"No army can fight on an empty stomach" is a famous quote by Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, one of the heroes of World War II. Unfortunately, this fact was recently brought to light by a BSF jawan stationed along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.
The soldier, in a video which has gone viral, alleged poor and inhuman treatment of soldiers fighting Pakistan-sponsored terrorism on India's borders.
The Border Security Force rushed in to term the whistleblower soldier, Tej Bahadur Yadav, a "bad hat", villifying him.
In a press release, it said that "constable Bahadur as an individual has a difficult past. From the initial days of his career, he needed regular counselling. Different correction mechanics have been applied for the individual's welfare as he was a habitual offender of absenteeism without permission, chronic alcoholism, misbehaving and using force with superior officers."
While the character of Bahadur may be in question, the issues he has raised are not.
Instead of being pushed to the corner, the incident should serve as an eye-opener to the world's largest border security force. The BSF needs to find out whether this allegation is limited to one soldier or is affecting more soldiers at the borders. We need to stand up for the men who stand guard for us 24X7.
As a man in uniform, the soldier faces maxim threat as he is subjected to internal and external threat. But when it comes to getting due credit, he is in the lowest rung.
A soldier swears by the code of conduct, whereby only a senior officer speaks to the media. Many soldiers suffer in silence.
A jawan once told me: "It is common for a company commander to make money. It is often in food procurement or MT sector (vehicle). There are set ways and mechanisms to make money."
He added that "yes, it is true that there is a sub-committee where jawans are asked to make suggestions on food items to be in the menu for the month. But most won't utter a word. The one who speaks his mind, suffers the most."
Though the Army and paramilitary are known for their discipline, such complaints should not be camouflaged as frivolous or discouraged. Even though there are forums to address complaints, most times than not, action is taken.
Similarly, like the rest of India, the rot of corruption has set in the paramilitary. Forces including BSF need to nip this in the bud. The commanders must lead from the front.
Minister of State for home Kiren Rijiju tweeted:
Taken serious note of a BSF Jawan video. But during my regular visit to border posts I find high level of satisfactions amongst the jawans.— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) January 10, 2017
But the home ministry should not rush to give a positive picture. It should soak in all information from its various agencies. Ministers more often than not are shown the best picture or taken to the best post. The exercise should not be rudimentary. A genuine effort needs to be made both by the Centre and BSF to know the living conditions of our jawans.
Every central armed police force has a welfare fund. Will they be able to show behind the list of achievement the number of measures taken to address problems? Has it made a difference to the quality of life of a jawan, who spends half of his youth and maybe a lifetime in securing India's borders?
The accusations no doubt are likely to hurt the image of the premier paramilitary force, which completed 50 years of its inception two years ago. The BSF takes pride in being the country's first line of defence, tasked to man the borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh. But it may be time to learn a few lessons.
Some lessons must be taught, while other must be learnt with time. The BSF, which often teaches Pakistan and terrorism a lesson, should introspect and act in the best interests of its soldiers.