Monday, April 21, 2008

Men in uniform

For everyone who has often seen Barkha Dutt of NDTV conduct shows on the channel, she must come across as dictatorial. The fact is she is. I have been on We, The People, a show on NDTV several times and each time I have found that she indulges the celebrity invitees to the show and ignores the participating audience to a large extent.

And yet, I am willing to put aside her misgivings as an anchor as there is something I admire about her. Her passion for the men in uniform. A passion I share with her.

Flying back from Delhi last weekend, I read this article in the Hindustan Times. Read it HERE.

When I read it, tears formed in my eyes. For once, I wish I had written that story.

I’ve been the wife of a defence officer. (We are out of the uniform, but in many ways, the uniform still stays with us). And I have lived the life she has described.

Outside the Defence, all the tax payers of the country, look upon the Services perhaps as a glamorous career option..that wasn’t meant for them.

I have heard people complaining about the corruption in the Armed Forces, the “free ration” we get (Mind you, NOTHING is free….the money for it being compensated somewhere in our dismal salary packages), the so-called perks (Canteen and Medical services…) and some times absurdities like “you get what we pay out of our tax money” (Excuse me, but we pay our taxes honestly too.)

I agree. Corruption is taking root, one step at a time in the Armed Forces. Which public service will not have a few rotten tomatoes? But does that mean the entire vegetable basket is to be condemned?

When we raise a finger at a Brigadier stooping to issue undue favours in return for a mere gold chain (as was exposed in the Tehekla expose) do we stop to think that after 25+ years of service why he would risk condemnation?

The abysmal pay packets have a story of their own to tell. Until the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission are enforced, the average carry-home package of an Officer with SEVENTEEN years of Service is about Rs30,000. Enough to pay a Home Instalment, a car loan etc?

That’s how much a friend with two years of work experience in the call center industry was earning. As a bachelor, it was more than he could ask for.

But imagine a family sustaining themselves through outings, vacations, extra stuff for schools, uniforms, groceries, other essentials, fuel, compulsory savings etc on that meagre income. A family of four mind you!

Lets not discount the other contingencies such as an ailing parent who cannot be treated at the Military Hospital, or an out of turn transfer which will land you in a city where Defence accommodation is unavailable (You might be put on a roster), so you end up taking a home on rent, paying market price for it. Or consider that after staying in this rented accommodation, you have to move to a Defence dwelling, and you shell out the money for the local transfer yourself.

And here I speak of Officers. One cannot fathom the plight of jawans, sailors and airmen who are even forced to share family accomodation (one flat amongst two families) due to shortage of official accomodation, or those who die fighting terrorists in "peace time" receiving no extra compensation...and a two line mention in the left hand bottom corner of a newspaper that could be used to line a garbage bin.

Glamorous. Yes. Lots of parties and a life of dancing and merry making….

But that is one side of the coin. All the partying and merry making can get tedious when you have to pay for each of them and attending them is “compulsory”.

I agree that the Defence is a non-profit making sector, so all the expenses that go towards disbursement of salaries, upkeep of establishments, procurement of equipment etc are just EXPENSES. But can we do without it? Can we do without the two lakh personnel posted in J&K fighting terrorism? Or guarding our shores and skies?

The morale of the man in uniform is at an all time low. Read stories in newspapers about the brewing dissent... jawans shooting at their superiors etc, and you’ll know that the situation is grim.

The sense of pride a uniform evokes is, in this materialistic world, temporary and transitory. Weighed on the yardsticks of success and happiness, it falls way below the mark.

Patriotism is not enough reason to join the Armed Forces. They need more. Give them more. Or they will, like my husband did, flock out, one by one, for several reasons, seeking happiness, contentment, success and money, elsewhere.

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