On this, the 69th Independence Day, the Defence Forces are in a state of bewilderment. Are they part of Team India, as was suggested, because they are not being treated like a part of it. The veterans in the Forces, some in their eighties and nineties, who should have been putting their feet up, content with what they have achieved in their lives, have been protesting at Jantar Mantar for 'One Rank, One Pension'. As one 73 year old gentleman said, he was 30 when the demand for OROP began. Today, after 45 years, they are still protesting as the OROP has been passed in principle, and discussions are still on, as government after government has passed the baton on, with no solution in sight!
I still remember a heated discussion I had with a friend once. A news report was being aired about soldiers having lost their lives in an encounter with militants. As I expressed my sorrow and wondered if people even wondered about the sacrifices made by the Defence Services, my friend turned around and coolly remarked, "Well, they made a choice, didn't they, when they joined the Forces?" Put that way, it sounded like a package deal. I was shell shocked, and could not help retorting, "Well, they did make a choice to defend their country valiantly, but not to lose their lives."
The callous comment cut me to the quick. Of course, the men in uniform had a choice. They could have taken up lucrative jobs, made a lot of money and lived cushy lives. They could have slept well every night, secure in the fact that everywhere, men in uniform were guarding their borders, ensuring that the country was in safe hands. That they made a difficult choice to stake their lives to the nation, combating militancy, high tension postings, sleepless nights, separations from their loved ones and the ability to follow and execute orders, showed the mettle they were made of.
And yet, today, my heart aches to see these Defence veterans spending days under the rays of the unforgiving sun at Jantar Mantar, protesting for the 'One Rank, One Pension' issue. They stand united, fighting for a right which they deserve. I repeat, it is not a demand, but a right! Having been an Army daughter, and then an Army wife, much of my character and nature have been chiseled out under the vast umbrella provided by the olive greens. So isn't it but natural that my heart weeps when I see Defence veterans being manhandled by the police, who are like their brothers in arms? The reason given was that people were not allowed to congregate on Independence Day. Absurd to think that veterans who have fought in the various wars, ready to sacrifice every drop of blood for their country, could actually be seen as a menace to society! There was even a 95 year old Army widow whose husband had fought in the wars of 1962, 1965 and had finally succumbed in the war of 1971. She sat in the midst of the protests, fighting not for herself, but for the generations to come!
Swachh Bharat is a pet project nowadays, and a laudable one since cleanliness, they say, is next to Godliness. However, what do we all owe to our soldiers who have been engaged in cleaning out the country's enemies, within and without our borders? The bureaucrats sit in comfort in their ivory towers, the politicians and the men on the helm make the laws, and the Prime Minister talks about OROP having been accepted in principle.
The Defence personnel have lived their lives out in dignity, and in accordance with the Chetwode motto, a motto that is engraved within their hearts from the day they join the defence forces.
During their entire careers, they have only obeyed orders, standing firm by the concept that people in uniform do not protest, or go against the men who run the country, the first rule of patriotism, a quality that runs through their very blood.. However, when they perceive the way in which the law makers and the law executers get pay hikes at the drop of a hat, it is but natural they, the law abiders, feel slighted. What is ironic is that, even while protesting, they have only been following the principles laid out by the Mahatma himself - those of Ahimsa and non-violent satyagraha. The veterans are as dignified at Jantar Mantar as they have been all their lives.
So as the poet, Longfellow, put it so aptly:
"Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait."
The veterans have laboured all their lives, and waited for too long. It is time for all loyal and right minded people to put forth their viewpoints and support these grizzled warriors who have spent their entire lives in the defence of the country.For if we all do sleep in our homes, along with our families, happy and secure, it is only because there is a whole army out there safeguarding the nation's borders.