The Indian soldier holds the responsibility to protect national sovereignty and integrity; he provides to his fellow countrymen the luxury of sleeping soundly with the assurance that they are well protected and cared for. Obviously, the nation looks for the best possible talent to carry on its shoulders this onerous responsibility. Once selected, millions are spent to make the soldier capable of doing his job with a high degree of efficiency. Motivated by the lofty tenets imbibed in him the soldier, in turn, dedicates the best years of his life to selfless service of the nation. When others of his age are learning the skills of existing in the outside world, he is leading an isolated life in some remote picket on the frontier surviving in less and that too without a murmur.
Then comes the time when the soldier is called upon to leave the service and get back to being a civilian. This happens rather early in his life since the army needs only young and physically energetic people to carry out its functions. The soldier, back home after a few decades of distinguished service in the great Indian Army, starts looking at his options. So what are these options? He has a meagre pension wholly insufficient to meet the demands of his children yet in the growing stage, he looks at his family responsibilities and finally he looks at himself, a man sound in mind, body and spirit with the potential to contribute to society. He realises that he will have to take recourse to a second career.
Let us now see what career prospects are open to him in modern resurgent India. Those who retire from the non commissioned rank and are barely in their forties land up as drivers, doormen, couriers and security guards saluting and holding the door to those very people who, just a little while ago, looked upon them as their saviours. The junior commissioned officers get a shade better with mundane liaison duties, foremen in construction projects, operators of some equipment, low level administrators in offices etc; these people who have held responsibility of crores of rupees worth of equipment and top quality human resource are now answerable to uneducated and ill experienced persons who do not possess even half their intelligence or experience. The officer community fares no better; even those retiring from the rank of a brigadier are compelled to serve for amounts that are paid to mid level executives in their early thirties almost half their age.
There is not one retired soldier who, on leaving service, does not find himself on the back foot when compared to his contemporaries. The very civilians for whom he had sacrificed the best part of his life are now not ready to give back to him the space that is rightfully his. This realisation strikes him like a bolt of lightning. The poor noble being goes about trying to pick the pieces of his shattered existence. The once proud man with a stiff back bone learns the art of permanent genuflection.
More unfortunate is the sudden drop in his quality of life; he loses out on the love and camaraderie that he shared with his comrades in the army and turns out to be the proverbial fish out water, low on respect and high on exploitation. Izzat does not allow him to complain to his family, to his friends and most of all to his fellow countrymen, he absorbs his hurt in his large heart and accepts what life has given to him.
So why, in this regard do we not hear any screams of protest that mark the contemporary political and social landscape of the nation? the standing in rallies with black flags, the burning of effigies, the making of pressure groups, the Arvind Kejriwals and the Anna Hazares. Where is the much touted civil society and social media when it comes to standing up for the soldiers of the nation??
What is required to be done for the retired soldier? First and foremost, his salary in the civil stream should be commensurate with his education, his training, his experience and his ability. In fact, he should be given more than what he deserves in view of the many years that he has given to the nation; this happens in most European nations and more so in the US; it is only in India that a cynical, negative attitude is adopted. The government needs to step in to ensure the same. There should be reservations for retired soldiers in all corporate houses, business establishments and government organisations. Minimum salary commensurate to the rank at which the soldier has retired should be laid down as should his work and charter of duties. As a bottom line, each and every retired soldier should get gainful employment at par with his contemporaries.
The soldier himself also needs to learn to stand tall against all odds; izzat is fine but it also needs to be reciprocated; there is no bravery in getting exploited and there is no courage in putting up a smile when others are bull dozing you. The best is to stand for what is correct and what is righteous; only then will this spate of exploitation come to an end.
There is a need for a relook at the lives and times of the retired soldiering community of India; There is a need to debate whether the nation is being fair to this community or is this body of good people being exploited to the hilt and then thrown to the wolves with nothing more than a smile and a good word by the powers that be. It is not a dole that is being sought for the soldiers, it is the minimum that is required to attract the best possible talent for the most important national function of security.