Fighting for a fair deal
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While the army struck the right note in the beginning, and one presumed the inclusion of paraplegics had evolved into an imperative, it was inconsistent in absorbing even pre-SN paraplegics. A major invalided out in February 2002 had appealed against his expulsion. The Armed Forces Tribunal upheld his contention and reinstated him. The army, readying to challenge that order, indicated its reluctance to welcome paraplegics back to the fold.
The IAF has a history of compassion, but its test comes in the form of a flight cadet who sustained spinal injury while ejecting from a jet trainer last August. Then four months short of becoming an officer, this paraplegic lad wants to serve the IAF in any non-flying capacity. A change of branch and commission will mean setting a precedent. The lazy option is to throw the rulebook at him and bid him goodbye. That will be a waste of his training and cruel, to boot. Will the IAF choose to be a pioneer by commissioning him? By some coincidence, the navy too will be asked to take a call as for the first time, a wheelchair-bound officer has sought retention.
Perhaps Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who lays great store on fairness, can step in to tell the services to consider the spirit of the disability act to be their lodestar when called upon to decide the fate of a paraplegic soldier.
The writer was a fighter pilot in the IAF