They had fought in the Burmese jungles, in the North African plains and in the Persian Gulf waters. They fought in the infantry, navy and air force. They mostly fought the Japanese. And they were on the British side.

Most were in their late teens or early twenties when they were deployed in the three continents by the British colonial rulers to battle the Japanese, Italian and German forces in the Second World War. They had joined the British Indian military not for adventure, but because of the massive unemployment and poverty that prevailed in Kerala in the 1930-40s. War was the best option, probably the only option, for the able-bodied, unemployed youth of the time.

Once the war was over, these young men, who had spent their best years in the battlefield, returned home empty-handed and unemployed yet again. They had to start life afresh. Thousands just drifted along. Independent India forgot to take care of them.

Nearly seven decades after the close of the World War, the Government of India, under pressure from the Kerala High Court, has decided to take care of the few hundred war veterans still surviving. The Defence Ministry has just issued orders to pay Rs 3,000 as interim monthly pension to 887 World War veterans in Kerala. There are all in their late 80s and 90s.

The assistance, however, did not come easy and quick. The Kochi-based Kerala State Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association (KEXWA) had to fight a long and hard legal battle on the veterans’ behalf. The association had moved the court way back in 2000. The Centre was not inclined to pay the pension. Finally, the High Court directed it to pay an interim pension, pending adjudication of the petition, to them. The Defence Ministry on Monday transferred Rs 3.19 crore to the Department of Sainik Welfare, Thriuvananthapuram, to be distributed to the 887 veterans.

After the petition was filed in the High Court in 2000, hundred of veterans have died. Retired Col. KBR Pillai, president of the association, told Business Line that there could be at least 1,500 World War veterans still alive in Kerala.

Once the war was over, these young men, who had spent their best years in the battlefield, returned home empty-handed.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 21, 2013)
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