Officers Training Academy, Madras.
Actually, I don’t remember date clearly.
As I walked past the notice board of Jessami Company, with its sundry instructions and timetables, I chanced upon what seemed like poetry. Gentlemen Cadets write poems on two subjects’…soldiers and girl friends. I read on…it was a quote from a poem.
We the unforgiven
Led by the unknown
Have done the impossible
For the ungrateful
I always wondered what those lines meant.
Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
Jammu & Kashmir governor, NN Vohra meets Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, General Officer Commanding in Chief, Northern Command of the Indian Army. His message is simple. The army must be restrained even in face of grave and extreme provocation. In simple terms, the Indian Army can be pelted with stones, acid bottles, Molotov Cocktails…it can be shot at by terrorists hiding between stone pelters, but the army must not shoot back.
It is okay for a soldier to die, and for that he is paid. But a stone pelter, a criminal under any civilized country’s law, is a victim. Catch 22. The criminal is also a victim. This is the Stockholm Syndrome in reverse.
I don’t know what the good General said to the Governor, but one thing is certain. Lt Gen Ranbir Singh is an infantryman, a soldier’s soldier. When push comes to shove, he will stand by his men.
I too am a soldier. I left the Indian Army in 1999, but I am a soldier. Present tense. Soldiering is more than just about a uniform. It is a state of mind. And, this state of mind is binary; zero or one.
What business does the army have in Kashmir and the North East? Well, truth be told…none.
The soldier did not create the Kashmir issue. He did not create the situation in North East. He knew nothing about the Red Corridor before it happened. The elite who were elected by the people of India to lead them, created these festering wounds.
So, the soldier shed his blood to cover up greed, aspiration and incompetence.
There were times in the early 90s when terrorists would walk on the streets of Kashmir, waving AK 47s, unchallenged. There were thousands upon thousands of them…Pakistanis, Afghanis, and Sudanese…‘mujahedeen’ of various nationalities. They raped, killed, pillaged and committed arson at will. They said that this was the price of “azaadi” that Kashmiris must pay. They set up courts to dispense their brand of “justice”. We had almost lost Kashmir, simply because the writ of the Indian state did not run in the Valley.
It was the Indian soldier that pulled back Kashmir from the brink of anarchy and chaos. Yes, our methods were violent. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We did what had to be done. We shed blood. Lots of it was ours. Today if Kashmir belongs to India, it is because of the soldier. Not because we have only killed, but because we have also died. And by the sheer finality of this act of martyrdom, we have kept alive our collective right to the inviolable sovereignty of India.
Peace is a relative word. So relatively, there is peace. But there is no solution in sight. There is no roadmap. We stumble from one initiative to another; a ‘ceasefire’ here, a ‘soft-touch’ policy there. We look unsure, tentative and uncertain. Like a vicious street dog, the enemy smells our fear hormones.
The only good terrorist is a dead terrorist. We have forgotten this time-honored adage and paid the price. Repeatedly.
Who did the ceasefire in Kashmir benefit? Did it bring peace and respite to the common Kashmiri? Did it stop terror attacks? How many security forces personnel were martyred because of the ceasefire? Who is answerable to their families?
And the biggest question of all…do we, as a nation, have any solution to these problems that does not involve the death of a soldier?
Remove the Indian Army from Jammu & Kashmir and the state will be swallowed up by China and Pakistan in less than 24 hours. The blood of the Indian soldier defends Kashmir. The blood of the Indian soldier protects India. There are many who question the manner in which this protection is given. You must have heard that India is the world’s largest democracy. Freedom of expression is sacred here, more sacred than the life of a soldier. A terrorist gets legal aid faster than a soldier gets first aid.
And the joke is on the soldier. He, the soldier, gives his life to protect the very freedom of expression that people use, to abuse him.
Today, the soldier stands cornered for no fault of his own.
India asked, “Who will shed blood for me? My honour is at stake”.
The soldier stepped forward and said, “Send me. I will die for you”.
Over seven hundred serving soldiers have approached the Supreme Court for justice. They are called human rights violators and are accused of using excessive force. The soldier is confused. What is excessive force? Can quantum of force be decided from the air-conditioned environs of a room in New Delhi?
Many soldiers involved in those operations in the North East, have since retired. Cases of more than two decades back are being pulled out. Actions of soldiers twenty years back, when Manipur was besieged by terror, are being judged by the saner environment of today.
It’s a never changing story. The sameness is constant.
“Why did they call us, if they didn’t want us, Sir?” asks an officer, bewildered. He is a typical fauji…idealistic and believing in all that is good. As I said, typical. “There is no greater honour than dying for the motherland”. Yes, that kind of soldier.
I try to explain to him. I tell him that its only a very few who insult his sacrifice. Most people honour his devotion to duty. He looks at me. He wants to believe. He desperately wants to believe. But I sense cracks in this massive edifice of trust. He does not believe so unhesitatingly anymore. They have irrevocably violated the purity of his soul.
In those dark, violent and desperate days when the nation craved a glimmer of light, the soldier burned everything he possessed. And when he had nothing left to burn, he set himself on fire.
I think this is a song. Or a quote. I don’t know. But I am witness to this burning. To this burning, I testify. I was there. A part of me also burned.
Today, that soldier is questioned and a chosen few sit in moral judgment. The air-conditioning is set at 24 degrees. The heat, dust, noise, humidity and inconvenience are trapped outside. As they sip their favourite beverage, they want to know what rules he broke in the festering jungles of the North East when he was carrying the dead body of his buddy, and had not eaten in days. They want to know why the correct protocols were not followed when the soldier was under fire in Kashmir, three bullets in his chest. “He should not have fired,” they say, all wise and knowing. He tries to tell them that he fired because they were trying to lynch and burn his buddy alive. Then, he stops trying. There is no point in telling them. They come from a different universe, a universe he has never inhabited.
It couldn’t be more perfect. Let the inquisition begin, followed by death by public humiliation. What does the soldier know, anyway? How can we trust him…this man who would die for a piece of colored ribbon? Or a flag? Or a song that is just 52 seconds long? He doesn’t fit in. He doesn’t belong here.
This is a true story. I wish it were not.
But at least now I know what those lines on the notice board of Jessami Company at OTA meant. I know how many of my brothers paid the price.
And so the soldier remains today, as he has always been…
Unknown. Unsung. Unwept. Unforgiven.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment