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!


  1. "...the nation and the media tends to focus on the Indian soldier when they are scared, ignorant and uncertain>" That is an accurate and damning observation Smita. But worse is the fact that even under these conditions the politico-bureaucratic set up does not get moved. And that is the really worrying part. The babus know it is only a question of time befor you and I will forget Mumbai 11/26 and other such incidents and get on with our lives, while the soldier will keep getting sidelined and humiliated by them.

    The soldier and his family are mentally prepared for death. That is something that does not cross the minds of ordinary citizens. But, shockingly, a babu once reacted dismissively to this reality by saying that this is a voluntary one forces anyone to become a soldier!

    All of us need to be soldiers, as you have said. And the steps that you have enumerated are practical and motivating. If we can follow them, this nation will become unbeatable, prosperous and happy.

  2. Thank you for your comments Vinod. You are absolutely right that life and politicians will carry on regardless of Mumbai 26/11.One more thing that the bureaucrat has done successfully is to keep the Armed forces away from the public, which has given rise to stereotypes, wherein they either think of a bumbling colonel with a moustache, or a screaming guttural diehard who dies only after planting the indian flag on enemy territory. My aim is also to unravel the mystery for the common man, and reveal the Indian soldier as a professional like any other. Talking to the bureaucrats hasn't worked so far, so maybe talking to the public, educating them will help, I hope!
    Callous remarks like the one you've written about the babu are sadly true, and I am reminded of the Kandahar hijacking, when a letter of mine was published by the Hindustan Times. In it I had asked the public whether they were prepared to only pay for their security or take some bullets as well? Look what the release of Masood Azhar led to. We may be a nation of a billion plus, but a billion cowards can easily be (and were) tamed by a handful of people. I hope I can can help people discover their courageous gene!

  3. Yes smita...u are absolutely right...each one of us has to learn to "take the bulet".... Your reference to the Kandahar hijacking is apt.....

    in the current scenario, it is fashionable to bash the politicians that released Azhar in exchange of the hostage...What we forget is the hue and cry created by the media by projecting the ( understandably ) distraught relatives on TV 24x7....

    I guess from a distance it is easier said than done...but I suspect this is what u are trying to say as well...

    The general public believes it is the DUTY of soldiers to die for the country...their own lives should be secure and insulated at ANY can we change that mind set? Can we?

  4. Smita, we have as a nation to get out of this coward mentality in a hurry.

    A lot of people need to read you.I have made my small contribution in that direction by blogrolling you in India Retold.

  5. I'm trying, Rati. I hope we can change the mindset, and i'm optimistic enough to believe it will happen in my lifetime.

    As you rightly pointed out, the media played up the emotions of the relatives in the kandahar hijacking. The media is a double edged sword. Today it can put you on a pedestal and tomorrow it can bring you down. It is just another commercial organisation looking at the bottomline. That is why independent voices like Vinod's, and maybe mine, are required, where there is no personal interest except the fact that we are a part of the same society and would like to see it develop as a healthy one.

    Thanks Vinod for your efforts, I truly appreciate it. Reaching out to as many as possible as quickly as possible is what may work.

    I'm an angry mother now, who is fed up of fearing for her children and wants them to face the danger, even if it means losing them in the bargain.

  6. I erred grossly rati, in omitting to mention that which i believe in, but which got left out of my previous comment. I think that the biggest change can be brought about not only by voices like vinod's or mine, but by our (yours, mine, vinod's and other readers) collective voices. Though a few of us may write things down, we all think alike. That is how a thought gets converted into action, by mass involvement. Thank you for being involved.

  7. I agree with your points about our pro-active involvement. That is absolutely essential. But with an ignorant society like ours, I dont see that coming soon.

    The soldier is basically alone.

  8. hi trailblazer. Somewhere we have to take the blame for the people's ignorance. Those of us who agree on so many things actually do nothing more beyond that. It may take very long, or it may happen sooner than you think. I think sometimes we underestimate people's ability to rationalise and think for themselves. Or we speak in a language that is understood by a minority. We have seen now that if there is ignorance in Kashmir, it affects a person in kanyakumari. Tomorrow, an ignorant in Namibia or Mozambique may affect a person in Bareilly! That is the speed with which events are unfolding! I agree it is a mammoth task, but we have no choice but to start eradicating ignorance, and hope for the best! Each one of us has a soldier inside us, only we have not let him out! With so many of us thinking alike, how can we be alone!

  9. hai,thanks & a belated new year wishes 2 u & ur family.
    first of all let me admit,iam posting my comments with what little i could understand on "EGG ON OUR FACES",and with very little & limited knowledge of english i wish to write ,as most of the words used by you were just flying over my head ,but however compelled me to think of buying a dictionarie...
    i dont think the credibility of an soldier has ever been questioned by the media or by the people of india,we have had and continue to have high regards for our armed forces who are protecting our country.
    you will never find one indian out of the hundred million who has doubts on the credibility of our jawans.
    i beg to differ with ur observation"that the nation and the media tends to focus on the indian soldier when they r scared,uncertain,ignornant",if it wouldn't have been the media u wouldn't have seen & heard the names of our heroes UNNIKRISHNAN,HEMANTH KARKARE,ASHOK KAMTE ,VIJAY SALASKAR...being chanted all over india,every street corner of bangalore has garlanded photos/banners of these brave hearts who laid down their lives,i firmly beleive media played a commendable job as always in lifting the morale of our soldiers,with out the electronic media would the mumbai espisode have the same impact on people's mind,thousands of jawans have laid down their lives fighting militancy in kashmir , assam & and at the we remember all those or do we bother to read if it is reported in the newspapers.
    today even a small child will show you who UNNIKRISHNAN OR KARKARE is which otherwise wouldn't have been possible but for a shahrukh khan or a sachin tendulkar.
    i believe it is only patriotism that drives an indian to join the armed forces,which can never be insulated & not the pay commissions.
    personally my only ambition in life was to be in the armed forces which could not be fulfilled,pay nor perks were never in my mind nor would be in the minds of our is sheer love for BHARAT MATHA ...
    let us salute the parents who motivate their children to join the forces.
    as citizens of india our responsibility should not be limited nor be restricted only to voicing our concerns and anger only thru sms polls.
    as indians we teach & preach ''jai jawan ,jai kissan''and the indian jawan reciprocates touching his hearth "yeh mere pyaare watan yeh mere gusare taman tujhpe saab quran".
    as i sign off, i strongly recommend you to watch the movie "A WEDNESDAY" starring naseerudin shah & anupamkher this will change ur perspective on " isnt an individual too a part of the whole process of security".
    thank u once again...

  10. thanks for your touching comments, ashok, a happy new year to you and your family as well, and many apologies for responding so late to your post....I am travelling on holiday, and unable to access the internet on a daily basis...
    since there are many points you have brought out, i will respond to them one by one...
    first of all, for the most imp feedback...that the english i use has to be simpler. I accept that if at all i want to get more people involved, i have to speak in a language that is easily understood...with your help(in the form of feedback), i believe i can...
    I don't think i mentioned that the public doubted the credibility of the Indian soldeir in my blog. I just said that public turned its attention on the soldier only when the people were afraid.
    After all, we are not trained to face danger like the soldier. My point was that the time had come to shake off the fear.
    Do you remember the Kandahar hijacking? The terrorist, massod azhar, who was released had been caught after so many soldiers had given up their lives! The same media played up the condition of the passengers in the plane, and the same public then backed the media, totally forgetting how it would affect the morale of the Indian Army! Why could the passengers not have said, "OK, kill us if you want, but our govt will not negotiate"? Why should only the Army be responsible for protecting this nation? Is it not everyone's country? You say you wanted to join the Army. Tell me, if you had been a passenger on that plane, what would you have done? Only if you had joined the Army would you have taken action? Why couldn't 100 people in the Taj and the Oberoi make a huge chain and ram into the attackers? Or at the CST station? If one or two think like this,it is of no use, but if all of us think like this, then even the terrorists will have to think twice before scaring us. Do you think only the terrorists can become 'fidayeen'? To save our people, our country, we too can become 'fidayeen', without weapons! Currently, that is the difference between us and the terrorists. They do not care about their own lives, but we do. We care about our children's lives, our parents' lives, our friends' lives. The day we start thinking of each one's lives, then we will make a difference.
    About each child knowing the place where Major unnikrishnan lived, it is no doubt inspiring, but I hope that even if any child is not able to join the Army, he can continue to be a soldier, by imbibing the values of self sacrifice.
    The public does have a deep seated regard for the Army, but it can do more than just saluting the Indian can join being brave...
    I have watched "A Wednesday." A good movie, some good performances. I think it is a filmi solution, not a realistic one. An emotional reponse is seldom effective. By killing one or two terrorists, the problem will not go away. A better way would be to prepare your self, your children, your relatives, your neighbours, your community, your state, to face terror bravely. Make their minds strong, as strong as steel. what if you couldn't join the Indian Army? You can still be a soldier.
    The first thing that a soldier learns is that Country comes first, then its people, and himself last. If we adopt these values, then no one can shake us!

  11. thanks...pls read my comments, just below your comments on "a wednesday this sunday" posted my blog and kindly bear with spelling mistakes if it exists , as i had to close down at office,i have not bothered to check which i normally don't do too...

  12. Hi ashok, i have read your comment on your blog, and have posted my reply there, regards

  13. hai,
    it reminds me of rahul gandhi`s comments on ndtv " we cant expect people to die for no reasons at all,people`s lives need to be valued." HEROES NEEDED WHEN SYSTEM FAIL. we have a long history where in the people of this country have lived in the system of raja,praja,mantri, brahmin,kshatriya etc...and expecting the brahmin to don the role of a kshatriya or vise versa is some what unfair, we have the armed forces who are trained & well equipped to take on the terrorists , i had given those two instances of the madhya pradesh/bangalore incidence, for instance which required some one from the general public to garner the courage to simply pick a bucket of water and pour it on that girl,it could have saved her eyes atleast.if at all we can stand up to these kind of issues which we confront in the society on daily basis ...heroics is the least expected far as sacrifice of dear one`s are concered , there is a lot of difference in talking about & being in the situation.thank u ,sorry i still beg to differ...

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