Sunday 19 September 2021



Response of Mr Sugandha Thakran to an article in the Print Media.

Mr Hansraj Bhat remarked recently in the Economic Times of Mumbai that India is probably the first nation to be democratically run by an army. This was no satirical or spoof piece. “This army has taken over the nation without a coup” he says, “They ensure that elections are held without fear. They are fighting on the borders, fighting insurgency (police work) within the borders, handling floods, earthquakes, tsunamis (all civil work), finishing stadiums and even winning medals. They run some of the best schools, and medical and engineering colleges.” He adds, “Indian troops are always in demand for UN operations. Their cantonments are like Singapore and Shanghai. Last but not least, their ‘betis’ dominate Bollywood and beauty contests.” This gush of adulation is not an isolated instance. In the recent past, the Indian citizen has awoken anew to the realisation of the worth of its Armed Forces. The triggering factor this time was the ‘dance of death’ of the river Mandakini at Kedarnath.

With graphic images flashing horror from every media, it is out there to see how much soldiers on foot and the angels of mercy from the skies are doing to alleviate the suffering of the distressed people of Kedarnath. Strong men in olive green fashion bridges and pulleys and stretchers from available resources and carry victims to safer ground, where other teams in the same uniform perform first aid and more, under makeshift tents. Constant sorties by the men in blue bring in vital supplies and carry out evacuation of the critically injured and deceased. Several pictures brought out of the calamity-struck region show army men carrying out two or even three survivors on their shoulders and in their arms. The common feature in each of these pictures is the expression of utter gratitude in the faces of those being rescued. It is an infectious gratitude which transmits through the media to every man in every part of the country…….for each of them shudders to think of a time when he might need the help of these heroes. But then the boss calls or the child’s teacher sends a note and the daily mundane pushes out thoughts of the troubles and bravery of fellow men hundreds of kilometers away.

“I have participated in three rescue operations in my service career” says a young army major, “but the limelight goes off like a fused bulb the moment the crisis is over. I feel like a fool quoting any of those missions to anyone outside the establishment. Civilians think I’m trying to curry favours by telling them what a hero I am. So we just keep our stories to ourselves to swap over drinks some evening.” While the more vulnerable states in the north of the country seem more sensitive to the value of the defense services, there does seem to be a more cool reaction in the south. “I was on temporary duty in Bangalore” says an officer posted in the city, “and I got lost in their infernal one ways. When I was stopped by a policeman and told him that I’m from the army and on TD, he fined me anyway saying I should be an example to the civilians. That would never have happened in any city in the north. Not that I’m asking for any rules to be broken for me, but it’s just the attitude which conveys so much.”

This mood swing of the common man does not seem to dampen the zeal of these men and women in uniform, though. A lady doctor in the army revealed, “It’s not practical to expect undying gratitude from everyone we serve. The career I have chosen is a demanding one on many levels. I’m a doctor, which in itself is a calling of a lifetime. To top it, I’m in the military, which has its own demands and pressures. If I torture myself over why everyone doesn’t extend constant affirmation to me, I’ll go over the edge. I do my little bit in my own little way and carry on. I’m just a speck in a giant structure which does more good than anyone realises.” Her sentiments are echoed by a senior officer in the Air Force. He says “We have carried out countless rescue and relief operations in the years since India’s independence. Unlike the Army, the Air Force does not have much direct contact with civilians during operations. Yet we are aware that it is for the man in the streets that we exist. We are here to keep them safe, in peace time as well as in war. That they don’t give two hoots doesn’t change our job or our passion for it. That’s what makes being in the military so noble….almost religious.”

So does the common man really care about the men in uniform in times of peace? Or is he more influenced by the many allegations and taints that have marred the image of the defense services recently? Does he think (heroic rescues aside) that he is entitled to the ‘truth’? In response to that quest, the words of Col. Nathan R. Jessup from the movie ‘A Few Good Men’ seem apt… “We live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You?!.....I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom…..You curse the Army. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That a man in my command’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives, and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives……You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about in parties, you want me on that wall. You NEED me on that wall. We use words like honour, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch-line. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said ‘Thank you’ and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.”