Here is a letter published, finally.
Sir, The pen is undoubtedly mightier than the sword. But might is not proved by denigrating articles based on isolated personal experiences and apparent biases, such as In Arm’s Way by Farzana Versey (October 16). The absence of problems is Utopia — non-existent everywhere, including in the Indian Army. As it draws its rank and file from society, the Army is not insulated from the problems of society. To say that there are instances of corruption, sexual harassment and so on in the Army is thus no investigative journalism. But trashing an organisation with the credentials like that of the Indian Army, on the basis of a few aberrations, is naïve. It is demeaning to the thousands of non-aberrant people who are part of the same organisation, and tirelessly face privations, even death, so that citizens like the writer can enjoy the freedom to express her opinion at will. There have been cases of misdemeanour of different kinds in the Army. But is the Army "one of the most corrupt institutions in the country" because of that? Where is the data to prove the claim? The writer is also oblivious of the speed with which each manifestation of such aberrant behaviour is dealt with by the Army. As for her advice to the Army to "stop glorifying the profession and treat it as another job," in the course of which other job is a person expected to lead or follow his comrades into situations that are likely to cause grievous bodily harm, or even death? The soldier does not brave all odds and even lay down his life if required for the few thousand rupees that he is paid. He does it for izzat — his own, that of his unit, and of the country. Our nation will live to rue the day the Army stops glorifying the soldier’s job and starts treating it like any other profession.
Lt. Gen. (Retd) R.P. Agarwal
- - -
October 21, 2007
Dear Lt. Gen. (Retd) R. P. Agarwal:
To begin with, let me thank you for addressing your views to the newspaper in the letter in today's Asian Age. I had been waiting for someone to do so since from the Tuesday it was published I have been inundated with feedback. The email route has been chosen only by a few; most have traced my blog and used it to spew the venom I have been accused of.
We shall come to that in a bit. Since you are not aware of the exchanges, I will have to repeat some of what I have been saying to answer your points:
- Does questioning certain negative aspects of an organisation, that too one that is considered noble, a result of "personal experiences and biases"? Will you be able to dispute any of the incidents, except perhaps of the Colonel who shot pigeons, which going by the way people have reacted appears to have caused a lot of anger? (Should I say it is due to some negative personal experience? Would it be right to reach such sweeping conclusions about people I do not know?)
- You are indeed right when you talk about the inability to have a Utopian organisation without problems. And of course the Army draws its members from society. Therefore, if I or anyone pulls up other aspects of society, then the Army is equally to be called upon to question. I have not spared the media's fake sting operations, either.
- I gather that you might read newspapers regularly. You do read of doctors who have carelessly performed surgeries that ended in death or who refused to accept patients. These cases are reported, citizens of this country and any civil society will have an opinion. It does not mean the medical profession is bad, but when you read about such instances folks who are dependent on such professions will question it. We can change our choice of doctors; we cannot do much about who joins the Army and how certain "bad eggs" conduct themselves.
- Had you read the article carefully you would realise that I did not "advice the Army" to stop glorifying the profession and treat it as another job. These were my words: "The number of soldiers who commit suicide or are killed by their colleagues exceed those killed by enemy fire. If only we stopped glorifying the profession and treated it as another job, then perhaps there would be less pressure on the need to be macho."
- The Army must glorify its soldiers, though it would be nice if it also took to task those that committed "misdemeanours" that you yourself have agreed exist.
- You mention that what I wrote is not "investigative journalism". May I venture to say here that I am glad it isn't, for there would have been far more damaging instances, all factually recorded? I have as a matter of fact followed a stringent self-censorship. I realise of course that the 'facile' examples have been commented on because they indeed have touched a raw nerve.
- I will add here that there have been two officers of your Force who have given me an insight into the real life of soldiers. They believe in the organisation, but are not blind to its flaws; they know the value of discourse and have indulged in it in the best way possible.
For the rest, it will dishearten you to know that there have been personal attacks by people who are hiding their identity. However, I will be providing the information to the gentleman officer who is in charge of the image of the Army. Perhaps he will know exactly what the brave soldiers do for the reputation of the organisation they claim to be fighting for and take any action that might be necessary. It isn't too difficult to trace the miscreants, I should hope.
- While I avoid using gender as a matter of discussion, the comments reveal a patriarchal mindset that has hit out at this very aspect. I do not wish to be treated like a "lady" but there is no way I want to be patronised or have hollow male talk thrust on me. Had anyone else indulged in it, it would have been deemed harassment. I hope you as an honourable officer, gentleman and human being will understand that.
- Information about me and my work is accessible and available to read and scrutinise. Therefore, it amuses me to listen to comments about "maturing in my career"…this is so typically sophomore that it does not deserve a reaction. Obviously, they do not wish to see the material that stares them in the face and tells them about the other work I have done for years, do and will continue doing. I do not know the credentials of these individuals, where they come from, or where they are posted. At the moment, they do appear to have a lot of time, though. If you read the comments you will realise that the example of the Colonel serves as a perfect metaphor for precisely this sort of chest-puffing.
- One has read about how political corruption is rampant. I could not agree more and it pains me to have some of these people be called our leaders. I can imagine the pain soldiers would feel when a scam-ridden politician dies and they have to offer him a gun salute.
- To end, I must say that despite the spamming on my personal blog by the 'brave' soldiers, I have learned a lot and there is enough material for at least a couple of more articles should I wish to do so. Unfortunately, they have not taught me about the good aspects. My forum now shows civilians exactly how some of your aberrant soldiers are as much as it has caused disillusionment to the officers I know.
- With the best possible intention of engaging in a discourse, I indulged the wrong people. I should have refrained and only talked to the genuine ones.
I am enclosing an article by Jaswant Singh as well as some of the comments and links. I have refrained from correcting the spelling and other grammatical errors in the attachment since it must not appear that I have tampered with them, for that is how they appear to the public. I am sure it will not further harm the reputation of the Forces in any way. If it helps, I cannot hold a gun, let alone shoot.
With very best wishes,
- - -
PS: Irony hit me: The Retd. Lt. Gen has also appeared on the blog! What can I say? May I add that the text of his letter posted above is the one that was published...what the officer has put in the post below is not the way it has appeared in print.
PPS: Until now I have permitted some people's comments to pass in the spirit of a dialogue, but they can and do have other space for personal abuse which they may utilise. This place has several other things I enjoy writing about. Besides, spamming is considered a cyber crime. Therefore, until they get their act together, their posts will be moderated and what I deem unsuitable and a repetition will be deleted from the earlier lot. Or maybe not. It is interesting that the officer while choosing to post his letter and that of another person did not look at the rubbish that preceded it.