Thursday, 1 January 2009

Egg on our faces?

Recently, amid all the indignation at the government’s insensitivity and unfairness to the Indian soldier, who, incidentally, has been chosen by the public as the icon of the year, one TV channel lamented the comments of a politician. Apparently, the politician had questioned the entitled rations of service personnel, specifically the number of eggs they get per week!

As the media is uncovering more such 'alarming' acts of 'treason', there is growing public anger at the treatment meted out to the Armed Forces by the government, the civilian administration, its own senior officers, etc. The constant updates about the Sixth Pay Commission have been moved from Page Somewhere Inside to Page One.

This attention is all very welcome, and the people's efforts to understand the actual role of the soldier on the ground is very heartening. The trouble is, do we thank Pakistan or the terrorists for their assistance in highlighting the just cause of the disparity in pay and other matters? For, once again, only when the nation is in collective dread do the Armed Forces seem to evince support and understanding.

It has been my observation that the nation and the media tends to focus on the Indian soldier when they are scared, ignorant and uncertain. It may sound a bit harsh considering the efforts of the media in bringing back the spotlight on matters that the government seemed to be dragging its feet over.

However, my mind fears the fact that once they are done campaigning for the appropriate financial compensation of the men in uniform, they will carry on with their daily lives, much like an individual does after he has employed a security guard, holding him and him alone responsible for any breach of security.

What after once all the due compensations have been given? In case the Army fails to perform 'well' as perceived by the media and the public, then will the media campaign again to take back those privileges?

Accountability to the taxpaying public is important, especially in a true democracy. But does the onus of vigilance, protection, and security lie only on the head of the soldier?

Isn't an individual too a part of the whole process of security, of which the armed forces are an important and large one, and he or she a small one? Doesn’t he or she need to have ownership of this process, and not only monitor or pass the buck, but to partake in the activity itself?

On sharing these thoughts with my friends, I have had many questions asked, like how do they go about it, without a clue on to how to begin. My answer to them is that I don't mean one should get enrolled for combat training to contribute!

All of us can be a soldier in our own ways. But like Rome wasn't built in day, a responsible citizen too is not made in a day. This quality has to be deeply ingrained and a way of life, starting with very small and obvious things.

A step by step method would, in my opinion, unfold something like this.

Number One: All citizens can begin by inculcating in ourselves a sense of dicipline and efficiency , something that is deeply admired and respected by all citizens, but never enough to be emulated. This is the basic building block of the armed forces.

Number Two: Start THINKING secular. The only truly secular person in this country is the Indian soldier. If we could imbibe this aspect to begin with, it would naturally lead to a feeling of identification with this land, and its diverse people.

Number Three: Travel within the country extensively, and see how people in all parts live. Patriotism in the soldier is not some theatrical emotion, but a deep feeling that comes with not sightseeing but actually living in all corners of the country. This is the real reson for the soldier to feel one with India. We Indians prefer going 'abroad' than exploring our own country. Even a lifetime is not enough to see it all!

Number Four: Get out of our comfort zones, experience a bit of roughing it. Adversity and tough living conditions are what makes the soldier mentally and physically tough. I must narrate a small example that was given to me by an Infantry Officer. He said that once the Indian and the American Army had a joint exercise.While the American backpacks, apart from the ammunition, contained video games, assorted packaged food, mineral water, tablets to purify other drinking water, etc. the Indian backpack carried ‘skakkar para’(home made sweetened balls of wheat flour), and ordinary bottles of water and of course ammunition. They sing and dance to entertain themselves. No fancy video games!

Number Five: Spend more time with the family. Especially in tough times like these, family support and love count far more than money. So, forgo a well paying job that offers more money for one that may give less, but promotes mental well being and nurturing of relationships. These are what can bail out a person of difficulties, even financial ones, and not some impersonal bank.

Number Six: Play games. Real games, as in sports. How many people play games other than boardroom,political or computer games? Too much time is spent in front of the computer screens and TV. In the services, there is strong emphasis on being in shape, as it toughens the mind too, which brings me to the last, most significant point of my discussion.

Number seven: How do you think a handful of terrorists held a siege over Mumbai?After seeing the way ten , undoubtedly, armed people held an entire city to ransom for sixty hours, do we still doubt the power of the human mind? The soldier and his entire family is MENTALLY perpared to deal with DEATH. In fact the soldier’s biggest weapon is his mind! So, stop prophesizing and circulating Doomsday theories, and concentrate your energies on positive thinking.

While the Indian Armed Forces are quite capable of handling the defence of our country, I feel true victory can be ours only if each and every individual embarks on this self improvement program that will help us bond as people of one country. Maybe, then our nation will be secure from outside threats, and the Indian soldier will not land up with egg on his face!