On Friday, seven soldiers of Indian Air Force were killed along India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh when their Mi-17 helicopter crashed in the mountainous town of Tawang.
The chopper had taken off from the Khirmu helipad near Tawang and was on its way to Yangste, officials in Tawang said. Among the dead were two pilots and two armymen who were on an air maintenance mission.
According to reports, the Russian manufactured Mi-17 V5 was scheduled to drop off kerosene jerry cans at an Army camp in Yangste. The chopper crashed in the early hours of Friday when it was on its second routine air maintenance sortie of the day.
While the tragic incident evoked mourning and sense of loss from India's military establishment and political leaders, the mishap soon stirred a controversy after pictures showing dead bodies of slain soldiers wrapped in paperboard (cartons) tied with ropes, emerged on social media.
On Sunday, (Retired) Lieutenant General HS Panag posted a series of tweets with pictures of the dead bodies of the soldiers lying on the airport tarmac.
Seven young men stepped out into the sunshine yesterday, to serve their motherland. India.This is how they came home. pic.twitter.com/OEKKcyWj0p— Lt Gen H S Panag(R) (@rwac48) October 8, 2017
The visible casual treatment of the slain soldiers triggered calls of "disrespect" and "apathy" on the part of the government and army towards its soldiers.
2. Seven young men stepped out into the sunshine yesterday, to serve their motherland. India.This is how they came home. pic.twitter.com/rlSbdpJyR4— Lt Gen H S Panag(R) (@rwac48) October 8, 2017
Many expressed their shock and questioned government's thrust on nationalism and "care" for country's soldiers.
In "nationalist" India, soldiers who died in the line of duty are brought home like this. What a shame.Pics via Gen @rwac48 pic.twitter.com/3JkJD4XK7e— Saikat Datta (@saikatd) October 8, 2017
Today is #AirForceDayThis is surely not the way to give tribute. Shocking and disgraceful!— Nitin Arora (@aroranitin15) October 8, 2017
Ironically, the pictures of the slain soldiers figured on the day when the country was celebrating Air Force Day.
Army calls it an "aberration"
While General Panag was receiving a lot of flak for "creating" a controversy on social media, many netizens, including journalists and academic supported Panag's view. Even when it was being pointed that it was hard for the army to arrange body bags near the site of accident, users raised questions on the availability of logistics for the army.
However, the matter was finally put to rest by Army's Additional Directorate General of Public Information. According to the army, the wrapping of corpses of slain soldiers in "local resources" is an "aberration". The army also said it will ensure carriage of mortal remains in body bags, wooden boxes and coffins.
The Directorate also posted pictures of slain soldiers in wooden coffins being given full military honours by the Air Force.
Mortal remains of heptr accident in HAA on 6 Oct 17 recovered, sent wrapped in local resources is an aberration. pic.twitter.com/NDvEvBo87F— ADG PI - INDIAN ARMY (@adgpi) October 8, 2017
Fallen soldiers always given full military honour. Carriage of mortal remains in body bags, wooden boxes,coffins will be ensured. pic.twitter.com/XSom29pWoF— ADG PI - INDIAN ARMY (@adgpi) October 8, 2017
Family alleges negligence
Failure to ensure body bags for the dead soldiers was not the end of the episode. According to ANI, family of one of the seven soldiers alleged that authorities didn't provide help in performing the last rites of the deceased Master Warrant Officer AK Singh.
Chhapra (Bihar): Locals say received no help from authority to perform last rites of Capt AK Singh,who lost his life in Tawang chopper crash pic.twitter.com/jJhJOhGWM9— ANI (@ANI) October 8, 2017
We had to use pvt vehicles to bring his body. No one from authority came here. They negated my father's martyrdom: Son of Capt AK Singh pic.twitter.com/0SSly7Wwy6— ANI (@ANI) October 8, 2017
One of Singh's sons alleged that government negated his father's martyrdom.