The Unknown Soldier remains Unseen and Unthanked

"We remember our soldiers - who defend our borders in snowy mountains, in deserts, in jungles, on the shores and in the oceans."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had this ridiculously ironic statement to make as part of the preamble to his astonishingly tiresome August 15 speech from the ramparts of Red Fort. His 40-minute address was wall-to-wall election rhetoric, but that's a different matter. Because, the matter at hand -- the matter that should be at hand -- is far more embarrassing, far more a shame and ignominy than the tediously predictable compulsions of electoral politics that compel even an honourable man like Dr Singh to hijack and defile a sacred day for petty party PR.

There is something unique about the way the Indian system treats its armed forces jawans. Even though they form a good part of the sociological and cultural core that defines India (Jai Jawan! etc), they simultaneously are looked upon the the most dispensable. While the Indian Army reels under an officer shortage -- which, while serious, is more notional than popularly projected -- it has never posted a dearth of jawans, never needed to take extraordinary measures to ensure that its soldier ranks are adequately supplied. And this alone may be why it has never had to made any major effort whatsoever to even bother making the profession of a jawan an attractive one.

And while you'll certainly see throngs of ex-servicemen on hugerstrike and officers of all ranks who'll pick through the pay commission papers to find the detail's devils, you'll never see jawans complain in public. Their sense of outrage is a quiet one -- more infused with the dignity of their task than any other part of the armed forces. The jawan lives and works in the toughest conditions. His opportunities are far more limited. And therein lies his silence.

By increasing the military service pay of jawans from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 instead of the recommended Rs 3,000, the government has made a grave transgression of propriety. Not only has it failed to meet what the Army itself feels should a minimum benchmark for its real fighters. But it has psychologically injured all jawans, and infused in them a simmering sense of having been betrayed by their masters -- both the Army leadership, and the government. While mid-level and senior officers will celebrate what hectic lobbying has managed to pull off in the 6PC, jawans have once again been left in the cold, thrown crumbs and ordered to be satisfied, even smile.

Which is why it struck me that it was sheer audacity that had Manmohan Singh open his ridiculous speech with that terribly true line.

Photo by Shiv Aroor/LiveFist (Army Jawans at Leimakhong, Manipur)

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