Monday, October 27, 2008

Our Army needs to shed its outdated customs

Mr Palash Krishna Mehrotra, What do you know about the Army to comment on its Customs?

Dear Sir,

This has reference to your editorial titled “Our Army needs to shed its outdated customs” (October 26). The author has exhibited his ignorance of the Army and its customs through his editorial. Does he have any idea of Army’s training and its methods? His perception that Army’s training is all about marching and throwing rifles is amusing to say the least. Does he understand the relevance of marching or throwing a rifle around?

Army doesn’t need a sexy image. People need to be told what it means to join the armed forces. There is no disillusion in the army’s way of life. It is a fascinating experience, which one cannot understand until and unless he experiences it. It is a life of adventure, trust and camaraderie, which unfortunately cannot be experienced, in civil life, especially in India. If one is soft, money seeking and comfort loving, he definitely cannot fit in, in its way of life. I wish the author had examined the contribution of issues such as poor emoluments, frequent transfers, lack of promotional avenues, early retirement, lack of re- employment opportunities, poor pensionary benefits and the down gradation of the status of the armed forces resulting in loss of “izzat” rather than professing an imaginary theory.

A class of people, who listen only to the call of the trade unions, cannot understand the welfare or the dignity aspects of the soldier. Though it is possible that some of the officers may be misusing orderlies like in the case of the drivers, peons and telephone orderlies etc by the Police, Central Police Organisations, Railways, other central services etc, it does not minimize the requirement of a sahayak in the work atmosphere of an Army Officer. In case the author wishes to know more about the role of a sahayak, I can provide him with the details to enlighten him. The very fact that the Services have managed its huge rank and file peacefully in these days of corruption, mismanaged administration and unethical politics, speaks volumes for the man management skills and the fair play in the services.

While talking about fragging, the author is correct in stating that the jawan is poorly paid, poorly rested and poorly equipped. Why is it so? Who is responsible for this? The author seems to suggest that abusive and derogatory language is used in the Army universally, which is totally flawed. His opinion that the “culture of humiliation has been ingrained in the army” to toughen the soldier has perhaps been gathered after seeing some innovative serial or a movie and it has nothing to do with the reality on ground.

The author’s comments regarding army’s role in the valley amounts to vilification of the role played by the soldier in a difficult situation. Has the author seen the operational situation first hand on ground? If not, he has no right to make such derogatory comments. Army has no interest in killing any innocent person in the valley or elsewhere in the country including in a war. It is aware of its role, which is to minimize the level of violence to an acceptable level so that peace can be brought about by a political process. It has played a tremendous role in aiding the populace to continue with their daily life peacefully, despite the ongoing insurgency, which the author has not been able to perceive because of his twisted vision triggered by his ignorance.

The Indian Army is perhaps the only organization in this country, which is dependable, secular, accountable and disciplined where, mismanagement, corruption, politicization and indiscipline have become a way of life. This is one of the finest organizations in the world let no one have any doubt in this regard. If we tinker with it, its ethos, morale, motivation and training, resulting in the demoralization of the forces it will be a very sad day for the country.

Thanking you,
Yours Sincerely,
Brigadier V Mahalingam (Retired)

Dear Editor,

The piece by Palash in your paper of 26 Oct 08 – ‘Our army needs ...’ reminds me of the old adage ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.

Besides customs of the army that Palash abhors, he laments that the army is neither sexy nor cool! How profound? When you are in real combat in the midst of fire, with your comrades dying and being maimed, it is discipline and weapons training which help you, not that photo-op with the current heartthrob in some glitzy magazine!

I used to think that military uniforms were the last word in sartorial smartness, but Palash has dismissed them as dowdy – no silks and gossamer chiffons, no sparkling beads and no skimpily dressed starlet draped on your arms! Should we also send our soldiers to fashion events for training, Sir?

Palash also hates drill in schools and NCC, especially when it is conducted with ancient rifles, forgetting that it instills quick reactions and obedience to orders. Perhaps we should issue the latest AK’s to our school children, so that they can emulate their counterparts in USA and go on shooting sprees?

What more can I add, for nobody wants to annoy such an enlightened writer, whose feet are so firmly ensconced in that lavender pile carpet?

Yours Sincerely
Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi (Retd)

Extracts from the article "Our army needs to shed its outdated customs" by Palash Krishna Mehrotra:

WE, as a people, have a sneaking respect for authority, especially military authority.

What else could explain the compulsory army- inspired nonsense that we put our kids through in most regular schools: Red House, by the left, forward march… left right left, left right left... Red House: attention. Red House: stand- at- ease. Red House: about- turn.

Often, it doesn’t stop there. Many schools make it mandatory for their students to enroll for the National Cadet Corps: more mindless marching, more antiquated exercises like throwing a World War II rifle from one hand to another. What good can this possibly be doing anyone? Despite our early indoctrination in the ways of the military, the army doesn’t even figure as a career choice for most young people. This, while being a cause for concern, is not very surprising. Middle class kids don’t want to become army officers because the army is not attractive enough. When seen in the context of the exciting opportunities created by the new economy, the armed forces have very little to offer young India.

The Indian army hasn’t helped matters by resisting reform. Attempts by the media to give the army a sexy image have been scuttled by those in charge. Men’s magazines that have offered to do American- style photo shoots involving starlets and soldiers have been told to go fly a kite. This has just added to the image of the army as an uncool career destination which is not only poorly paid but is also archaic, outmoded, hierarchical and simply unpleasant. It is just not worth the effort. Glib, patriotic sloganeering is not incentive enough.
Read the full article at: Our Army needs to shed its outdated customs

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