It needed one Border Security Force jawan’s video to jolt us out of deep slumber. I don’t know about the official response to the man’s anguished plea, but as an Indian, I felt deeply saddened. Is this any way to treat our soldiers? Hell, no! It’s entirely possible the poor guy was drunk out of his skull when he posted it. Maybe he is mentally unstable too. That’s not the point! Was he or was he not telling the truth about the poor quality of food served to men whose job it is to serve the country to the best of their ability? That’s it. Instead of addressing this issue, the shortsighted authorities went on the offensive and tried to make a villain out of him. Charges and counter-charges flew around the very next day, as red-faced seniors attempted to cover their butts by insisting the man was a nut job with a history of insubordination. If that is correct, why the hell was he entrusted with a weapon in the first place? Why was he posted on the border? Why wasn’t he suspended? Now that he has opened his gab, and everybody knows the awful fact, what are we going to do about the situation? That is the main problem.
The Army bosses are investing far more time trying to save face, rather than ensuring the diet requirements of our soldiers are reassessed and corrective measures taken. Armies do not march on empty stomachs! What our men get to eat directly affects their performance as soldiers. Watery daal and uncooked chapatis cannot possibly contribute to any soldier’s health and well-being. A hungry soldier is a frustrated soldier. A frustrated soldier is dangerous. This raises serious questions about misappropriation of funds earmarked for rations. It’s not as if we have run out of money to feed the Army. It is that some contractors in between may be siphoning off humungous amounts and supplying substandard food. It’s a familiar enough story wherever government contractors are involved. From supplying substandard cement to substandard rotis, the venality remains constant. Nobody talks about this, because too many names are involved — starting with politicians. Which is why, this brave BSF man’s words must be paid attention to. I just hope Tej Bahadur Yadav is not already a marked man.
Unfortunately, a can of worms has been inadvertently opened. After him there was yet another telling video in which a soldier reveals how blatantly Army seniors exploit the juniormost recruits and treat them like domestics. The new video has the soldier pleading with seniors to stop this awful practice. He points out that young men in uniform end up walking dogs, washing cars, buying vegetables and taking care of memsaab’s brats, instead of serving the country as professional soldiers! He asks if that is the role they signed up for? Shocking and shameful as his revelations are — he is not telling us something we don’t know. This is one of the best-kept secrets of our armed forces, and has been going on for decades. Fresh recruits are made to work as servants — fetching and carrying for the “saablog”. Those who are unwilling get fixed instantly. They are transferred to the worst postings, even framed for crimes they have not committed. Despite this skewered treatment which displays an abysmal absence of respect for the “vardi” (it’s the same in the police force), what we are now being lectured to is the “danger” of such loose, irresponsible talk. There is enormous fear that more and more soldiers are going to open their mouths and disclose the pathetic rot in the system. How many soldiers can you court-martial or discipline?
Damage control cannot happen under such circumstances. It’s too late to sweep these charges under the carpet and insist on a robotic adherence to “duty”. That time is over. The Army Chief says: “Bring your grievances directly to me... don’t post anything on social media.” He is talking to the wrong generation! It is the age of social media. Young soldiers are going to use it, whether anybody likes it or not. There is no way that can be curbed. And frankly, I’d say, don’t waste your time trying to do that. The only thing to address at such a tricky juncture is the challenge presented. Step up, you chaps, and deliver better food. Better boots. Better weapons. We have one of the world’s best armies — disciplined, brave and loyal. It’s a rock solid foundation on which to build the next generation of motivated jawans. Why blow it? Why throw away a great opportunity to review and reform? Plug the holes! Set things right! It’s these brave men facing enemy bullets — not you and me.
Improving rations on a priority basis is the easy part. It is improving the morale that is tougher. Right now, the men and women in uniform seem to be a disgruntled lot, fatigued and frustrated after years of being taken for granted. If we want them to give their best for India, we have to also give them the best of everything in return. I have been to a few outposts and seen the appallingly harsh conditions our brave men have to endure day in and day out. Yes, alcoholism is an issue — acknowledge it. And find a solution. Stop the nonsense of “How dare a jawan complain?” He has every right to! Pay attention to what these men are saying. It is because they care for India and our safety that they are going public with their genuine problems. Treat them and their complaints with the dignity they deserve. Treat them like human beings. We expect them to give their blood for the country... and we can’t give them rotis in return? Shame!