Akshay Kumar is Bollywood’s Khiladi No 1. Saina Nehwal is a national khiladi in the audacious arena of sports. Last week, the two celebrities made a gesture that revealed their humble humanity, dipping into their pockets to honor men in uniform who laid down their lives for the nation. Akshay donated `9 lakh each to the families of the 12 CRPF jawans killed by Naxalites in Chhattisgarh. Nehwal gave `50,000 each. It wasn’t the monetary amount, which defined this thankful tribute.
Their gesture was in stark contrast to the indifference of the rich and famous club, which was too tightfisted to spare money and moments for those who die in battle so that we can live in peace. In today’s megapixel world, the agony of the disillusioned is a passing storm. Videos of jawans complaining of official apathy and paltry salaries have gone viral over the past months. But the complaints are either covered up or buried in mountains of penal paperdom. The unquantifiable service of India’s over two million strong Central uniformed forces comprising the Army, BSF and CRPF has been peerless in the face of bombs and bullets from the burgeoning number of terrorists, including Naxalites, whose fatal obsession is to socially and economically destabilize India.
Terrorism is the scourge of the modern world. India is no different. Religious and economic terrorism are its deadliest foes, which have to be fought collectively by all stakeholders including the government and corporates. As the probability of soldiers dying while defending the country rises by the day, their morale is macerated. According to a web portal which tracks terror related data, around 23,000 terrorists were killed during 1988-2017. In the process, 6,300-plus officers and men in uniform lost their lives—a ratio of four terrorists to one soldier—an ominously high operational rate anywhere in the world. Over 3,000 CRPF jawans and officers were slain fighting Maoists during the same period.
Tragically, martyrs have a short shelf life in public memory. Their deaths are but a ceremony of official hypocrisy. Awards are ritually declared in their name. Sops like cheques and jobs are announced for their families. Their mortal remains, draped with the tricolour, are flown to their native places and taken out in the streets accompanied by much fanfare. Top politicians and officials of the Army, police and civil service attend their last rites for photo ops.
Until the next massacre takes place and it’s more of the same.
The truth behind the triteness is that the families hardly receive in full the benefits and rewards advertised by the government. Relatives are forced to knock
on the doors of various government offices for legitimate dues. There are umpteen Central and state welfare schemes in the name of martyrs. But these lack enough money and machinery
to provide sustenance to their family members.
The result is dismal. India’s uniformed forces suffer both in life and death. While the bureaucratic elite from the IAS, IFS and IPS enjoy a secure and comfortable life after retirement, the men and women in khaki, green, black or blue uniforms are treated like second class
desh bhakhts. The OROP war reflects this discriminatory attitude. Uniformed personnel are denied even basic facilities like health and accommodation on difficult assignments. For example, the 869 weather related casualties in Siachen in 2015—which included 33 senior officers and 54 JCOs—were not from enemy fire but because of the Indian government’s failure to provide modern life saving equipment to soldiers In many instances, the absence of medical help leads to the deaths of officers and men in terrorist encounters.
Perhaps, this degrading environment prevents the best and the brightest from joining the uniformed ranks. Only those who perceive the police department as a gravy train on steroids are willing to board it. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been introducing innovative models of governance and schemes for every sector and section of Indian society, the time has come to review the working conditions of those who stand guard while the country sleeps. The protection and promotion of the samman and swabhiman of a shaheed ( Self respect and honour of a martyr) should be adopted as aNational Mission. It can be done if:
● Both the Centre and the State Government establish Martyr’s Memorial Fund (MMF)s to provide support to the families of those killed by terrorists and Maoists with proper monitoring. The lives of the survivors must also be made financially secure.
● The fund’s corpus should be at least `500 crore at the Central level and `100 crore in every state.
● The family of a soldier killed in an anti-terror or anti Naxal operation should be given ten times their salary for the remaining period of service. The cheque should be delivered soon after the last rites are completed.
● The daughter of the slain person should be given a suitable job within two weeks of the death.
● At least two of their children should be given free education with hostel facilities up to the graduate level.
● It should be made mandatory for all corporates to deposit at least 10 per cent of their Corporate Social Responsibility budget to MMF every year.
● MMF tax of 1 per cent should be imposed on every transaction on stock markets.
To bring solace to the souls of martyrs, the collective mindset of the nation, hitherto minded by its ultra-liberal shepherds, should be stood on its head.
The frighteningly facile Facebook format of ‘They are soldiers, they are paid to die,’ should invite savage social ostracism. It’s a secularist vocation to question and damn the conduct of officers who have killed terrorists and their confederates in encounters. This coercive cacophony has prevented governments from acknowledging the brutal deaths of our men in uniform as their sacred sacrifice. The country is undergoing a massive transformation in which various established notions and myths are being demolished. India First is the New Norm and Normal. Akshay and Saina, with their magnanimous message, have turned the martyrdom of the soldiers into a celebration of the triumph of nationalism, which is doomed to die if its prophets and believers have no defenders.