There must be something radically wrong with a society that prides itself on being one of the most robust and resilient democracies of the world, but virtually tramples on the rights of Indian soldiery with such insensitivity and disdain. Reports of the constant attacks on serving or retired Army men, their victimization, humiliation and harassment by law enforcement agencies, politicians and even goons, are seldom taken cognizance of by those running the country. Forgotten are the sacrifices of real heroes who serve the nation at the peril of their lives, in minus or plus 50 degree temperatures and inhospitable terrains, keeping the enemy at bay, fighting terrorists, or saving countless lives in natural and manmade disasters.
Why even a retired general questioned Major Leetul Gogoi’s actions in the not too distant past, for tying up a militant sympathiser to the fender of his jeep for provoking stone-pelters…
In yet one of the most shocking instances of its kind this year, a regional party councillor and his muscle men viciously assaulted a military police personnel, identified as Prabhu and his sibling Prabhakaran in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, following an argument over a trifling matter; washing clothes close to a water tank. The severely wounded soldier succumbed to his injuries at a private hospital. One more member of the olive green fraternity felled not by terrorists, but by an overly aggressive public servant. There is a likelihood that the politician in question would be out of bail, after being booked.
Some mainstream political parties did go through the motions of condemning the act that disgraced the nation, as a sop to public sentiments. But still others, wearing left-liberal blinkers and the entire opposition, maintained a stony silence. Why even a retired general questioned Major Leetul Gogoi’s actions in the not too distant past, for tying up a militant sympathiser to the fender of his jeep for provoking stone-pelters, when his initiative actually saved dozens of lives, in a situation fraught with the gravest risks!
Similarly, in Maharashtra, little did 65-year-old naval veteran Madan Sharma realise, how an innocuous act of forwarding a cartoon of a serving Chief Minister on his WhatsApp group in September 2020, would invite the fury of goons. Masked men chased, dragged and punched the retired pensioner repeatedly, outside his apartment complex in Kandivalli, Mumbai, inflicting injuries on his face and eye, all caught on CCTV footage. They were subsequently let off on bail by a judicial magistrate after arrests. The message went loud and clear that the high and mighty are beyond the pale of law.
In another sordid incident reported last August from Kerala, the police brutally assaulted Vishnu, a soldier posted in Rajasthan, along with his sibling Vignesh, caught on CCTV, which necessitated the former’s hospitalization and framed both of them in a false case. Trouble started when the latter refused to bail out a defendant in a drug trafficking case after being summoned by the police. Vishnu, who arrived at the spot, questioned the legality of their act. The cops then turned their ire on the duo, thrashing and torturing them at the behest of an allegedly drunk sub inspector, before sending them to a 12 day judicial remand.
What would you expect of a polity in which so called leaders vilify a soldier as someone paid to die; or even being compared with dogs! A slur hurled by none other than a member of a minister’s personal staff in Kerala.
The siblings were subjected to unheard of indignities. Vignesh stated they were even asked to consume their own urine when they demanded water to drink. One of the constables reportedly threatened to break Vishnu’s index finger so that he could never ever fire a rifle as a soldier. Consequently, Vishnu’s prospective in-laws, scandalized by the developments, called off his marriage with their daughter. Four policemen were suspended following the intervention of the Army, which sought a report from the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police (DGP) about the incident.
What would you expect of a polity in which so called leaders vilify a soldier as someone paid to die; or even being compared with dogs! A slur hurled by none other than a member of a minister’s personal staff in Kerala. In May 2017, a senior left party functionary in the same state dubbed men in olive green as abductors and rapists. What is even more shameful that none in the corridors of power bothered to take notice of such defamatory statements, let alone action! Elsewhere this columnist had noted: “The paradox is doubly compounded by the fact that the soldiers, bound by oath of secrecy, are also subjected to outrageous barbs and allegations, flung at them by irresponsible politicians (and cannot answer back).”
This is the kind of attitude permeating the system from top to bottom. It explains why the horrific torture of Captain Saurabh Kalia, who along with his band of valiant men, did not break down even under the most brutal torture, when out to detect intrusions in Kargil conflict in 1999, shocked the entire world but left the defence ministry officials and the dispensation practically unmoved. Post-mortem reports revealed ghastly details of their mutilation; eardrums pierced with hot rods, shattered teeth and bones, fractured skulls, eyes gouged out, limbs and private parts amputated. This happened to be the single most depraved act of barbarity after the mass extermination of three million Bengalis in 1971 by Pakistanis.
The government of the day initially denied any intrusion by Pakistani regulars on the hilltops, but compounded its folly by pulling out all stops to court Pervez Musharraf and invite him for talks. It ended up by legitimizing an act of treachery against India by the dictator, in the eyes of the world, even alerting the general about a possible bid on his life. Kargil morphed into a living nightmare for Indian troops, besides exposing the bumbling ineptitude of intelligence agencies, spurring a bitter blame game. The colossal failure exposed the political leadership, headed by a poetically inclined and dreamy prime minister, which always took strategic matters for granted.
Do we recall how the police humiliated a Senior Colonel, gripping him by the arms and herding him like a lowly criminal, even in his uniform!
The spiral of attacks on soldiers, however, continues unabated: On November 2, 2018, the police rounded up two sepoys of 2 Arunachal Scouts in Bomdila and thrashed them for allegedly misbehaving with civilians and local police. They were later admitted to Tengah Air Base hospital with serious injuries. The incident went viral on the net. The very next day Col Firdosh P. Dubash, the unit’s Commanding Officer, confronted the local police superintendent and is heard warning him clearly in video clips that he would not tolerate future harassment of his men. The Army also maintained that there were no grounds of arresting them.
Do we recall how the police humiliated a Senior Colonel, gripping him by the arms and herding him like a lowly criminal, even in his uniform! These mortifying images of the Commanding Officer of 39 Assam Rifles, circulated in the public domain not so long ago, shamed the nation. Brig V. Mahalingam, questioning the warped rationale behind the arrest in his TOI blog, headlined: ‘Arrested Army Officer in Mizoram a villain or a scapegoat,’ wrote that “while there is no question of exonerating (military) personnel for crimes committed, they cannot be made scape goats for camouflaging criminals, corrupt officials or dignitaries . . . . It is time Army realised that exercising authority over its officers and troops without being accountable for their fair and just treatment is unacceptable and will have grave repercussions on their morale.”
Genuine video clips floating in the public domain offer clinching evidence of how aggrieved Army men, including those on deputation with the NSG, knock on the doors of administrative or IPS officials, seeking redressal of their grievances or complaining of official high-handedness. More often than not, the soldier’s rights are violated and he ends up by being victimized. The law clearly states that whenever he is named as an accused in any case, it is mandatory to inform the closest unit or regiment. Following which, a case will be registered by the military police. But does that really happen?
The growing incidence of violence against uniformed men makes it incumbent upon the government to appoint a nodal authority in every district or division, for a minimum of two years, to address their problems expeditiously. The appointees should preferably be chosen from among the veterans, to serve with the previous rank and uniform. This will also partly take care of the problem of re-employing highly skilled and experienced professionals, trained to deliver results, without burdening the exchequer excessively.