He looked up at the blazing sky and then at the shrivelled skin of his hands. The fauji feared no weather for he sat there fighting with his saab, just as he had earlier. Only that the last had been almost two decades ago and age had been on his side. He knew his enemy and the goal was crystal clear- save our motherland! His saab,now a retired colonel was a smart major then and he had been his buddy. The orders had been clear and there wasn't an iota of doubt. They all knew who they were fighting against. Their bodies had strength and their hearts were full of patriotism. The only thought in mind had been to attack, mindless of the consequences. They were fighting for their motherland and all through their training,they had been conditioned with physical hardships and mental strength . Death did not scare them. Those who went always outnumbered those who returned but that never made them hesitant to leave. They were fighting for their motherland....
Today, he was a bit confused. Why were they all sitting at Jantar-Mantar? Why were they all 'protesting'? Why did they have to ask for what was theirs in the first place? He did not understand. Maybe because he was only matric pass. Maybe his saab knew. He looked back towards the place where his saab was sitting...yes he must know the reason why the country they all had shed their sweat and blood for was not willing to pay them their due. Saab was intelligent. He on the other hand, would just follow his saab. He managed a faint smile.
Someone near him was talking to another. 'The Defence Minister said the Army has lost its importance as the country has not fought a war in decades. What about the battle we fight everyday in the valley? Why is the Army called whenever a natural disaster strikes? There are forces for it. Why does the Army have to do a flag march when law and order go out of hands? Why does the Army fight counter-insurgency? Are borders to be protected by the Army? You say we haven't fought in ages...could you have managed without us? When your office was attacked in 2001, you turned to us and we spent a year in deployment...today you sit in a comfortable office and say we haven't fought? Shameful!'
He looked at the two men talking. They were the younger lot-the recent ones to retire who stood with their seniors in solidarity. His thoughts went to his son who was posted in the valley. He had motivated his son to join the forces,telling him that there was no honour bigger than this. His son's generation knew the truth, yet chose to serve. 'I know that the people I might die for may not even bother to think of me twice but this is what my father did and this is what I want to do.' He was proud of his son's choice. Today , he wasn't sure if other fathers would do the same.
'If I had died with the dog tag around my neck, I would have been happier. Wearing this placard around my neck is so demeaning!' The veteran next to him said,addressing him. He looked at the retired JCO whose placard read-'Govt will keep on their lie, veterans will hope on OROP and die!'
What he said was true. 'You are right Saab. They probably think we were meant to die fighting. It is a burden for them that we survived.'
'Right you are. If we were dead like the rest of our mates, they could shed a few phony tears and dedicate a tiny slot in the news to us and that would be it. People cry more I think when Shahrukh Khan bleeds on screen. Even today, that lady in red is getting more footage than this protest.' The JCO sarcastically remarked. He nodded.
'The government says OROP would cost 8300 crores', The JCO continued. 'Do you know how many zeroes are there in the figures spent on installing statues and giving pay increments to MPs?'
He shook his head. He did not know. There must be many he thought, considering his neighbour's indignation.
He was hungry. The stomach is not a friend. It rebels and rumbles when your mind tells it not to. Years ago, he could go days, surviving on only a bottle full of chanas
and water, to quench his hunger and thirst both and when that ended too...on sheer motivation. Now his mind could control the frail remnants of a once strong body no more. Age is cruel, he thought...more cruel than the politicians who were doing nothing even as veterans sat on a hunger strike. He felt dizzy . Hunger and fatigue made him slip into half sleep....
He was in the op area. They were a company of ten, led by his saab. There had been an 'int' that two militants had crossed the border and were hiding in a local's house. Their task was to catch them, dead or alive. When they came close to the house, they were divided into groups by his saab,with a gesture of his hands and they cordoned off the house. Just when they were sneaking up close, one of the windows flung open and bullets came flying all around. They took cover. It wasn't unexpected and they were prepared. There was a long exchange of fire that ended with the death of both the militants. They were rejoicing the achievement when suddenly he felt a blow on his back. More militants....where was his rifle? They were being attacked by lathis...His saab was being attacked...he had to reach him.
Another blow on his shoulder brought him out of his state of daydreaming and he realised they were actually under attack. His head was reeling but he could make out the silhouettes of men dressed in khaki hitting them with lathis, trying to evacuate the area. The atmosphere felt saturated with disaster.They were pushed, pulled, hit in a way no one had dared to touch them ever before. All the men who were once a symbol of the country's strength in their crisp uniforms...men who were feared by the enemies beyond borders too...men the police requested to join hands when things went out of control...men who could be lethal...men who were no longer in their prime of age....men who were protesting as peacefully as anyone can....these men were lathi-charged. When it all ended, there was a look of shock and sorrow in the eyes of his fellow veterans. The pain wasn't even close. The insult of having to ask for OROP was not enough maybe...so the very considerate 'higher ups' had just served it a little more.
He looked for his saab. Far at one end of the crowd of hurt, smarting and disturbed 'guardians' of the nation, he saw him, bending for the first time, one hand on his back and the other on his head. He straightened up with discomfort. Their eyes met and he saw what he never had seen in his saab's eyes- disappointment. His gaze blurred with tears that burned his eyes.
What I have written above is not a story, it is not even a true account that I heard but it is definitely what is going on in the minds of the men who are demanding OROP. I had written this a week back but could not publish it due to lack of time. Then I heard of Mr.Chetan Bhagat's incredible article and thought the matter must have been over-hyped. It is only when I read it today that I realised he has really written all that. Not responding to it would be criminal, I felt.
I am still to recover from the shock of it. Yes, I am an Army wife but that is not the reason of disbelief. I don't even hold him guilty of anything except that one must not speak unless he knows what he is saying. He can have an opinion, anyone can! But at the stature that he is, he should understand the consequences of what he opines. Maybe it isn't his fault actually. He has just gone on to prove how little the people of our nation (even great ones like him) know about the Armed forces.
Mr.Bhagat, I am married to an Army officer...so trust me when I say what I am about to say.
The Army enjoys public goodwill, he says and the media 'focuses' on its hardwork and sacrifice and even shows it in a positive light(unlike police and politicians). Wow! That is very generous. The media does it not because it is the truth, right? How you even came to compare the armed forces with police and politicians and what you meant by it is beyond my comprehension. Maybe the media is just biased against police and politicians. Media can answer better though, I think!
As far as public goodwill is concerned, yes; people do respect the Army and they should. The respect has been earned Mr Bhagat. Innumerable men in uniform have died for it. Did you ever write an article on how irrational it is for the people to sob incessantly when a Bollywood hero dies on screen and not shed a tear for the soldier who actually took gunshots to his chest fighting the enemy? Not an interesting topic maybe. Film scripts are better.
The Army is good, veterans are always right and the government insensitive. What are you even saying? If the Army actually commanded so much respect, there would not have been a need of a protest for OROP. It would have been handed over long before. Where is this country heading? A politician gets up and says that the Army has lost its importance as there hasn't been a war since quite some time. Then a 'responsible' author says that the OROP issue is not being sanely debated on.
Mr. Bhagat, I think, should sue the person who supplied him the facts and figures for writing the article as it is intensely incorrect. Reading his article made me feel like he was handed out a ten point list and asked to elaborate. He says BSF doesn't get OROP. Do you know Mr.Bhagat, who all already get OROP? Did you try to know whether the Civil Services officers get it? Did you try and ask why was the Army excluded?
He knows that Rs.12000 crore is the liability of OROP and we should rationally think over it. Do you know sir, what is the financial liability of all the scams that politicians have done and the money is still unaccounted for? Just saying.
I wish our nation believed in the-army-is-amazing-so-just-give-it-everything. Maybe you don't know how many families of war casualties are still running from pillar to post to get their dues. Your target audience has always been youth. Did you Mr.Bhagat ponder over the concern that what impact will the way the issue is being handled by the government have on the youth of the nation? Will it want to choose army as a profession? You after all, know what young India wants. The men who sit and protest today were young once too and when they were, they spent the prime of their youth away from their families and lived in conditions you cannot even dream of.
You say that some sectors don't even get pension. What does this have to do with OROP, I ask you? While you question OROP over it, why don't you question why politicians are paid for life even though the tenure was just five years. Try and get the figure for that amount, then maybe we can talk.
Did you ever wonder why the serving soldiers are not participating in the protest? It is not that they do not agree or there is no unity; it is because Army is the only department that keeps the nation and its interest above self. As I said earlier, Army never goes on strike and thank God for that! Mr. Bhagat, your words sadden and disappoint me.
Why you suddenly felt the need and a sense of responsibility to give your opinion on the matter, I do not understand but I do not remember reading any article where you appealed to the public to not resort to violent methods of protest when such an incident occurred in the recent past. Ring any bells?
We live in a time when there is freedom of speech but as is with every freedom, this one too comes with responsibility. So the next time you feel like writing on a topic Mr. Bhagat, try to do your homework and get your facts right. You are a very learned man. We expect better!