Intro: This thread is dedicated to Indian soldiers, their sacrifice, their unrelenting courage and fierce determination to embrace death and danger in the wake of their love for their motherland.
A soldier’s job is tough, in fact, tougher than any other human endeavour in the modern world. In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the demands on the soldier become even more arduous. On one hand he is engaged in fighting the un-ending proxy war even as he endures hate and criticism of some politicians, fifth columnists and secessionist elements who want the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to be repealed and the Army removed from the civilian areas of the state. In the wake of disasters like floods, avalanche, landslides or any other calamities, however, the same very critics look up to the Army greedily for help and rescue in times of crisis. This psyche of self-serving human motives is aptly summed up in this couplet:
“God and the soldier all men adore-in time of trouble and no more, for when war is over and all things righted;God is neglected and the old soldier slighted.”
Within a period of six months, the state was hit for the second time by floods during the last week of March 2015. Having experienced the unprecedented havoc of flood-fury in September last year, the Army, the NDRF and the State Government were this time better prepared when a cloud burst resulted in heavy rains followed by floods. The Army had its relief columns in place fully prepared and geared to move in anywhere to rescue people at short notice. “All the contingency plans are in place; temporary shelters have been set up for people evacuated from flood prone areas,” an official of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) said.
The Army is naturally better poised to provide instant relief because the units spread out all over the Valley are now equipped with boats and relief accessories. From their own resources, these units have created emergency shelters with basic medical cover, food and clothing for the evacuees.“Anticipating the need this time”, the Army spokesman informed, “The Army quickly established Composite Rescue Groups constituting of Infantry, Engineers, EME and Army medical staff at Badami Bagh Cantonment, Old Airfield and Zainakot. The Army has deployed all its dewatering pumps in the low lying areas to prevent or at least restrict inundation as much as possible.” Other than this he told that, “Heavy rainfall on March 28-29 also resulted in death of 15 persons in Chadoora area of Budgam district. Fortunately, the rains subsided and the water level in the Jhelum also had started receding March 2 onwards.”
Thanks to the experience of last year, the authorities at all levels were quick to prepare and respond this time around. The devastating floods of September last year had caught every department in the state government napping. The death toll was assessed to be about 300, which could have been many times more had the Army slackened launching its ‘Operation Megh Rahat’. The nation watched the Army rescue operations last year in full view. Flood victims, media, the authorities and even the not-so-pro-Army sections in the local politics and civil society could not resist appreciating the Army’s role in rescuing hundreds of thousands of lives and soldiers risking their own lives. Many men and women overwhelmed with gratitude towards the Army gave touching accounts of how the jawans risked their own lives to rescue them giving a new lease of life. Like always, the relief operation was a combined military effort in which the Army, Navy and the Air Force participated in full gusto. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Border Security Force (BSF) also did their best in lending a helping hand in these relief operations. The state government authorities, however, remained missing until the emergency was almost over.
Omar Abdullah, then J&K Chief Minister and a strong advocate of removal of the AFSPA and the Army from the civilian areas of the Valley, came at the butt of public ire for inaction of the state government in September last year. The state government was literally absent. The only ubiquitous saviour of the hapless people trapped in surging waters was the soldier. Criticised severely by the public and the media, Omar was candid enough to confess to the media, “I had no government” in the first few days following the floods, as “my secretariat, the police headquarters, the control room, fire services, hospitals, all the infrastructure was underwater….I had no cell phone and no connectivity. I am now starting to track down ministers and officers.”
The Armed Forces in India are traditionally apolitical – a legacy that has solidified into an essential military characteristic in the post-Independence India even as the Pakistan Army separated from the same Army. The Indian Army has no interest of its own either in the North-east or in J&K although every soldier believes that the Armed Forces are the last resort available to tackle threats, disasters and catastrophes – natural or human – that are perceived to be beyond the power and abilities of any other Force or department. What makes the Army more efficient is not their so-called privileges or special powers. It is the distinct military ethos in which every recruit – jawan or officer – is groomed to endure unique hardships and deprivations.
Whatever his caste or religion in personal life, as a soldier his unit is his caste and the duty his religion. Under the special provisions of the military law, every officer and jawan surrenders some of his fundamental rights like, right to form association or union, freedom of speech and expression and assembly etc., which are enjoyed by all citizens of India. The grooming of the new entrants is such that they readily and proudly adapt to this military ethos and never question an order. When deployed on active duty in operational areas or when called upon in the aid of civil authorities even in peace locations, there is no such thing as ‘working hours’ or ‘Sundays and holidays’. A soldier is on duty forever! Yet, the anti-Army voices in J&K seem to sing a weird Ode to the Soldier:-
You’re paid to stop a bullet,
It's a soldier’s job they say,
But, when you stop a bullet,
They will stop your pay.
Chivalry is a martial trait instilled in every soldier. No soldier would ever want to harm his own people for whose safety and well-being he lays down his own life. While the secessionists have not hesitated to raise questions on every army operation against the terrorists, the Army has lost more lives in the on-going proxy war than the combined total death toll of all Indo-Pak wars fought so far. Mistakes, of course, have occurred where innocent lives have been lost either in cross fire or mistaken identity or due to misleading informers. Nevertheless, the Army has taken swift and severe actions against the erring officers and jawans including trial by Court Martial. Sentences awarded by the Courts Martial have been so severe that in most cases, appeals of the convicts have been upheld by the higher judiciary where the punishment awarded by Courts Martial has been either reduced or set aside altogether. That implies that if such cases were tried out of the army, courts would have awarded lesser punishment to the accused military personnel.
Fighting proxy war or insurgency is a dirty business for the Army. It is not its primary role. Prolonged deployment in civil areas has actually diminished, if not wholly extinguished yet, the esteem in which the Army was held by the people. Thus, whereas the Army would very much welcome its withdrawal from the proxy war scenario, can we afford to create a vacuum to be filled by the prowling proxies of Pakistan?
Assignments like flood relief and rescue operations in times of disaster are happily accepted – in fact, most often sought voluntarily – by military personnel because in rescuing their civilian brethren from the jaws of death gives them unique satisfaction. In such operations jawans do not mind going hungry and without sleep for days together. Cheer on the faces of the victims rescued is their biggest reward.
Karan Kharb (The writer is the author of 4-Star bestsellers in ‘Indiatimes Rating of International Bestseller’ books on leadership and a social worker)