In India we are used to the various contrasts in our society, be it the supreme rich and people below poverty line, the so called upper class and the lower middle class , so called upper caste and the scheduled tribes, different societal norms for men and those for women (more so in backward and rural areas) and so on. I would like to bring to the notice of my readers one more contrast here.
If I ask a 10 year old child about any current player of the Indian Cricket Team, the current heartthrob of Bollywood or even a football icon, undoubtedly he would be able to name and recognize those players or the actors, to some extent, go on to give me information on the spouses of these players and the franchisee that they play for or information about star kids and even the products that these players/ actors endorse. But ask him about the 3 wings of our Armed Forces and I cannot convincingly say that the child will know it.
Maybe the comparison that I make is an illogical one yet it is something that I wish to draw attention to. Coming back to the chances of the 10 year child not knowing about the wings of the Armed Forces, I don’t really blame him. Not only this, I wouldn’t expect even an older child/ adolescent also to know much in detail about the Armed Forces. Simply because the sports persons and film stars are all over the place in our country. Be it in print media, on prime time TV, on social media, the many number of matches they play or the movies that they release in a year. It may be hard to believe but I am unsure if any subject currently in standard 5th and above (at least in Maharashtra) has any detailed (or as much is allowed) description of the Kargil Conflict in 1999. I would assume it to be a feat, worthy of mention.
Representing the country v/s Routine jobs
Recently, an eminent cricketer was in a talk show advocating for the wives of the cricket players to be allowed to accompany them during their series outside India because he felt that they were away from their families for a long time. Some time back there was a controversy about a senior badminton player threatening to pull out of an international tournament if the player’s father was not given specific accommodation. Seriously! Such whims and fancies while representing your nation! Do we even give a thought to the military personnel of our country? Sure we do, but then we convince ourselves that it’s a part of their ‘routine’ job. Yes, indeed. A soldier protecting the country at the border is doing a ‘routine’ job and if he is away from his family for months on end, no big deal. But a player, who is also representing the same country, NEEDS and DEMANDS to be given the privilege of his family accompanying him. Strange!
A sportsperson representing the country in overseas tournaments or a film star working abroad travels in flights and stays in the finest of the hotels. A jawan travels to his destination by a train or a bus and rarely by flight. A soldier deputed on duty at a mountain range 10000 ft above sea level lives in a bunker and a sailor spends close to around 180 days in a year on the high seas. The soldier who is doing his duty up on the mountains stays on for close to 6 months without shaving or even having bath because once it starts snowing, the weather is not conducive and the resources are limited. Also, he lives on without any power, no vegetation in sight, at times eating whatever is available and no sunlight for weeks and on vigil, day and night.
These soldiers in those remote posts in glaciers and mountains are supported by their comrades in the base camp and the only link between the two are the Army and Air Force pilots who undertake sorties to deliver the supplies to the men up there and also rescue them in case of an untoward incident. Needless to say, such sortie is obviously not a piece of cake. In case of Flying Fighters, in spite of using modern aircrafts like Su-30, which have comfortable air-conditioning, when they return after 40 min training sortie in an area where temperatures hover around 40 degrees Celsius, their shoulders and back are probably in discomfort because of the physical drain of the sortie and their overalls are sweaty. Despite these, the Flying Fighter never dreads the cockpit and is yearning to be in it. The sailor in the submarine lives in disposables for all those days that he is deputed there. It is noteworthy that there is space crunch even in a submarine and the sailor lives on without a shave or a bath and for obvious reasons he can’t even smoke. Not only in the submarine, his deck in a ship too is not a spacious one with all amenities. It only has bare essentials for survival. Not to forget that when they are out on the sea, there is nothing except water on all sides and human connection is only when they reach a harbor.
The sportspersons are privileged to commute in a swanky bus, planes ( at times in business class ) at times even chartered jets and the superstars relax in their state of the art vanity vans and have all means of communications and entertainment at their behest. The recent attack in Pulwama exposed the means of travels that our jawans use. There is no need to reiterate that a bunker at 10000 ft does not have a landline phone, a cell phone or a laptop for video calls. They just have access to radio phones, which is for internal communication. The same goes for the sailor sailing in high seas. Months on end, the families barely have any clue of them. At least a sailor can get in touch with their families when they reach a harbor but not the soldier in the mountains. Even a regular sortie without a war like situation can prove fatal for our Air Force pilots, as has been seen on many occasions and yet they are at it as is required. But yes, these personnel are just doing their ‘routine’ job or as it’s said “they are being paid for their job”.
Additional payouts v/s rights
The income of the sportspersons through their matches and that of celebrities through their movies and their endorsements is commonly known fact. There is no denying the fact that the endorsements that a player or an actor involves in are his right. But what about the soldier’s rights? Do we know that our soldiers are FIGHTING in the courts for their rights such as implementation of OROP (One Rank One Pension) and NFFU (Non Functional Financial Upgrade). Moreover when the Indian Team had a historic win against Australia earlier this year, a cash prize equivalent to their bonuses which amounted to a few lakhs was announced for the team, its support staff and also for the selectors. It can’t get more ironical than this that the team (including the selectors) which does a job while REPRESENTING its country and wins trophies gets cash prize apart from their salaries whereas the soldiers who is GUARDING the country at the cost of his lives is fighting for his entitlements.
The governing body of cricket in India is an autonomous body and so are the other sporting bodies and the Bollywood Fraternity and tax payers cannot really question the way they wish to treat their players/ actors and use their funds. Having said that, the fact is that the soldiers cannot form a union to fight for their rights. Bank unions threaten to go on strike, farmers undertake a protest march to Mumbai, BEST, ( the agency for public transport in Mumbai) Auto and cab unions goes on strike; their pleas are noticed and in some cases, Chief Minister of Maharashtra personally intervenes and assures them that needful will be done. For obvious reasons, soldiers cannot undertake a protest march, neither can they go on strike; their pleas stay unheard.
Their Sweat and Toil is no mean feat
Having been a sportsperson myself, I know the sweat and toil and passion that go into becoming a player of the repute of our Indian sportspersons. The scrapped knuckles and knees, the swollen ankles, the bruises on various parts of the body due to injuries while practice is an integral part of the sportsman’s life. But I still doubt that if what our soldiers go through in the academies and later in their careers is comparable to anything else at all. For the uninformed civilian, our impression of the soldier is restricted to what is shown in the warfare movies and that may just be the tip of the iceberg.
We drool over a celebrity and are in awe of him/her who sits for hours at a stretch for a certain makeup. But we wouldn’t know what it is to be staying in a bunker at -40 with the risk of dealing with chilblains or frostbites or to traverse glaciers and bridge crevasses with the help of aluminum ladders, to try and land choppers on a ship that is rolling and pitching in the middle of the sea or what it means to be high up in the sky facing the enemy and depending only on your own grit and decision making where even a split second delay could mean the difference between life and death or flying a chopper at 20000 feet where even a few minutes without oxygen could be fatal.
With due respects to the sportspersons and the film stars of our country, I have no grudges whatsoever against them. In fact I too would probably make my way through a manageable crowd to take a selfie with my favorite cricketer, footballer, actor or playback singer. There is also no denying the fact that these celebrities themselves have a heart of gold and this was seen in the opening ceremony of the current IPL tournament where the cricketers donated huge sums of money to the Armed Forces and the many occasions when the celebrities have come forward to help the jawans. But the Indian Armed Forces’ personnel are worth their weight in gold because of the Chetwood Motto ingrained in the officers of the Indian Army ; the nation first, the fellow troops second and themselves last and I am sure this motto holds true for the officers of the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force too.
As G.K Chesterton says ‘A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.’ The irony is that while the celebrities receive accolades for their ‘performances’, sometimes even the supreme sacrifice of our military personnel goes unrecognized.
Spare a thought and offer gratitude
In a talk show that was held on a TV channel with regards to Armed Forces, in reply to a question as to what do the families of the Fallen soldiers need, someone associated with such families said that they need empathy and gratitude from their fellow countrymen and nothing else. While we are doling out so much adulation for our celebrities maybe we can also do this bit for our Armed Forces and their families. Why only families of such brave hearts, try speaking to a veteran for some time. Their patriotism and their optimism are contagious. The passion with which they speak about their time in the Armed Forces and the pride with which they speak of their institution is inspirational, the tales of unity and the camaraderie in their units irrespective of cast, religion or the region one belongs to, every incident and story thereof gives Goosebumps and increases the respect for their fraternity. A few conversations with them on a regular basis are enough to motivate one to join the Armed Forces. I happen to be just two decades late.
From my limited interactions with a few veterans I can convincingly say that our Armed Forces personnel do their jobs without the expectation of being in limelight but as citizens we should forever be indebted to them for their services and not only after the supreme sacrifices are made. I would like to end this piece with a quote of Rudyard Kipling which has been used by many veterans in recent times, in the talk shows and their articles – ‘In times of war and not before, Gods and soldiers we adore. But in times of peace and all things righted, God is forgotten and the soldier slighted’. Let us not forget our soldiers, sailors and our airmen; we are happy and blissfully enjoying the freedom and the privileges associated with it because of our brethren in the Armed Forces.
More power to the sportspersons of our country to bring glory to us and to the men in uniform to continue emerging victorious in all their battles (including the one for their rights).
Featured Image recreated using images from Wikimedia Commons
Officers of the Indian Navy during a parade in 2013 : https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Officers_of_the_Indian_Navy_during_a_parade_in_2013.jpg&oldid=306899702
Indian Air Force image source : https://commons.wikimedia.org/index.php?title=File:A_marching_contingent_passes_through_the_Rajpath_during_the_full_dress_rehearsal_for_the_Republic_Day_Parade-2008,_in_New_Delhi_on_January_23,_2008.jpg&oldid=316703969