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Do men in olive greens have human rights: Why is no one raising voices for the slain soldiers?

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Imphal: Coffins of the soldiers of Dogra Regiment who were killed in an ambush by the militants, draped in Tri-Colours at a wreath laying ceremony in Imphal on Saturday. PTI Photo (PTI6_6_2015_000131A)
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By Rukma Singh

Do men in olive greens have any human rights? If yes, then why no one is coming out and raising a voice for the slain soldiers.

Last week in Manipur’s Chandel district, at least 20 soldiers of the 6 Dogra battalion were slaughtered and over a dozen were injured. The tragic incident was identified as the deadliest blow to the Army since 1982 when 20 jawans were similarly killed in the state leading to the escalation of militancy for years to come.

In Himachal Pradesh, a somber atmosphere prevailed in seven villages where the last rites of slain soldiers were performed with full military honours. Hundreds of people attended the cremations.

Some families did not even get a chance to have a last glimpse of the slain soldiers since the army had asked them not to open the caskets because the bodies were charred beyond recognition.

Strangely, if this would have been an issue of defence personnel going all out against the ultras, the rights bodies would have come out in protest and the issue would have also found support in the social media.

Of Laxity And Lives

Towards this momentous problem related to the rights of Indian soldiers being gunned down, why has there been a laxity in the attitudes of the State, the media and the citizens alike?

A fact that is conspicuous by its absence here is the lack of public response and media participation in terms of delving deeper into the roots of the attack. The contrast between the Manipur incident and the instances in Kashmir where the entire country came together to advocate against violations of human rights is stark. Citizen journalists and advocacy councils spring up every time even if a bird loses its feather.

But absolutely no interest has been shown by the rest of the country to combat violations that have happened in Manipur, in the form of innocent soldiers on duty being shot.

The Humans In Army

In cases of internal insurgencies, army is typically seen as an agent of atrocities. The army, in popular discourse, is portrayed as a raping, murdering entity, which is as insensitive as the weapons its soldiers wield. People who populate the ranks are seen as a solid monolith, not just by the ordinary people of the conflicted area but by the state controlling them too. Army is nothing more than a battering ram, a Trojan horse that is destroyed in the process of destroying.

However, the widows and orphans left behind by the martyrs tell a different story. And after the ashes of the dead settle, the wails of the ones left behind echo in the houses on both sides. Yet the exclusion of soldier from the teary, rosy pages of books written by human right activists is a fact both pathetic and heartbreaking.

Jaya Peesapathy, an Indian woman residing in Hong Kong, runs a radio show based on the Indian Army. When asked about the problems faced by the Indian Army, she points out, “The army men cannot share their emotions very openly. With the kind of work they do, it’s not so suitable. If one actually gives a thought to the kind of trauma they go through emotionally, they’d realize that it is something one can’t easily handle.”

The lives of these army men and their families are in a constant state of turmoil. Chaos, hopelessness and fear have become a part of their routine lifestyle.

It’s frightening to even imagine going to sleep every night with the fear of waking up to the news of not having a loved one anymore, and to live one’s entire life without having been allowed one last glimpse of the departed.

The soldier is a human bound by duty. He is an Arjun in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. And till the time a world without countries or boundaries is achieved, every Mahabharata will have a misunderstood Karan.

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Return to Jammu- A Novel About a Journey

The author has superbly captured the life of the kid in a cantonment, growing up with two sisters, his mother's struggle to run the house on a tight budget and his father, a happy-go-lucky man, who avoids the responsibilities of a good husband.

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JAmmu and Kashmir
Sanasar, Jammu and Kasmir- wikimedia commons

This is the engrossing tale of Balan, a kid from South India who grows up in the towns of Punjab, Jammu and Haryana. It captures the eventful journey of Balan’s childhood, his schooling, and the friends he makes and loses due to transfers of his father, serving in the Indian Army.

“Return to Jammu” is a first-person narration and with the timelines, places and real-life personalities and events, the reader gets a feeling that it is an autobiographical novel. The author clarifies that all characters and the story per se are fictional but confesses to borrowing liberally from many episodes of his childhood in telling the story.

“If you happen to be acquainted with me enough to perceive a passing resemblance of me in Balan, you would be right; and yet if you find the resemblance rather tenuous and liberally adulterated, you will be equally right too,” says the author in a preliminary note.

Settled in Jammu, Balan is admitted into grade two, though just four years and seven months old. He remains younger and tinier than his peer group all through his schooling and even in college.
V. Raghunathan-Author of the book Return to Jammu, wikimedia commons

Balan, son of a junior commissioned officer hailing from Kerala and having Tamilian roots, is born in the Ambala cantonment in 1954. He narrates his story even before his birth, relying on family tellings.

The author has superbly captured the life of the kid in a cantonment, growing up with two sisters, his mother’s struggle to run the house on a tight budget and his father, a happy-go-lucky man, who avoids the responsibilities of a good husband.

He describes vividly how the family shifts to Jammu on his father’s transfer, giving even the minutest details of their belongings, and of their journey to Jammu via Pathankot.

Settled in Jammu, Balan is admitted into grade two, though just four years and seven months old. He remains younger and tinier than his peer group all through his schooling and even in college. Because of his diminutive size, he is saddled with sobriquets like pocket edition, Lilliputian and Madrasi, and sees his self-esteem falling dangerously.

He describes vividly how the family shifts to Jammu on his father's transfer, giving even the minutest details of their belongings, and of their journey to Jammu via Pathankot.
Jammu and Kashmir Map, wikimedia commons

It’s at Satwari near Jammu that he develops childhood friendship with many, most importantly with Jeevan Asha or Jeesha, who was two years older and also taller than him. Soon, however, Balan’s father is again transferred to Ambala and he is separated from his friends, especially Jeesha. He writes letters to his friends and receives responses from all, except Jeesha.

Overcoming all odds and with hard work, Balan completes his studies and joins the State Bank of India. Now a confident young man, he works hard and finally makes it to the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad. (It was at IIM, Ahmedabad, that the author taught finance.)

Also Read: 70 years after Independence power reaches Elephanta Isle near Mumbai 

There he comes across a girl called Jasmine Pundith. He believes she is his good old buddy Jeesha. Bu she shows no sign of recognition and when he tries to remind her about their childhood friendship, Jasmine tells him that she is a citizen of the US and has no link with Jammu.

Convinced that she is none other than Jeesha, Balan travels to Delhi to find out more about her family. He even returns to Jammu, where he meets her brother Niranjan. What Balan comes to know from him forms the climax of the story.

The book is worth a read also for the author’s eye for detail, whether it is canal system of Jammu, the picturesque Kashmir valley, especially Uri, the pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi, or a visit by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. (IANS)