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. 

Paperboard cartons 

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. 

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.   

Many expressed their shock and questioned government’s thrust on nationalism and “care” for country’s soldiers. 

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. 

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. 

One of Singh’s sons alleged that government negated his father’s martyrdom. 

Feature image source: Twitter/HS Panag