India has been facing many problems concerning national security, such as the attacks on our sovereignty through past wars, ongoing clashes on Indian borders and the Line of Control, low intensity conflicts in Kashmir and the Northeast, Maoism across many states, and other law and order problems. And we are also confronted by regular natural calamities across various regions.
Unfortunately, although many systemic measures have been built to address these issues and use Armed Forces as a measure of last resort, more often than not, the other measures fail or aren’t given time to be effective.
This leaves the full burden of responsibility on our Armed Forces on every occasion—be it a terror attack in a metropolis, a flood in Assam, a riot in Gujarat, or an earthquake in Nepal. And our Armed Forces have provided effective solutions to all of these problems every single time since the day of Independence.
To be consistently effective and shoulder the burden when the odds are so high, and when there is no backup, the Armed Forces have to be peopled by able cadre and helmed by good leaders. So it is rather alarming that there are huge shortages of personnel in its rank and file. Since the Army is the largest component of the three wings of the Armed Forces, the problem is discussed from the Army’s point of view.
Firstly, I think that the cause for the shortage is the constant pay degradation in the Army (and other two wings) since Independence. The civilian bureaucracy is doing a great job of ensuring our country is managed well and our teething troubles are addressed, and I have no problems with them being paid well by the government.
But I do request the reader to think about the challenges an Army man in an equivalent job has to go through for lesser pay. Secondly, we live in a time where there are many unresolved problems in our neighbourhood. The Armed Forces as a career option carries with it a risk where the chances of losing one’s life is a real possibility. Perceiving these dangers, the aspiring and potential candidates for a career in the Army will have second thoughts, especially when there are far more promising careers in the private sector where there are no limits to luxury today.
Thirdly, delayed and inadequate compensation provided to the next of kin for the death or disability of soldiers. Here, unfortunately, some people in the media and a new breed of armchair activists have likened a soldier losing his life on the border with the death of a labourer.
These types of comments and opinions really do not help keep the morale of our Armymen high. They just hurt the sentiments of the families of the soldiers who live in civilian areas. Civilian deaths are compensated heavily by the governments. When a sportsperson gets a medal in international events by sweating it out, he or she is abundantly compensated by the governments, politicians and corporates.
But in the case of Army personnel, the government awards medals to soldiers for bravery during their life or posthumously, or for being wounded, or for proving their mettle when faced with extreme hardship and working in hostile areas for prolonged periods. Even then, a soldier’s death does not get compensated commensurate with the noble sacrifice. In this regard, I have to congratulate actor Akshay Kumar who has resorted to crowdfunding to help the Army men’s families.
Fourthly and finally, the constant stress on the mind and body of soldiers along with the fact that they live disconnected from their families lead to a very disrupted and unusual lifestyle. Infantry soldiers, who form a major portion of the Army, are separated from their families during most of their service because of postings to field areas. And even in peace stations, since the Army is called for aid by civil authorities for law and order and natural calamities, the lives are never normal. Army personnel and their families suffer from emotional deficiencies which have long- lasting
and sometimes irreversible effects.
All the usual events in the lives of regular people are glaringly absent from Army families: building a home, vacationing with family, caring for their old parents, helping their children with their schoolwork, building social groups with friends and families, attending events, etc.
If the above shortcomings are addressed, there may be abundant competition to join the Army resulting in adequate and right talent. We need to make the Army an attractive career option and address some of the major challenges that we have.
In this article I have discussed some of the reasons for our Army being short-staffed. My opinions on how we should go about addressing these issues are for another time. I want the reader to spare a thought for an aspiring Army cadet who is about to start a career in the Army.
A good and efficient Army is an imperative for a strong India—an India that aspires to lead the world in the future. Our people and our government must do everything to ensure the Army is staffed with the right people with the right skills to ensure our safety, security and pride.
Lt Col Dk Havanoor (Retd)
Author of March of a Foot Soldier and a Bengaluru-based columnist