The dark knight, or the black knight is a term used for an outcast who works anonymously for a greater purpose and is known to go against authorities should his mission necessitate it. He doesn’t come in the media to be applauded or honoured, but keeps doing the work without any credit.
Vijay packs his bag and meets his colleagues. He is very happy today. He is going home. He is thinking of his family members and cannot wait to see them again. He travels for 3 days by bus, train and on foot on his way to home. His journey was normal. The elderly people he met on his way looked at him with affection. Others turned away and started discussing the stereotypical misconceptions they had about his life. Yes, he stands out in a crowd, instantly noticeable. The younger co-passengers gazed in awe at him, looking nervous. Some of them even asked a few general questions. He is used to the situation. So, he answered them with patience. He finally reaches his village, the sight of which fills him with unexpected emotions. He is returning home after one year. Longingly, he looks at the fields, which are no longer his. After passing through the familiar lanes, he reaches a dilapidated house with a crumbling roof. His home! His children can be heard talking inside the house. The joy he feels now is beyond words. He cannot wait any longer. He knocks the rickety door, which supports a name-plate: Captain Vijay Rathore.
The Indian Armed Forces (military and paramilitary) are synonymous with respect and traditions. They are considered selfless, dedicated and a gateway to an adventurous and exciting life. On the flip side, some people look at them with suspicion and even hatred. The public opinion is often divided when it comes to the armed forces. Let’s try to understand their often-unexplored side.
India loses more soldiers to suicide than to enemy bullets every year. Today, malaria is killing more soldiers deployed in the Naxalite areas than the insurgents. Emotional stress is a given considering the job profile. But why are our soldiers committing suicides? Low perks, family issues and rock-bottom morale are driving our soldiers to the edge. The lack of basic facilities, along with poor resources only increases the despondency. A soldier deals with severe emotional crisis and restricted visits to the family do not help. The feeling of helplessness when his family needs money or emotional support and he cannot do anything, results in acute depression, which ultimately leads to suicides.
India is a strange country. We summon the armed forces for securing our international borders, initiating & managing rescue operations in case of natural disasters like floods, cyclones and earthquakes and man-made disasters like riots, civil unrest, insurgencies, hostage-situations etc. We need them for even conducting peaceful elections and when a child falls into a borewell. We take them for granted without ever waiting to contemplate their importance in our lives. The armed forces are branded as “demons in the uniform” and are accused of human rights violations. While I am not saying that all of those cases, reports or allegations are fabricated or politically motivated, how can we denounce an entire institution because of some black sheep? The authentic cases, backed with concrete evidence, should be severely dealt with but we cannot keep mentally harassing our soldiers with a sword hanging over their heads. A strict law deterring people from filing false cases is a must and awareness about the magnificent work our forces are doing across the world must be spread.
The problems of indiscipline and insubordination are now creeping in our armed forces. Since May 2012, there have been at least 8 violent clashes between officers and jawans of the Indian Army. Whether you talk about the Meerut incident which took place in October 2013 or Ladakh mutiny of May 2014, these cases were shocking and will have serious repercussions in future. Analysts have attributed the officer-jawan tensions to class conflicts. The role of the Sahayak (personal valet) system in institutionalizing humiliation of jawans is hard to ignore. A colonial institution wherein officers were assigned what were then called “batmen” or “orderlies”, the Sahayak system survives today. The sahayak is a jawan meant to assist the officer so as to free him to focus on his work. His support is vital to the officer’s efficient functioning, especially in field areas. However, the system has been gravely misused with some officers expecting their sahayaks to do menial tasks in their homes. Several sahayaks are made to help the officer’s wife with her shopping, polish his children’s shoes and even walk the dog. It deeply undermines the morale of a jawan and encourages officers to treat their sahayaks as their personal property to be dealt with as they wish. The jawans, now coming from better socio-economic and academic backgrounds than before, are increasingly unwilling to accept the ill-treatment being handed out. Almost four years after the defence ministry announced it was pondering over ending the sahayak system, no steps have been taken on even reforming it. The issue is dead. The coordination and mutual trust & respect between the jawans and officers are something without which this country will fall apart.
Shortage of officers is a major worry. Our weapons are obsolete and we need to speed up our procurement procedure for fighter aircrafts, tanks, rifles, submarines etc to make sure we continue to command fear from our super-friendly neighbours. I think establishing a separate institution to look at our operational effectiveness and procurements is a need of the hour. At the same time, we need to set-up a position of Chief of Defence Staff to ensure better synchronisation and communication between the different sections of the armed forces. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is a dark stain on India’s image and its management deserve to be kicked out of the office. The company must be restructured and de-politicised to meet India’s ever-growing needs. It must be run like a private corporation, with strict adherence to accountability, targets and deadlines. As that is a remedy which needs time to be implemented, we have to look for quick-fix solutions for our depleting military strength and out-of-the-box solutions, like the recent direct purchase of 36 Rafale aircrafts from the French government to meet Indian Air Force’s critical operational necessity, are paramount.
We need to treat our soldiers with dignity and respect. The government must stop using them for monetary benefits as in the case of United Nations Peacekeeping missions. The missions are a big hoax, playing with the lives of our soldiers for some US dollars. India must stop sending its forces to these missions and treat its soldiers like citizens, not assets or watchmen.
The armed forces also need to do their bit. Public Relations (PR) is very important, especially in a country like ours and more PR activities from the armed forces are needed to instil trust among the masses and remove the prejudice and fallacies against them. Organising more workshops and letting people get a reasonable insight into the lives of our soldiers will certainly do wonders. We, as citizens of India, also have some duties towards our armed forces. Helping a soldier’s family mentally, socially and if possible, financially when the soldier is not around is certainly not a herculean task. Respect and gratitude are the least we can give the people fighting for us in extreme and inhuman conditions.
So, the next time you see a soldier, stop for a moment, and smile at him. Wave your hand or salute him if you can. It will cost you only 3 seconds but he will be smiling throughout the day. Ohh, I gotta go, I need to help Vijay pack his stuff back. He is leaving for Siachen tonight.