First Person | Let Actions Talk

Helping martyrs’ families is good, but let’s help the living too

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

As the election season gets underway, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government has built its defences in the graveyard of the martyrs. Defence of the dead has become the final argument of the defendant trying to protect its turf.

Since the government has such a sway on popular imagination that respect of the martyrs has become the biggest measure of love for the nation. While those with limited means express this love for the dead by harassing the living, those with resources contribute to the funds earmarked for the well-being of the martyrs’ families. We seem to be in such a strong grip of morbidity that we have stopped looking at the plight of the living soldiers and their families.

If only we had the patience to peer beyond the rhetoric, we would have realised that Indian soldiers, from the army, but more from the central paramilitary or armed police forces, live and operate in near inhuman circumstances and environment. Of course, because as a nation we don’t believe in conflict resolution — the coffins draped in tricolour fill us with a second-hand sense of militant nationalism —, it is very unlikely that we can alleviate the mental and psychological stress of our men in uniform. Hence, at least, we can make an effort to contribute to their physical and emotional well-being, by reducing some of their stress. Perhaps, this will go some way in bringing down the incidents of suicide and fratricide in the services.

According to the government of India statistics, in 2018, 80 personnel from the Indian armed forces (mostly the army) killed themselves (this figure was over 100 in 2016). In the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), 700 suicides were recorded in 2012-2018; an average of 116 per year. Both the military and paramilitary leadership is unanimous in claiming that the leading cause of suicide is not professional stress, but anxiety pertaining to their personal lives.

Taking them at their word, here is my humble list of things that Indian corporates and celebrities can do for the living soldiers and their families as part of their corporate social responsibility.


Donate Habitat

Given the volatility of the Line of Control (LC) for the last few years, the Indian Army has had to move a large number of troops from the hinterland in the Kashmir valley to the LC. Since there is no clarity about whether this move would be permanent or temporary, and also because limited funds need sharper priority, these troops live in tents. Similarly, when the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions move into a new theatre, a large number of them are forced to live endlessly in tents. As providing accommodation for them is the responsibility of the host state, it is seldom prioritised. The Union ministry of home affairs passes the buck to the states, which often cite lack of accommodation or funds for their inability to provide decent habitat to the troops. I have personally seen CRPF men living out of tents not just in Srinagar, but in Delhi too!

Perhaps, given the impermanence of these postings, tents are the answer. In that case, why can’t they be better quality, better-equipped, all-weather tents? If holiday resorts can offer luxury tents as accommodation to tourists, why can’t Indian corporates procure comfortable (if not luxury) and portable tents in large numbers and donate them to the services?

There is another area where they must step up — prefabricated huts. Many years ago, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) started a pilot project of building prefab, climate-control, pressurised huts for troops posted in the high altitude areas. Since then, the programme has been crawling. Also, the users have not been entirely satisfied with what they have been given. Let the corporates step in again. Maybe they can work with the DRDO or the services directly. If donation is unfeasible, subsidise these huts procured from abroad.


Family Accommodation

No words can describe the acuteness of this shortfall, especially amongst the CAPFs. Most of the men come from small towns or villages. And a majority of them are posted for most part of their careers far from their native places. Apart from the fact that they spent most of their adult lives away from their families and children, a large number of them are unable to meet the aspirations — good education and better career prospects — of their children. Inability to pay the fees in private schools is not the only factor. The defining factor is that most of the families continue to live in the native places, where they have the social support system, but meagre facilities. The soldiers are unable to locate them to places with better educational and healthcare facilities, because there is no accommodation.

If gated townships complete with schools, hospitals, parks, gymnasiums and shopping complexes can be built for civilian customers, why can’t the infrastructure building groups construct fully-equipped mini-townships, at least a few in every state, for the troops. Don’t give them away gratis, but as a commitment to the soldiers sell them at the cost price. Just don’t make money off the soldiers.


Fully Paid-up Scholarships

Since this does not cost much, perhaps this is the easiest to do. Even middling celebrities, instead of sloganeering on social media, should institute fully-paid up scholarships for children of the soldiers, preferably people below officer rank, in all private institutions where prohibitive fees structure has turned them into exclusive clubs. Even 100 scholarships (including accommodation costs) in each institution will make a world of difference to the lives and mental health of our soldiers.


Skill Development and Re-Employment

This has been a long-standing government policy, but with limited success, primarily because the corporate houses have been treating this as an order from the top and not as an affirmative action that they must initiate out of the goodness of their collective hearts. If nationalism has to be worn on the chest, then let the actions show what the heart feels. Each corporate house should dedicate a certain amount of its resources towards skill development centres where ex-servicemen could do short-term courses to transition to jobs in the corporate sector — something more substantive than security positions.

In fact, every newly-formed company that wants to profit from the defence procurement policy’s offset clause must first be asked to show its commitment towards India’s national security by skilling and employing ex-servicemen; and not just the officer cadre.

Dear nationalists, help the living. Don’t wait for them to die.


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