Veterans and Social Change
Major General Mrinal Suman
We, the veterans take pride in the fact that we belong to the noblest profession in the world – the profession of arms that ensures security of our country. ‘Once a soldier always a soldier’ is an old adage. Shedding of uniform does not severe our umbilical links with the military. We continue to act as ambassadors of the services.
When in service, we are admired for our dedication to the cause of national security. Similarly, after retirement we should earn respect of the countrymen by contributing to the betterment of the society. People should look up to the veterans as the conscience-keeper of the values that our nation cherishes.
Most social scientists consider the military to be a major modernizing force. Soldiers possess necessary education, experience and maturity to be an agent of social change. They do not get carried away by rhetoric; they are doers and achievers.
Unfortunately, veterans in India have come to be associated with OROP, ECHS and canteen facilities. It is time we step out of our self-interest issues and prove ourselves to be worthy of the nation’s admiration that we yearn for.
Two areas in which we can contribute effectively are ‘eye donation’ and ‘body donation’. We can kick-start a social revolution and bring about a change in the thinking of our countrymen.
India is home to 1.2 crore blind people and nearly half of them suffer due to corneal disorders. Of them, 26 percent are children and 25 percent live below the poverty line.
India needs at least one lakh donated eyes annually for corneal transplantation to restore vision in people with corneal blindness. Corneal transplantation is an operation that replaces the opaque cornea with a clear cornea obtained from a human donor. The success rate is more than 90 percent. The gift of sight is made anonymously.
Anyone can pledge to donate his eyes after death. There is no age bar. However, as the eyes must be recovered within 4 to 6 hours of the death of the donor, support of the family members is critical.
Eye removal takes only 10-15 minutes and does not cause any disfigurement. Either the entire eye (called the globe) may be surgically removed, or only the cornea may be excised and placed in storage media.
The donated corneas are transplanted to the patients on the waiting list. Eyes which cannot be used for corneal transplantation are used for research and education purposes.
There is an acute shortage of donated eyes. Worse, less than 1 percent of the people who pledge their eyes actually donate them finally, primarily due to the indifference of the family members. Whereas states like Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have good collection rates, others fare rather poorly – Uttaranchal collects only four eyes in one year.
Lakhs of blind persons remain on the waiting list for years, hoping one day their turn would come to receive cornea donated by some virtuous soul. They suffer their sightless lives in the hope of seeing this beautiful world one day.
Body donation is not only a very noble gesture but also a big boon for medical research and development as the bodies are used in medical colleges for studying anatomy and various diseases. They are also needed for practicing and developing new surgical techniques.
There are over 140 medical colleges in India, each having 150 to 200 students. One cadaver (dead body) is needed for every 10 students for dissection in anatomy classes. All colleges are facing an acute shortage of cadavers. Some are forced to make do by sourcing unclaimed dead bodies from the police. Due to legally mandated time-lag for their disposal, such dead bodies are received in a rotten and decayed state. Resultantly, they are of very limited value.
A person in his life can express his will to donate his body after death. However, he must convince his next of kin to fulfill his wishes. The body, along with the death certificate/declaration of death certificate is required to be transported within three to five hours to the medical institution for preservation.
Although no religion debars body donation, there is a strong mindset against it. Even if a person pledges his body, his family members decline to hand it over. They prefer to waste the body by burying or burning rather than offering it for a noble cause. Therefore, education of the family members is of critical importance.
Lest I am accused of hypocrisy, let me state that eye donation is common in our family. My mother expired at the age of 88 in February 2011. As per her wishes, her eyes were donated to the Eye Department of the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune (AFMC). Two blind persons have since got eye-sight. Additionally, my mother had willed that her body be given to AFMC for study and training purposes. Her wishes were duly complied with.
Eye donation is the noblest of all causes. To gift sight to two blind persons is by far the most virtuous act a human being can undertake; that too without any discomfort, sacrifice or cost. Additionally, our eyes can live to see the world even after our death. Why should we burn the eyes of our loved ones when they can be used to impart vision to someone in need?
For body donation, pledges are of little use unless honored by the family members. Donors must convince and prepare the family members accordingly. Body donation is the ultimate service to the humanity. An inscription on a grave dedicated to body-donors reads – ‘Even in death do we serve life’.
We the veterans belong to the most progressive segment of the society. It is for us to take up the mantle of ushering in a social revolution in the country. Let us lead by example. Let every veteran pledge his eyes and body for donation. Let us convince our family members to honour our wishes after our death.
Let no blind person remain deprived of seeing nature’s beauty. Let us, the blessed ones, not be so self-absorbed that we prefer to burn our eyes rather than gift vision to the needy. A true soldier can never be that selfish. *****