Last Thursday, four of the five jawans killed in the Poonch attack on August 6 were cremated with State honours in Bihar. To see the pain in the eyes of the widows of the jawans and the blankness in the eyes in their children was enough to move even the staunchest critics of the Indian Army.
However, Bihar’s rural works and panchayati raj minister Bhim Singh was not quite so moved. He went to the extent of saying nonchalantly that people joined the army to become martyrs, even suggesting that they were doing what they were paid for. Mr Singh’s statements were reprehensible to say the least.
After the outcry, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar apologised. Mr Singh also apologised coming up with that old chestnut that he was misquoted.
This crude apathy shown by our political class is a reflection of a general indifference towards the forces. The ‘it’s-their-job’ attitude belittles the stresses and strains that our forces endure to ensure that India is safe and secure. Guarding our borders is not an easy task.
With Pakistan sending in waves of militants and even its own troops and with Chinese incursions on the rise, the job of guarding our borders is getting tougher.
The armed forces also endure harsh weather conditions, be it the biting cold in the Himalayas or the scorching sun in the deserts.
All this seems lost on the political class and public who think that this is just a regular job and that they are compensated handsomely for it. The Siachen Glacier, at a height of about 5,400 metres, is a strategically important post for India and is one of the harshest border posts in the world to patrol. Yet, round the year, our jawans live in these glacial heights where it is difficult to even boil water.
The Centre, after the initial flip-flop by the defence minister, has pinned the blame on the Pakistan army for the Poonch killings.
Such an incident is sure to affect the morale of the troops and the government has made it worse with its statements.
Careless remarks of the sort made by Mr Singh are bound to deter those among the youth who may consider a career in the army as a viable option. The government should also put in place firm policies which ensure that the families of our slain armed forces personnel are taken care of.
Though no monetary benefit can be a substitute for the lives lost, it is imperative that the families are not forgotten. Politicians should also refrain from using the deaths of our soldiers as a political weapon against each other.
And the public too should not be so cavalier towards those who take great risks so that people can sleep in peace at night.
A little more sensitivity will go a long way towards making our armed forces feel that they are valued and honoured.