hospital. She succumbed to her burns about one and a half hours later.

Broken-hearted Capt Vardip Singh adds that his son was not only an Army officer imbibing qualities of head and heart but also a distinguished sportsman. He had bagged four gold, one silver and one bronze medals in horse-riding at the fourth National Games held in Bangalore and Mysore. He was selected to represent India in the Asian Games equestrian event held in Bangkok. A few days before he was to go to participate in the Asian Games, he went to see the Border movie screened in Uphaar Cinema. This film depicted the role of the Army in defending its frontiers.

The bravery that Capt Bhinder displayed in saving people from the devastating Uphaar fire had been appreciated both by Army officers and civilians alike. In a letter to his father, Lieut-Gen H.B. Kala, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief wrote: "Capt M.S. Bhinder was a bright and highly motivated officer who always placed the service interests above that of his own. An outstanding sportsman, his performance at the National Games at Bangalore did the Army proud. We had many hopes on him during the next Asiad and Olympics but God had willed otherwise. He sacrificed his life to save others in the highest traditions of the Indian Army. His example will act as a beacon to the generations of young officers. We salute this gallant soldier."

Similarly, Lieut-Gen M.S. Shergill, Director-General of mechanised Forces, Army Headquarters, and Lieut-General Shankar Prasad, General Officer Commanding lauded his soldierly qualities.

Capt Vardip Singh says his son was a student of B.A.M.S. He was keen to become a doctor. But he had persuaded and inspired Bhinder to join the Army and serve the nation, keeping with the high traditions of his family. He says his father Sir Balwant Singh was Swar in the Army while his great grandfather Sardar Kehar Singh was Havildar.

He adds that as many as six of his family members were freedom fighters. They were his grandfather Kehar Singh, father Balwant Singh, uncles Tarlok Singh, Santa Singh and Piara Singh, his elder brother Harbans Singh. All of them were Tamra Patra holders.

Bhinder bowed to his father's suggestion, abandoned his B.A.M.S. studies and competed in the N.D.A. test. He qualified with distinction and was commissioned in the Army.

Capt Vardip Singh says Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal visited his house to condole his son's death. In the presence of his Cabinet colleague, Mr Sewa Singh Sekhwan, and two MLAs, he promised to build a gate and raise a full-size statue of Capt Bhinder at Chowk Mehta, apart from developing a stadium in the memory of this gallant soldier. However, nothing has been done so far.

"No one can give my son back to me. If the Punjab Government cannot raise even the promised memorial in the memory of a gallant officer who belonged to a family of soldiers and freedom fighters to fulfil the last wish of his father, what else can he expect from it?" he asked.back

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