Army Today

The Second innings


By V K Abdulla © Sainik Samachar - Vol.51, No.7, 01-15 April 2004

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AD Pariera, who was wounded in 1971 Indo-Pak war, came out with flying colours at the 8th Asian Games for Physically Challenged held at Busan, South Korea last year. He was from the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre (PRC), Kirkee in Pune. The team from PRC bagged eight out of 22 medals India won at the Games. More than 2400 athletes from 40 countries participated in the Games. At present, the team is preparing to participate in the Athens Para Olympic Sports to be held this year. The Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centres at Kirkee and Mohali are the only hope for paraplegics from the three defence services. Invalidated out of service following severe spinal injuries, these ex-soldiers start second innings in their life by engaging themselves in vocational and sports activities. The Pune Centre started functioning in 1974 with the first batch of 11 paraplegics discharged from Military Hospital, Pune. It was set up as a support base for mitigating the sufferings of paraplegics and tetraplegics and providing them vocational training. Within 10 years, accommodation at the Centre increased to 65, which included 57 for single and eight for married personnel. In 1993, the accommodation was increased to 83 and 26 respectively. At present, the centre can accommodate nearly hundred persons requiring such assistance.

Inmates at PRC, Kirkee playing basketball

Lieutenant Colonel S.P. Jyoti (Retd.), Medical Director of the Pune Centre states that every year about 70 defence personnel get spinal cord injuries. Most of the cases are due to accidents especially vehicle accidents. Thanks to the medical care provided at the centre to these totally disabled servicemen, their life span has been extended considerably. Fighter Pilot MP Anil Kumar is well-known among the school children of Maharashtra because a chapter titled 'Kumar Bharat' written by him is included in their text books. It is a first-person story of ambition, grit and survival that earned the 40-year old a permanent place in the hearts of schoolchildren. Awarded the Best Air Force cadet at the National Defence Academy (NDA) and the best student of aerobatics at the Air Force Academy, Kumar was commissioned into the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot in 1984. A cervical injury made him a tetraplegic. After taking treatment for two years at the Military Hospital, Kumar came to PRC, Kirkee rather than going home to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum).

One day in 1993, Kumar picked up his calligraphic pen in his mouth and wrote five impeccable pages on how he realised his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, and then saw it shatter because of a silly accident. A touching article, it was included in the English textbook for Xth standard of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Education since 1995. For many schools, a visit to the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre is now a part of the curriculum. The students of Xth class visit the centre every year. "It was to reaffirm my faith in myself that I decided to learn to write holding a pen in my mouth," says Anil Kumar. "Initially, my scribbles were illegible but I eventually perfected the art. Now, thanks to Wing Commander Murlidharan, I use a computer with a vertical keyboard that I can operate with a pencil," he adds.

A workshop at the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre

Today, the centre has been recognised as the 'Mirror of India' by the International Medical Society of Paraplegics. It is equipped to act as a nodal point for the training of NGOs in the country for paraplegic management and rehabilitation by holding training camps. The centre provides free boarding, lodging and physiotherapy to paraplegic inmates. It also prepares them to take up employment by giving vocational training. It is equipped with a workshop with appropriate machines for taking up jobs subcontracted by the industry to inmates. Assembling of electric connectors and making steel labels for oil engines not only provide income to these soldiers but also restore their faith in life.

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