The Men in Uniform – A Class Apart

This one for all the soldiers who live dangerously to defend the nation – what trauma they personally go through is seldom realised.

Editor  

 Adfar Shah

Abstract:

Forces today are beset with certain issues and challenges around the globe. The increased political instability, social rupture, widespread chaos, increased criminality, inequality shaped by disparities, structural violence, crisis and continuing public protests have undoubtedly increased the soldier’s troubles. Men in uniform, be they army or police personnel, are installed like machines to regulate everything peacefully – that too at the eleventh hour, without actually addressing the political and public issues. The soldier turns highly vulnerable and faces the public wrath every time for no of fault of his! The very same soldier also faces a plethora of negative stereotyping by the masses, is labeled in various negative stereotypes (sometimes correctly so) by the public mainly in conflict zones, as inhuman and treated like an enemy. Despite being armed, he is helpless and merely used in a manner similar to the scarecrow, to drive the public off in turbulent times. The question is, has the State forgotten the soldier and his sensitivities? Is there a need to empower the soldier (cop, commando or jawan) in the true sense to enable him to live with emotional balance and fight the challenging fourth generation war? There were many more similar questions that set aflame the questioning process in my mind while interacting with some of the men in uniform, mostly police personnel in the Kashmir Valley. This paper is based on casual interactions with men in uniform, besides the tool of observation and field experiences have been employed to analyze the soldier’s plight in conflict zones. The case of the Kashmir Valley has been taken for the researcher himself belongs to that context.

Introduction

My best friend belongs to the Jammu and  Kashmir Police Force. He came to meet me while I was enjoying my summer vacations at my home in the remote village of Watlar in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal District. Since Kashmir had witnessed some of the worst summer unrests since 2008,here, I enquired of him about his perception of their fighting the public (mob control/crowd management) in unrests and his feelings about being a cop, when he was fighting his own people. Though not educated enough to conceptualize the topic thematically or philosophize about the whole discourse, he simply replied with utter dismay that they (cops) are empowered but not in the true sense –  they have a weapon in hand, but cannot even use it even in self defense; they are like scarecrows installed the field to drive off the birds to save the crop. They never know what their fault is but still face the wrath of the public every time. He further said that they are installed like machines to face the angry masses who abuse them, ridicule them, beat them, throw stones at them and as cops they are just taught how to do one thing and that is ‘maintaining the restraint’. He said it is disgusting to fight back our own people but duty is duty. His treating himself as a mere scarecrow of the State to scare the public, actually reflected his unspoken complaint, a silent protest that he has to face it all finally for no fault of his. I them met a number of friends in police and almost got the same replies. The soldier when installed frequently to crush every legitimate or illegitimate crisis feels like a scarecrow and treats public as birds that he has to drive off when asked for so.

About two months ago, I also met an Army personnel on a flight, flying from Srinagar to Delhi. The soldier was unwell and granted leave for one month or so. While talking to him, the researcher within me woke up and I asked him a few questions pertaining to the  Kashmir sensitivity issue, gender sensitivity, local cultural sensitivity, interacting with the public, interacting with their officers, etc,. He replied in the negative to all questions and said that two years ago there were some activities on the internal transformation of the army but currently nothing of the sort was happening. “We yearn to talk to locals but cannot, because we have a different mandate, different duty. Our officers do not interact much with us, most of them abuse and that is why fratricides or suicides occur when a jawan feels alienated within his own army family. Sometimes leave is denied and if there are acute problems at home and leave is not granted, what can a jawan do?”he mused reflectively.

Scarecrows vs. Sparrows (Jawans vs. Masses)

Today when the world is celebrating the triumph of scientific men over nature, the status of ‘Aam Aadmi’ (common man) has got reduced to ‘the crows and sparrows’ as a result of increasing anomie, man’s routine protesting nature, rapidly shrinking resources and the growing burden of unmet demands. The situation even worse when we talk about conflict ridden societies and assess the soldier’s burden and woes while being in such vulnerable zones, where the status of a man in uniform i.e., a soldier viz-a-viz ‘Aam Aadmi’ has been reduced to that of a scarecrow. Amidst this never ending dance of crows and scarecrows, the modern solider keeps on shifting between the extremes of ever growing public sensitivities and human rights concerns, which not only impairs his role performance as a soldier, but also thwarts the very concept of his role institutionalization as a soldier.

Though a cop is there to regulate the social discipline, however to strike a delicate balance between his inner world, self defense and duty for the public welfare, has become all the more difficult, given the increased complexity of social phenomena over the years, especially in the turmoil hit zones. All this has cast mounting pressure upon the psyche of a soldier, who finds himself caught in a dilemma while delivering on multiple fronts like handling work place affairs, managing home issues, regulating public law and order, that too without crossing the border of public sentiment. Conversely, how can a soldier who is meant for public welfare and security, disrespect public sentiments while maintaining law and order in the society- the society which pays him for his services? Today’s soldier is caught in the trap of the vastly compounded problems of secessionism, communal disharmony and the problem of religious nationalism versus secular nationalism (Ummah vs Indianness, Naxalism vs Secularism, Maoism vs Democracy, Religion vs State, etc,). Caught in the saga of unending political unrests and uprisings, he alone faces the brunt of most of the protests, social unrests and public uproar. Deployed at an eleventh hour to confront untoward situations while maintaining the sanctity of ethics of law and order, severely strains the soldier’s physical as well as mental setup, who finds himself at cross-roads while delivering on multiple fronts.

Soldier in the Psychological (4G) War

Today’s soldier needs all-round empowerment while combating the fourth-generation war, which is hardly the war of bows and arrows, guns and tanks but a mental war, a war of ideology, a war of psychologies, a challenge to come down from being a solider to a common man to understand the local psyche, ethos, sensitivity and sentiments, a war between the secular and the orthodox. Tackling the Fourth Generation enemy is too difficult because it may not be an armed enemy from another land but can be even a common man who has developed certain tendencies deemed undesirable for the constitutional framework of the country. In today’s conflict ridden atmosphere, a civilian turns soldier and a soldier becomes a civilian. The sooner the soldier learns to use his mind, the better it is.

 Though a soldier safeguards the social interests of the nation and its people, he himself gets divorced from his social milieu and the result is fratricides or suicides. His image of a social being is, to an extent, tarnished by the plethora of stereotypes carried around by the people – of his being anti-human and anti-social, which ultimately results in growing anger and rage against him. Furthermore, the growing concern for  public security, human rights voices, past aberrations that may have resulted in civilian killings during uprisings, angry crowds, riots, domestic issues, family tussle, etc, have added to his woes. Any crisis mishandling, combat failures and the saga of unending political uprisings and growing concerns and issues of crowd control management with public safety and without any collateral damage at all, have exposed him to new vulnerabilities and difficulties. The issues of crowd/ mob/riots management and emerged public uprisings that are mostly political now and have virtually put a soldier/policeman in a more volatile and vulnerable situation, have been hardly deliberated upon by the so called Human Rights activists and that is where, I feel, the Soldier has been forgotten and divorced from his social milieu.

The question is, has the soldier been reduced to a mere scare crow, a mindless, motionless decoy or mannequin who, although he has a weapon in his hand, cannot use that even for safeguarding his own life. Has the state forgotten the soldier’s human existence where he is victimized at every front, subjected to the fury of prolonged political conflicts in vulnerable zones and where the wrath and result of every mischief be it the mal-governance issues, mal-administration issues, public rage against decaying and defunct governments, corruption etc. is, nevertheless, faced by him all alone. Amidst such hiccups, does making the Police Force active or workable mean their blind installment at any place without vesting them with adequate apparatus of empowerment and self defense? Do we pay adequate attention to the causes of the growing number of suicides among soldiers or episodes of fratricide, reflecting the woes and inner crisis of an alienated soldier? The question is, can we afford an alienated soldier in the present era?

 Just a separate and generous defense budget is not at all sufficient to empower the Indian soldier or a cop. Civil society is always public centered in this part of the world and by public do they always mean lay men? Does being a soldier of the country in any way means overlooking the soldier’s human rights or does being a soldier in the country mean something in the public scenario? Does being a soldier mean to die a ruthless inhuman death without any concern?.The question arises whether the state needs to delineate a soldier from mere installation and  against valid public rage, instead of delivering the goods or addressing the issues via good governance? I believe we as a state are dehumanizing a soldier gradually by subjecting him to bear the brunt for none of his faults. Discourses over AFSPA do no harm and labeling it draconian is also easy but we need to think whether AFSPA or other acts really empower or disempower the soldier. I think such laws actually delineate him as an entity that is different from the public. We need a serious rethink on a soldier’s real empowerment (not empowered with hollow laws) as a  majority of the people around are hardly aware of AFSPA and other laws, their mandate, content and objective reality. Besides, all security laws are not draconian laws, though it is imperative to amend these in J&K and North East India as there is so much goodwill displayed by the forces. Also, in all the conflict ridden zones, the rude and undemocratic terminology incorporated in the laws like ‘shoot to kill’ or the term, ‘Special powers’, which actually embarrass the common man and wage public apprehensions over it, need to be avoided.

Last Word

There are still so many stereotypes prevailing in all conflict ridden zones about soldiers and the public cries with the state’s stringent pressure on them having narrowed down their horizon, besides demoralizing this brave community. We, as public, need to understand them equally as a part of society and where we cry for our concerns, we must be equally concerned about their rights as well. We call it carnage, when they shoot and when they don’t, we call it crisis mishandling. So we have created a situation similar to being between the  devil and the deep sea for the poor soldier.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that India cannot afford a disturbed, frustrated and powerless soldier. We need a thorough but objective research on People’s perception about a soldier’s intervention, especially in turmoil hit zones, actual causes of fratricides and, more importantly, about suicides among soldiers.

References:

Kapoor,R.K.(2012).Nation fails its soldiers. The Analyst World.

Retrieved from: http://www.theanalystworld.com/nation-fails-its-soldiers-ravi-shanker-kapoor/

 Gokhale,N .(July 11, 2012) The Indian Army’s Greatest Tragedy.South Asian Idea.

Retrieved from: http://southasianidea.com/uncategorized/the-indian-armys-greatest-tragedy/

Recap, P. (December 4, 2012). Peace that matters – Reconciliation in Insurgency. South Asian Idea.

Retrieved from: http://southasianidea.com/internal-security/peace-that-matters-reconciliation-in-insurgency/

Sengupta, S. (October 13, 2011). Motivational Dilemma Of Indian Armed Forces.Eurasia Review.

Retrieved from: http://www.eurasiareview.com/13102011-motivational-dilemma-of-indian-armed-forces-analysis/

Shah.S.A.R. ( Nov 14, 2011).AFSPA row: need for a collective perspective. The Milli Gazette.

Retrieved from: http://www.milligazette.com/news/2652-afspa-row-need-for-a-collective-perspective.

Shah, A.(June 24, 2012).Of the People’s General and Kashmiri Awam. South Asian Idea.

Retrieved from: http://southasianidea.com/internal-security/of-the-peoples-general-and-kashmiri-awam/

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(Adfer Rashid Shah is a Doctoral Candidate of Sociology at faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia-Central University, New Delhi. Mail at adfer.syed@gmail.com).

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