Youth and the Army

The Indian Army is the second largest army in the world – second in size only to that of China. It has evolved as the most disciplined and a highly professional fighting outfit  hailing from a country, which has now begun to stabilize and gain world recognition.

The glorious ‘past is impeccable and the ‘present’ has withstood the acid test in the recent Kargil misadventure. The ‘future,’ by these standards, will definitely be glorious and most promising.

There are volumes of publications on war heroism, honours and awards, regimental traditions and battle discipline. War movies are the most popular and definitely excite the adrenaline in the young and energetic. The war veterans are loaded with interesting and spellbinding personal experiences that can keep any gathering enthralled at all times.

Display of power and might of the country is the major agenda on the glamorous Republic Day parade. The arsenal is on display and the marching columns keep hundreds and thousands of people mesmerized. Prior to when contingents march down Rajpath, is when the solemn occasion of honoring the brave (posthumously) occurs. I have witnessed this every year, and it breaks my heart each and every time when I see a widow clad in white, with her head bowed and eyes brimming with tears. The citation is read aloud and the story of raw courage unfolds in front of thousands of patriotic Indians. What saddens me the most is that the entire crowd is glued to its seat, even the Supreme Commander is comfortably seated and at times is not even attentive to the narration of the valor of those soldiers, those son’s of the soil who made the ultimate sacrifice. The least that I expect is a standing ovation from the audience. The ceremony is over in minutes, the medal is bestowed and the volatile memory forgets it all.

The country’s indistinct perception of the armed forces, its neglect by the government and the bureaucracy coupled with my personal experiences motivated me to focus on this issue of national interest.

Quite recently I visited the National Defense Academy – the cradle of Military Leadership. I was impressed by the flawless system where children from all parts of the country and a myriad of socio-economic backgrounds are trained for every expectation of the society. They were of my age, but for them life suddenly seemed so much more meaningful as they were ready to take on the responsibility of the nation, with no scope for complacency and error. I was fortunate enough to see how this training at NDA was put to real practice during the Kargil conflict on my visit to these areas. I can recall, while our soldiers were braving all odds in terms of hostile weather, terrain and fighting the enemy, many blood donation camps were organized in far-flung areas like Bangalore. I wonder if even a single drop reached the needy soldiers. Similarly, I wonder what happened to the JAI Fund, for I found no change in the living conditions of our men in uniform. During the conflict when the cantonments were silent, when coffins were arriving wrapped in the tricolor and there was so much suspense, gloom, and despair; the nightclubs, the discotheques and the hotels were doing their usual business. Nightlife, fun and frolic went on as usual. Some even went to the extent of thinking soldiers were meant to die – if not them, who else would?

Most students may take such issues in their stride, but to me it holds special value, for the Army is my father’s legacy to me and I cannot stay silent at the impotent perceptions that the nation has towards it, especially the youth. I was born and cradled within the confines of this organization. The Armed Forces gives countless opportunities to a person, be it professional courses, studies abroad, adventure, tactics of war or training in ops of war. It gives an individual and his family opportunities to grow and develop in numerous ways. Life is fairly well balanced and there are not many causes of worry. The justice system in the military is noteworthy of mention. Enquiry is initiated instantly and trial is completed in record time. Punishment never eludes the offender and the glory of the elite force is restored as soon as possible. Secularism is its hallmark and a soldier has only one religion and that is patriotism.

Despite the glamour, bonhomie and clean culture – the forces are facing multiple problems. Repeated discussions in the media, both print and electronic have presented scenarios of lower remuneration, increasing suicides, unsettled lifestyle and shortage of officers. These are alarming issues requiring redressal at the parliamentary and national level. I have been struggling hard to fathom the reason behind these issues.

Publicity is minimal for the armed forces as compared to other careers. Are there any dedicated channels in the media? Not that I am aware of any. Many doubt the role of Armed Forces when there is no war. They are totally unaware of the Army’s commitment in counter insurgency operations and rescue and rehabilitation work during natural disasters. The Armed Forces have also gone beyond the national boundaries to offer help in the UN peace keeping all over the world.

News channels have hardly any space left for items of National interest. When a soldier lays down his life for his country, the news is not a headline but a subscript at the bottom of the TV screen which flashes for a fraction, like a blip on the radar and rapidly escapes into the confines of nothingness. Such news (if the media deems it worthy) may find itself a small slot in the National newspapers that too in some inconsequential corner, after the Page 3 bulletins, of course. The highest tribute to one’s nation does not even make it to the casual conversations of the general public. When soldiers win over Tiger Hill, the attention and adulation they receive stands in no comparison to Team India winning the Twenty-Twenty cricket match. Indeed, we need to salute and celebrate our soldiers in a more befitting manner.

Career counselors, whom I call ‘dream sellers’ are grossly misleading the youth today. I have attended many counseling sessions only to realize that careers were immediately equated with rate of earnings. The element of hard work, years of training, work experience and attaining maturity in the field of interest were conspicuously missing. Impressionable minds are made to believe that they were like mushrooms that would spring up to instant wealth and fame in the monsoons of corporate hegemony. The profession of pride, which was once the vocation of royalty, is perhaps not even enlisted by career counselors. The younger generation is perhaps looking for greener pastures. When the choice lies between defying odds or playing even, between grit and glamour, between sacrifice and safety and the age-old fight between duty and rights, it is not surprising that the balance shifts towards the latter.

My solutions to the above problems are very simple and are based on the premise that the youth can identify with this illustrious institution, only if they are exposed to its first hand functioning. This can be achieved by offering training for a short duration to all healthy individuals so that they can also be recruited as short service officers. There is no better way of instilling not just national pride but self-discipline and a passion for physical fitness in an increasingly indolent world. For a youth fed on pizza hut needs to have the pizzazz of a spirited soldier to build the nation on firm foundations.

There should be periodic revision of the monetary emoluments so that they remain comparable to the glamour, wealth and comforts of other white-collar appointments. Welfare of the families should be high on the agenda of the government when the man of the house is away securing the lives of Indians.

A need for collective and productive thinking by group discussions and national debates for the same cannot be overemphasized. I would introduce this as a matter of serious concern in forums like the Youth Parliament and Young Leaders for Social Development. The school and college curriculum should elucidate the historical war victories, deeds of valor and the pride associated in being a part of this organization.

The armed Forces should have an exclusive slot on prime time television to showcase its achievements, professionalism, training and the extreme environmental conditions in which the soldiers are working so that it emerges as a viable and lucrative career for the youth.

As responsible citizens, what we must not forget is that in every breath we breathe as free individuals – these gallant men that play a vital role. If our borders are not safe then the rapid pace of development we are experiencing will lose its significance. In return what these men need is not medals and awards but a national sentiment involving some degree of respect and admiration.

Kanika Bahadur

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