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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.

Next Story

Manipuri Women Are Breaking Barriers, The Birthplace Of Modern Polo

"Their enthusiasm lit a desire in me to play polo. I've felt close to horses since my uncle brought them home. But before that, horses roamed about everywhere. My family was not very well off and my uncle couldn't afford to buy a horse,"

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"Here is one (polo) community whose welfare is so closely tied with the welfare of the animal on which the game is played. We felt that since India did not have any women's polo tournament, Manipur could be, and should be, the home of women's polo in India," Somi Roy says. Pixabay

Polo, often thought of as a game of the rich, has also been generally dominated by men. However, a quiet revolution is taking place at the very place where it all started – the northeast Indian state of Manipur, which is considered the birthplace of modern polo.

While men had been playing this game here for centuries, the spotlight has now shifted to women of the state who now field five professional polo teams to compete with the world’s best. These Manipuri women from humble backgrounds are not only shattering stereotypes that polo is a game for men, but also that it is the privilege of the rich.

L. Somi Roy, conservationist and partner at Huntre! Equine, has been one of the main crusaders for women’s polo in the state and sees it also as a campaign to save the iconic Manipuri pony, whose numbers have been declining over the years. He says while Manipuri women traditionally did not play polo as it was an equestrian game coming out of a martial tradition, in modern times, in the 1980s, they got inspired by their male relatives.

“The All Manipur Polo Association encouraged them. About 40-45 per cent of polo players in the world are women. So we are just catching up. It’s pretty gender free as a sport, so it puts them on the level of men when they play together,” Roy tells IANS.

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“Playing with the United States Polo Association (USPA) team was a great experience. Though their skills are very different from ours, we could learn a lot,” she says.
Pixabay

While Manipur produces one-third of male players and three-fourths of women players in the country, Roy says most of these players from an isolated, economically-underdeveloped state are not members of the Indian Polo Association.

Yet, the state has India’s longest polo season — November to March — with two international and four state tournaments, including the Manipur Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament, the only such tournament in India where teams from the US, UK, Canada, Kenya, Australia and Argentina have participated alongside Manipuri girls.

The matches are held in Imphal’s Mapal Kangjeibung Stadium, the oldest running polo ground in the world.

Filmmaker Roopa Barua, who started documenting the story of women’s polo in Manipur in 2016, says a young polo sisterhood is developing in the state that ploughs on despite adversity and political turmoil.

“Around 2014-15, there was an effort to bring in international women players to play in Manipur. Part of this effort was to create a campaign to save the Manipuri pony which is endangered. I saw a symbiotic relationship developing and I followed this story for four years,” she tells IANS.

This documentation culminated in a film which intends to take the story of these strong women players to the world. The documentary film, “Daughters of the Polo God” was showcased earlier this month at the IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival in New Delhi, and would also be screened at the Bombay Stock Exchange on March 26.

“Manipuri players are natural horsewomen and extremely athletic. As I stayed on throughout the tournament, I saw that women’s polo was becoming a growing story. The symbiotic relationship between women’s polo and the endangered Manipuri pony was a very unique concept,” Barua said.

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“Horses for centuries here are owned by people, they are trained, they are broken. And then they are let loose to graze freely in the open wetlands of Manipur.”
Pixabay

Nineteen-year-old Tanna Thoudam, one of the protagonists of the film, was inspired to play polo when she saw some women players playing in a match in 2010.

“Their enthusiasm lit a desire in me to play polo. I’ve felt close to horses since my uncle brought them home. But before that, horses roamed about everywhere. My family was not very well off and my uncle couldn’t afford to buy a horse,” she says.

Tanna joined the Assam Rifles Polo Club in 2011 and became the only junior to make it to the final Manipuri team for the 2017 Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament. “It was the happiest moment of my life.”

Thoinu Thoudum, founder of the Chingkhei Hunba Polo Club, says it is good to have a women’s tournament as it encourages girls to start playing polo while also showing solidarity and respect for women players.

Jetholia Thongbam started playing polo in 2016 and carried on even after her sister stopped playing following her marriage. She believes that Manipuri players are becoming better every year by playing with international players.

“Playing with the United States Polo Association (USPA) team was a great experience. Though their skills are very different from ours, we could learn a lot,” she says.

N. Ibungochoubi, Secretary of the Manipur Polo Society, says the relationship between Manipuris and horses is special.

“Horses for centuries here are owned by people, they are trained, they are broken. And then they are let loose to graze freely in the open wetlands of Manipur.”

But lately, the Manipuri ponies have lost their home to urban blight with their numbers declining from 1,893 in 2003 to just around 500 in 2014.

This is where this symbiotic relationship between humans and horses can potentially be a game-changer.

“Here is one (polo) community whose welfare is so closely tied with the welfare of the animal on which the game is played. We felt that since India did not have any women’s polo tournament, Manipur could be, and should be, the home of women’s polo in India,” Somi Roy says.

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He adds that going to play polo in Manipur is like going to Mecca.

“For people who know the history of polo, Manipur is a special place – that’s where it all came from. And then we say it’s going to be played on the original Manipuri pony, and then we tell them that it is on the world’s oldest living polo ground. It’s a fairly irresistible invitation,” Roy adds. (IANS)