MUMBAI: An article from the CITIZEN entitled RAM RAJ TO POLICE RAJ: Military Veterans Hit with Armed Police and Broken Promises, by Lt General Vijay Oberoi [retd], provoked my personal reflections about the OROP related events being played out at Jantar Mantar since June 2015.
Following the totally unwarranted police brutality against the peaceful protesters on Aug 14 there has been a spontaneous avalanche of OROP related mails and articles and letters in our mail boxes. Doubtless many more doing the circuit in newspapers and journals, email, social media, private correspondence and phone calls across the country and overseas. Traumatising images of perplexed and vulnerable veterans, roughed up and beaten, with clothes torn and medals pulled off, going viral on most TV channels. A soldiers medals like flags and anthems, are emblematic of a nation’s pride and honor. There is a sense that this has been betrayed. A suggestion from the Editor of Citizen to do a different and if possible `gendered’ perspective on the ongoing OROP saga was too tempting to resist. So here goes ……..
THE PERSONAL IS THE POLITICAL
After many decades in the womens movement the relevance of the belief that the personal is the political – has only become stronger. There is a deeper understanding of the complexities and challenges of wrestling the many identities one carries within oneself. To flag a few – yes I am woman, citizen, feminist and activist. Peace, justice and non-violence are important imperatives as indeed are the creation of a sustainable, organic future for our children and grandchildren. The campaigns against nuclear weapons and for nuclear disarmament and de-militarisation are important. Fighting to achieve the abolition of the Death Penalty and the removal of the draconian AFSPA – are critical objectives for our fragile democracy. With every fibre in my being I will resist the current day politics of hate, of communal division and pushing us towards a single religious identity.
But, the reactions to what has been happening at Jantar Mantar also made me realise that at one level, the Fauji blood runs deep in my veins too!
THE PERSONAL IS ALSO THE FAUJI!
I am a Fauji product through and through – being both wife and daughter of two Navy men – both of whom coincidentally, rose to head the Indian Navy. My father, the late Admiral Ram Dass Katari took over from the last British Admiral at the age of 47 in 1958 and retired after four years at the helm of the fledgling service at the age of 51 years with a pension of Rs Rs 2000 per month !
By the time his Flag Lieutenant, one Lt L. Ramdas [ known as Ramu] ended up as the eleventh Indian Chief of Naval Staff ,his take home pay when he retired in 1993 was a princely sum of Rs 9000/- and a pension of just over Rs 4500/-
My late brother in law died in 1967, at the age of around 40 years, thanks to a deadly virus picked up while serving in the Rann of Kutch. According to the existing rules, my sister in law, then just under 35 years, was entitled to the grand sum of Rupees 120/- as family pension!! This was finally revised , after many representations, and with cause of declared attributable to service, her widow’s pension was raised to Rs 240/- !
These examples are by way of an illustration of the huge anomalies and sheer injustice of the economics that Iie behind the principle and the non implementation of the OROP narrative. Over a hundred of excellent argument and critiques are presently available
THE FAUJI IS ALSO PREDOMINANTLY THE MASCULINE?!
Since 95 % of those who have been writing are male – it also throws up a very clearly defined characteristic of the armed forces, not just in India, but across the world. So the relationship between the military, militarism and machismo are a factor that we cannot escape – and that in turn certainly informs the “silence” from Civil Society to which General Oberoi refers in his closing paragraph …..
Scrolling through the massive avalanche of letters and articles in response to the sequence of events leading up to the attack of August 14th, the prevarication by the Prime Minister, and the increasing volume of protest and indignation all round – what also stands out is the near invisibility of women or womens voices in this outpouring.
WOMEN AND OROP
There are a few interesting and unusual women who are writing/speaking – one has had to pick them out.
i. The irrepressible Charu Sheela, in her own words, :”the proud widow of Lt Col Balbir Singh, 4th grenadiers -sprightly at 96 …….is full of josh, humour and yet she issues a stinging message to the PM asking him to remember that ‘she and other veterans are part of his team too”
ii. At the other end of the spectrum, many might have read an emotion packed poem by a young woman called Nishu, who demands to know
“Dear Mr Modi ,
How did you lose the plot so thoroughly today?
How did you not honour your promise to valiant soldiers that you had made! “
iii. One appreciates the icy cool logic of lawyer Payal Chawla – also a fauji daughter, as she painstakingly reconstructs the many judgements and precedents in the courts, which clearly have stated that implementation of OROP is not negotiable and is a matter of natural justice.
In her own words : “But then, I am neither an economist, nor an expert on policy. But as a lawyer, here’s what I do know. I know the Supreme Court has ruled and has ruled conclusively in favour of the OROP. I also know that the government did not ask for a review of the judgement. The judgement is the law of the land. The insinuations of the so-called impact on the exchequer and ‘complexities’ are, therefore, only moonshine.
What is important is that the matter is in contempt and failure to implement the order amounts to willful disobedience of the order of the Hon’ble Apex Court.”
Payal’s final para says it all –
“It is a sad day, for any nation, if it’s veteran soldiers have to sit on ‘Dharna’ and on a hunger strike to get their due. No amount of aid, no, not even a billion dollars to Mongolia, will counter the enemy, if the soldiers were ‘striking’ at the border!”
iv. And the final selection is this fantastic piece of satirical prose from Meenakshi Dahiya
“Speaking of praja, these pesky Army Veterans should have been put behind bars. How dare they demand OROP? No one can deliver that. Plus they spoilt your image from the one blowing dreams to raining blows on crappy old men. I have heard that railway people have now caught the same bug too.”
The statisticians tell us that there are over six lakh armed forces widows currently on the records, although not all of them are ‘war’ widows. This is corroborated by Dr Mohini Giri – a tireless warrior on behalf of the War Widows. Several women ar part of the itinerant group of supporters who come and go. But by and larger there is an invisibility of women around OROP and at Jantar Mantar .
OROP – A SYMBOL OF A DEEPER MALAISE?
So why this totally un services like protest – why now? In many ways, the protests, the crack down and the ambivalence from the leadership has been waiting to happen and in one sense it is a way of bringing the issue to public attention. However, it is the deeper underlying issues which are more disturbing [pointed out by many commentators] namely the seeming nexus between politician and bureaucrat, to undermine the position, status and dignity of the men (and women) of the armed forces of the country.
The late Admiral R D Katari, in his book, A Sailor Remembers, spends a significant segment discussing both the erosion of the status and increasing trust deficit between the political leadership and the senior military. He was deeply disillusioned by witnessing at close quarters, the unprecedented spectacle of one of our finest Generals the late general Thimayya being publicly let down and castigated by the then prime minister in Parliament.
Admiral Katari, unusually for one who was always in control and correct to the extreme, displays his own anguish and minces no words when he describes the many ways in which the politicians connived with the bureaucracy to by pass, and systematically lower the status of the men in uniform. He has no hesitation in pointing out that the Indian Armed Forces had always respected the primacy of Civil power over the Military. But he is clear that this should never be confused with Civil Servant or bureaucratic control over the Military. This fact has been repeatedly stressed by recent commentators too.
So it is clear that whether it is OROP today, or changes in the Warrant of Precedence, the process of erosion of the status of the military had already begun over half a century ago.
General Katoch writes:
“With every pay commission the status of the Armed Forces has been deliberately degraded. There is this unrealistic narrative that the civilian babu keeps pushing to his political masters that the Services have to be kept subjugated if Indian democracy is to survive. This is a fallacy which should long have been put to rest. Political control is an accepted norm, but by no means does it allude to bureaucratic control. It means control by the elected representatives of the people of India, exercised through the Government of the day. The biggest threat to Indian democracy is from India’s bureaucracy, which still functions in feudal mindsets.”
Recent events point to the urgent need for a serious and continuing dialogue around some of these issues which are also linked to and underpin the current tension around OROP. The central concern is not simply a matter of how much pension the soldier, airman or sailor will take away – while that is certainly a right that he has earned – but this must not push the deep rooted, more troubling and contentious issues onto the back burner.
The post independence years has also witnessed the steady proliferation of para police and para military units, some armed and paid on par with the soldier in the infantry. These units, with the exception of the Assam Rifles, are essentially glorified armed police in other forms – and often without clarity regarding their functions and responsiblities towards internal security vis a vis the armed forces. Despite the presence of such a large police and para military force, the armed forces are frequently called upon to perform duties which are strictly outside their main role of defending the country from external threat.
One needs to seriously examine the reasons and justification for this kind of proliferation of the police and similar units in an independent and democratic India.
The country has also witnessed the increasing politicisation of the police force, thanks to the non implementation of several Commissions on Police Reforms. The cumulative impact of all of the above has in turn led to the steady, unchallenged and growing militarisation of our society and nation – in ways that are only too well known and which point to dangerous misuse of both military, the police and the paramilitary.
At one end of the spectrum we have the totally unwarranted imposition of the draconian AFSPA for nearly fifty years after it was introduced under certain specific conditions of militancy in the state of Manipur. And on the eve of Independence Day, we see the spectacle of this outrageous attack on the peaceful protest by veterans at Jantar Mantar.
Ironically it appears that few serious questions are being raised as to who ordered this peremptory action against the military veterans? Why is the official/the department not being named and held accountable for these unspeakable actions which no local police unit nor the NDMC can dare undertake without orders emanating from somewhere higher up.
In the ultimate analysis – despite having spent most of my life within the culture and the environment of the Armed Forces, specifically the Navy – the personal involvement with civil society groups and actions has also enabled some critical questions and reflections on several issues concerning human rights, democracy, nonviolence and the increasing dilemmas and contradictions about the role of women in our male dominated and patriarchal society. The increasing phenomenon of brutality and violence against women, including rape, also points to troubling links with increasing militarisation, militaristic mind sets and widespread unrest among youth. Although there are no simple solutions, society as a whole – military, civil service and political leaders must together debate, discuss and evolve mechanisms and ways to move ahead without disturbing and morale of the men [and increasingly women too] in uniform.
At the end of his essay, Gen Oberoi says – “The protests will of course continue and perhaps with additional vigour, but what begs the question is why the military that is literally worshipped in most countries is not only ignored but is not respected by our so-called enlightened political leaders. I also want to know why the civil society has become mute spectators to such humiliation of those who have risen time and again to protect them and safe guard the nation from its enemies.”
While I would not go so far as to agree that the military should be “worshipped” – certainly as long as there is a military, and veterans who have literally gone that extra mile for the nation and her people, they can and must command respect which they have rightly earned. And this must be demonstrated from the top of the political hierarchy. It behoves us therefore not to treat the current OROP agitation purely as a narrow demand for monetary compensation.
The matter is much wider and too serious for the nation and its leaders to ignore. And it would be a huge miscalculation to think that the actions against the veterans – either of omission or commission, do not or will not have a direct impact on the morale of serving officers and other ranks – since almost every veteran will have a member of his family as a serving military person today.”