The Bold Voice of J&K

Military cares; does the state?

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Deepak Sinha 

There is a paradox here, though I cannot quite get my head around it fully. Suddenly, a host of politicians, journalists and analysts seem to have suddenly transformed themselves into a unique mix of professional surgeon and baseball player. All they seem to be talking about are the surgical strikes conducted by our Special Operations Forces (SOF) in the recent past.
If for a moment, we are to believe all that is being said by them, you could be excused for thinking that these strikes were akin to keyhole surgery with robotics, LCD screens and all.
The truth of the matter is that there were never any surgical strikes conducted at all, at least none in the manner they have been portrayed. True, our forces certainly infiltrated into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). We are not quite sure how deep they penetrated, but certainly more than the 200 metres that Pakistani author Ayesha Siddiqa suggests in The Wire.
You don’t actually have to be a genius to figure out that it is easier to engage targets 200m in depth from our own side of the Line of Control (LoC) without committing SOF on the ground. They then raided positions occupied by jihadi elements and those of the Pakistan Army protecting them causing unspecified damage.
The special operatives involved were not sterilised surgical instruments but human beings, undoubtedly well trained and motivated, but not immune to fear and stress that operating in life-threatening environments entail. They were lucky this time to return to safety of our lines with no casualties except for an odd individual suffering unspecified injuries due to a mine blast.
But, what are we to believe about these tough youngsters 10 years from now if any of them then suffer anxiety attacks, flashbacks or insomnia and find it difficult to relate with friends or family? Not just these boys but others exposed to danger on a regular basis at Siachin, in insurgency operations and a myriad other places and tasks that only a few have ever heard of, let alone seen.
Neither our Government nor our medical authorities seems to have heard about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would have is believe it is the figment of someone’s imagination. Never mind that the rest of the world seems quite conversant with this syndrome and considers it as debilitating as any physical injury and treats it as such.
The US military, for example, believes that between 12 per cent and 15 per cent of those who have participated in combat are impacted by it in any year and has a centre for assisting veterans in combating this scourge. As a matter of fact those in the medical profession or Government here are neither ignoramuses nor lacking professional acumen. Unfortunately, they lack empathy and are utterly callous, simply because they have never been exposed to it in their air conditioned environs.
Is it any wonder then that members of the Seventh Central Pay Commission, the Government and even some ignorant quacks, including a former Director General of the Armed Forces Medical Services, believe that there is a necessity to curtail the allowance authorised to military veterans who retire with disabilities. The shamelessness of this is not in the fact that the allowance is being curtailed, but that he would receive just about a quarter of what a bureaucrat would receive, if say, he slipped and fell in the bathroom and fractured his hip or whatever. Danger it appears, comes in many forms and those closer to Delhi seem more exposed to it or why else are they eligible to get more money?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar have lately been attempting to change perceptions about their shoddy treatment of the military and set the record straight about the issue of disability pension, other outstanding sixth and seventh Central Pay Commission anomalies and even one-rank-one-pension.
But like most, if not all, politicians, they have been less than truthful in all that they have claimed. Their motivations are not difficult to understand, given the forthcoming State elections, and being human their attempts to mislead may not be forgiven, but can be overlooked.
While surgical strikes may be an election winner for Modi and the BJP and attempt to forcibly claim it as their own, the future for the special operatives who actually made it happen and the rest of the military gets only bleaker. The vast majority of them will continue to be forced to retire between the ages of 35 and 40 years with little prospect of a decent second career and lower pensions than their compatriots who joined the police or the Central Armed Police Forces.
As for those who retire with health issues, they may all not be lucky enough to receive disability pensions, especially those suffering psychological injury and will have to live with the reality that their sacrifices was not good enough as that of their civilian counterparts. Only dead soldiers get treated better, but that too not in all our States, as the kin of those from West Bengal will sorrowfully tell you, if you care to ask them. An individual who dies after consuming illegal hooch there gets the same compensation that was offered to a martyr of the Uri terror attack. Clearly, a sad reflection of the darker side of vote-bank politics and the Chief Minister’s untrammelled hunger for power at any cost.
Amongst all the gung-ho patriotism, it is time you asked yourself as to why, among all Government services, it is only the military that needs to advertise for volunteers on television and radio, and is yet unable to overcome the 25 per cent shortfall in officers. That tells us a whole lot more about the attractiveness of the military as a career, than any of the speeches that Modi can give extolling their bravery and sacrifice. Until the Government does something concrete to change this state of affairs, his speeches about them are really all hot air.
(The writer is a military veteran and consultant with the Observer Research Foundation)

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