A Tribute: IAF Veteran Sergeant M.N. Subramani – Service Before Self

Virajpet MLA A S Ponnanna visited the family members of Mandetira Subramani and offered his condolences.

By Maj.Gen. (Retd.) S.G. Vombatkere

Mandetira Nanaiah Subramani (M.N. Subramani) passed away in Mysuru on Sept. 21, 2023, a day when day and night were equal. This coincidence seems significant, given Subramani’s unwavering dedication to the principles of equality and justice, a commitment few could match.

I first had the privilege of meeting Subramani shortly after my retirement in 1996. Our initial encounter was related to the newsletter he published, which provided updates to ex-servicemen on Ministry of Defence policies affecting their welfare and entitlements. It was during this time that I learned about his remarkable personal background and his service in the Armed Forces, which compelled me to write about his life and accomplishments in greater detail.

Born in Madikeri on Feb. 13, 1956, Subramani was the son of Gangavva and Lance Naik Mandetira Nanaiah, a Second World War Veteran. He joined the Indian Air Force in 1974 as an Airman and eventually rose to the rank of Sergeant.

While serving, Subramani pursued his education through night college, earning degrees in B.Com, M.Com. and LLB from Delhi, Rajasthan and University of Mysore, respectively.

During his military service, Sgt. Subramani observed that many retired Armed Forces personnel struggled with post-retirement issues, including pension matters, medical treatment and other entitlements. Motivated by his own education, he resolved to assist ex-servicemen with these challenges.

In 1989, after retiring from the Indian Air Force (IAF), Subramani settled in Mysuru. To supplement his modest pension as a Sergeant and support his young children, Sitara and Sooraj, he took on a job as a commerce lecturer in State Government PU Colleges. His wife, Shakunthala, also took up teaching in schools. After college hours, Subramani dedicated himself to addressing the problems faced by ex-servicemen and widows, often working late into the night. These issues primarily revolved around securing employment in civilian life and rectifying errors in their military records, which could later affect entitlements or inheritance rights.

Many ex-servicemen, especially those retiring as ‘Ex-Jawans,’ face these difficulties at a young age, typically between 32 and 38, when family responsibilities are at their peak. They often lack the knowledge and means to navigate bureaucratic processes, access official authorities, or even stay informed about policy changes that might affect their benefits. This lack of support can lead to severe hardships, especially for their widows. To provide more efficient assistance to ex-servicemen, Sgt. Subramani established the “VeKare Ex-Servicemen Trust” on Aug. 15, 1990, dedicated to his father’s memory. The Trust operated on his pension and personal savings, occasionally supplemented by his devoted wife, Shakunthala.

Subramani collaborated closely with Armed Forces Record Offices across the country, tirelessly pursuing officers through various means, including registered letters, phone calls, emails, and, more recently, WhatsApp, to resolve veterans’ and widows’ cases. He even escalated matters to the Armed Forces Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence and the Government of Karnataka when necessary.

These are the real-life challenges that ex-servicemen and their widows face due to limited access to official channels, lack of awareness, and financial constraints. Sgt. Subramani bridged this vital gap.

Over three decades, he brought relief and support to hundreds of veterans and widows, including veteran officers and their widows and next-of-kin. Sgt. Subramani earned a reputation as the “go-to man” within the ex-servicemen community, and people turned to him whenever they encountered difficulties.

On a single call, he would rush to assist injured ex-servicemen, arranging immediate medical treatment and notifying military authorities, essential for financial coverage. In the event of an ex-serviceman’s passing, he facilitated last rites and provided guidance on the documentation required for family pensions.

Moreover, Sgt. M.N. Subramani took on policies affecting the welfare and benefits of ex-servicemen at both the Central and State Government levels, as well as with Armed Forces Headquarters. His efforts resulted in the rectification or amendment of several policies, bringing justice and benefits to ex-servicemen and widows.

Elevating status of veterans

Additionally, Sgt. Subramani initiated efforts to elevate the image and status of Armed Forces Veterans. He played a pivotal role in naming the Mysuru Department of Sainik Welfare & Resettlement Office building as “Squadron Leader A.B. Devaya Bhawan” in memory of Indian Air Force martyr Sqn. Ldr. A.B. Devaya, MVC (Posthumous).

In October 2000, he took the initiative to propose an Armed Forces War Memorial in Mysuru by writing to the District Administration, ultimately securing a designated plot for it.

Today, 23 years later, his vision is becoming a reality, with substantial progress made. When completed, this memorial will honour the sacrifices of Armed Forces personnel who gave their lives in service to our nation, although Subramani will not be present to witness its consecration.

Sgt. Subramani also addressed the exclusion of Mysuru’s Armed Forces Veterans from Republic Day Parade organised by the civil administration. Thanks to his efforts, senior Armed Forces veterans are now officially invited to these events.

Deep concern for nature

In addition to his dedication to ex-servicemen, Sgt. Subramani demonstrated a  deep concern for nature and the environment. In 2018, he funded the planting of approximately 2,000 tree saplings in Vijayanagar 3rd Stage. Even earlier, while teaching at Government PU College for Girls, Mysuru, he founded an Eco-Club that encouraged students to plant saplings in the college premises.

He also cultivated a half-acre of coffee plantation in the adjacent vacant land. His commitment to environmental causes was evident to those who knew him.

In recognition of his tireless social service spanning over three decades, Sgt. Subramani’s name was nominated for the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 2022.

Throughout his work, his wife Shakunthala provided unwavering and compassionate support. Sgt. Subramani dedicated his time, attention, knowledge, abilities, and personal finances to help veterans and widows with issues related to succession, pension, entitlements and personal matters. He was an extraordinary problem-solver who demonstrated remarkable drive, focus, and tenacity, particularly when advocating for veterans.

It has been an honour to know Mandetira Nanaiah Subramani, a proud son of Mysuru and a true benefactor of the ex-servicemen fraternity.

Aum Shanthi!

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