Brand me insane, cries war veteran

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  • Published 17.10.07

New Delhi, Oct. 17: A 1971 war veteran, Deepak Bajaj, was in the Supreme Court this month pleading to be declared insane.

“I have been under psychiatric treatment for years now.… Please declare me insane,” said the former squadron leader who won eight service medals for distinguished service.

Bajaj, who suffers from schizophrenia, was court-martialled for insubordination and using criminal force against those in whose custody he was placed. He was sacked from the air force in 1983, after 14 years of service.

At that time, Bajaj says, he had been suffering from schizophrenia for three years. Criminal charges cannot be brought against a mentally ill person, but since no medical tests were conducted on him during the court-martial, this rule was ignored. All he received was 50 per cent of his gratuity amounting to Rs 17,000, sanctioned at the discretion of the President.

Now, at 62, the former officer is fighting to be declared insane so that he can claim disability pension and the status of an ex-serviceman. Under air force rules, a medically unfit officer can claim such pension after 10 years of service.

But the two-judge Supreme Court bench dismissed his petition a fortnight ago, saying: “How can we declare anyone insane?”

Bajaj, who argued his own case because he could not afford a lawyer, said: “I will file a review…. If that fails, I will file a curative petition.”

Sitting in his house in Green Apartments, Paschim Vihar, the National Defence Academy graduate says: “I just want pension and the status of an ex-serviceman.” He has a wife and two daughters, one of whom is married and the other unemployed.

The high court had thrown out his petition in 2006 on the ground that it had been filed too late. “The petitioner is himself to be blamed…. He has slept over his rights, if any, and did not pursue the matter in accordance with law,” it said.

But Bajaj says he was undergoing treatment and was not in a position to pursue the case. He had to go every week to the hospital for follow-up treatment and did not have the money to hire lawyers either. “I have received 13 electric shocks... now I am stable,” he says.

After his dismissal, Bajaj had approached former Supreme Court Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati, who referred his petition to the legal aid committee that helps the poor fight cases. Nothing came of that, he says.

He had also written to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Bajaj claims, but did not get a response.

“My record comes in the way of finding a regular job,” says Bajaj, who is now working with a journal. “I used to fly aircraft worth crores,” he reminisces, adding that he flew sorties between what was then West Pakistan and East Pakistan during the 1971 war.

Bajaj rattles off names — Dakotas, HT-2, Harvard, Otter, the Caribou and Kiran — with ease. But ask him for a picture in uniform and he can only come up with some old medals and ribbons. “Must apply for it under the right to information act,” he says.