Subscribe Now! Get features like
Amid a major political controversy over not giving a guard of honour to an Agniveer recruit, the Indian Army on Sunday said Amritpal Singh died by suicide by shooting himself while on sentry duty and clarified that military honours were not extended to his funeral as deaths arising out of self-inflicted injuries are not given such honours.
Singh, who was serving with a battalion of the Army’s Jammu and Kashmir Rifles unit in the Poonch sector, died on October 11 and was cremated on Friday at his native village in Punjab’s Mansa district.
The Army also asserted that it does not differentiate among soldiers based on whether they joined the force prior to or after the implementation of the Centre’s Agnipath scheme, under which soldiers below the rank of commissioned officers are recruited into the three services of the armed forces. All recruits will be hired only for a four-year period.
In a statement on Sunday night, the Army said there has been some “misunderstanding and misrepresentation” of facts related to the death of Singh.
“Unfortunate instances of death arising out of suicide/self-inflicted injury, irrespective of the type of entry, are accorded due respect by the Armed Forces along with deep and enduring empathy with the family,” it said.
“It is a grave loss to the family and the Indian Army that Agniveer Amritpal Singh committed suicide by shooting himself while on sentry duty,” the Army said.
“In consonance with the existing practice, the mortal remains, after conduct of medico-legal procedures, were transported under Army arrangements along with an escort party to the native place for the last rites,” it said.
The Army said the armed forces do not differentiate between the soldiers who joined prior to or after the implementation of the Agnipath scheme as regards entitled benefits and protocols.
“Such cases, however, are not entitled to military funerals as per the extant Army Order of 1967, in vogue. Policy on the subject has been consistently followed ever since, without any discrimination,” the Army said.
“As per data held, there has been an average yearly loss ranging between 100-140 soldiers since 2001 where deaths occurred due to suicides/self-inflicted injuries, and military funeral in such cases was not accorded,” it added.
It also said the disbursement of financial assistance/relief, as per entitlement, is given due priority including immediate financial relief for conduct of funerals.
The Army said during such times, it is important and incumbent on society to uphold the respect, privacy and dignity of the family while empathising with them in their moment of grief.
“Armed Forces are known for adherence to the policies and protocols and will continue to do so as hithertofore. The Indian Army requests support of all sections of the society while it follows its established protocols,” it said.
On Saturday, the Army’s Nagrota-headquartered White Knight Corps said Singh died while on sentry duty in Rajouri sector due to a self-inflicted gunshot injury.
It added that a Court of Inquiry would be held to ascertain more details on his death which is currently in progress. The death took place on October 11.
The mortal remains of Singh, accompanied by one junior commissioned officer and four other ranks, were transported in a civil ambulance hired by the Unit of the Agniveer, the White Knight Corps said, adding that accompanying Army personnel also attended the last rites.
The White Knight Corps, however, said since the cause of death was a self-inflicted injury, no guard of honour or military funeral was provided, in accordance with the existing policy.
The Agniveer Scheme was announced in June 2022 for recruitment in the armed forces. The scheme is meant only for recruiting soldiers and not officers in the forces. The soldiers recruited under this Agneepath scheme are known as Agniveers.
A row erupted on Saturday, with opposition parties expressing shock over the matter.
On Sunday, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) questioned the Centre over the policy under the Angnipath Scheme. Addressing a press conference, AAP leader Raghav Chadha said Singh’s family will not be entitled to pension, while he will not be accorded the status of a martyr.
“No Army unit came to hand over his body. His body was brought in a private ambulance and he was not given any military honour. But the police gave him state honours during his last rites,” news agency quoted Chadha as saying.
He said this “raises serious questions” over the policies of the BJP-led Centre.
“The Punjab government, led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, will be giving an amount of ₹1 crore as Samman Rashi to the family of Amritpal Singh and will also accord the status of a martyr to him. The Punjab government is with them in this hour of grief,” the AAP leader said.
Shiromani Akali Dal leader and former union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal said she was shocked to learn that Singh was cremated without the army guard of honour.
She sought intervention from defence minister Rajnath Singh in the matter, seeking necessary directions to accord military honours to all martyred soldiers.
Reacting to the incident, Punjab Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring said, “This is a sad day for our country as this (soldier) who was recruited under the Agniveer scheme was sent back home in a private ambulance and not given any guard of honour by the @adgpi.”
“Does being an Agniveer mean that their lives don’t matter as much,” he asked on X
“The bereaved family had to request the local Punjab Police to give our young boy a guard of honour. Is this why @BJP4India started this policy? Is this how we will treat our Agniveers, different from the rest of our soldiers? Does the Central Government have any answers for this inhuman treatment of our young martyr? Shameful!,” Warring added.
Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal attacked the Bhagwant Mann government, saying he was shocked by the refusal of the chief minister to send any state-level dignitary to give a befitting farewell to the young martyr.
“CM must not hide behind the excuse of central government policies as nothing stops the state government from giving honour to the martyr and from standing by his family the most magnanimous way at this painful juncture. This is what S. Parkash Singh Ji Badal would have immediately done,” Badal posted on X.
SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia demanded the scrapping of the Agniveer scheme and sought regularisation of all soldiers recruited under it till date.
(With inputs from PTI)
Have 11 years’ experience in print and digital media. Write on politics, defence and world affairs, and have a keen eye for human-interest stories.
Subscribe Now! Get features like