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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

Guest column | Busting the holy cow myth: Cocooned in cantonments

This decision to open cantonments can have its positive fallout. First, fears of breach of security can lead to improved security arrangements

punjab Updated: Jun 16, 2018 22:27 IST
Col Avnish Sharma (retd)
Col Avnish Sharma (retd)
Hindustan Times
Cantonments are much cleaner than other parts of the cities
Cantonments are much cleaner than other parts of the cities(HT File Photo)

Social media is abuzz with the recent decision of the government to open all closed roads at cantonments across the country, barring the highly sensitive select few. This was perceived as an ‘outrageous order’ by the veterans, serving personnel and their families as it dealt a blow to the hallowed existence of the Indian armed forces. How could they do it? What will happen to the security at cantonments? The privacy of our separated families is being breached!

However, rational analysis helps one reach the conclusion that the holy cow image of the Indian armed forces has been ingrained so deeply in the minds of the uniformed fraternity that it perceives itself as a society within society. Why can’t we for a moment think we are part and parcel of the country at large, like all citizens of India? Why do we need a cocooned life? It’s like having cake and eating it too.

This decision to open cantonments can have its positive fallout. First, fears of breach of security can lead to improved security arrangements. Take for instance our visit to Vietnam. During our stay for over a week, we did not notice any policemen at public places or traffic junctions. When we asked our English speaking guide, Lee, how law and order was maintained, his response was, “Sir, try committing an offence. You wouldn’t know when they swarm you like bees.”

Secondly, the cleanliness at our cantonments is exemplary and thus showcasing it will improve awareness amongst public at large. Thirdly, the disciplined curriculum at the military stations could set examples for others and motivate them to adopt the army way of life. The decision is definitely in national interest, proven by the fact that there is no expression of dissent from any quarters, ruling or the opposition.

Another issue that got me thinking was the army chief’s announcement of withdrawal of sahayaks (helpers) working for retired generals. In the first place, were they ever authorised to hold on to them after retirement? In my 27 years in the Cavalry, I have never witnessed a soldier in dedicated service of a retired officer. While commanding my regiment, a senior general from the unit, due to retire, was coming to us on a farewell visit. A day before he was to arrive, his soldier sahayak returned bag and baggage to the unit.

Generals need to set such examples. The other day, we along with five or six more couples were invited to a social gathering by a recently retired general officer commanding in chief (GOC- in-C). Getting back to the mainstream after spending almost a lifetime in the forces he and his wife were without any support staff and the meal they served was made by the hired help. Needless to say, we enjoyed a wonderful evening with a couple who set the tone perfectly for a happy retired life.

That incident, however, brought to mind a dinner at another general’s house. They had soldiers everywhere, from helping guests park vehicles to welcoming then and serving drinks and dinner. As we complimented our hostess for the wonderful meal, she replied, “I have done nothing. It’s an effort by our team of sahayaks and the cook.” They were indeed enjoying gorging on organisational perks beyond their authorisation.

At the end, all one can say is that these are good decisions with no negative implications for anyone.

The author can be contacted at

Views expressed are personal