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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Spare Military Casualties from Cynicism: My Response to an oped in ‘The Telegraph’

Spare Military Casualties from Cynicism: My Response to an oped in The Telegraph

Navdeep Singh

I, for one, am not emotive or touchy when negative articles and opinions are written about our Defence Services. I sincerely feel that the military forces should never be treated so hallowed so as to prevent the citizenry at large from holding a mirror to them, but then the mirror should be held not to shame but to trigger introspection and debate for our common good. This I say since the military, like any other institution, belongs to, and if I may say so, is answerable to the people of this country.

That said, the oped in The Telegraph titled ‘Martyr’s Rites’ published 7th Jan 2015, rankled, nay, hurt me.

Besides stating that Lt Col Niranjan EK of the National Security Guard lost his life due to his ‘stupidity’ (Yes, that was the word used), the opinion piece gets it wrong at many places. First things first. Battle is not mathematics. Nor is it a scientific formula. Battle is gray. Battle is ambiguous. Battle is bad. It seems that the mandatory Statutory Court of Inquiry into Colonel Niranjan’s demise too may not be necessary, now that the editorial team of the paper has reached the conclusion that he was at fault, providing a detailed list of his acts and omissions, and has also declared that the standards of discipline as well as security of the Indian Army have fallen. Further, the editorial has also pronounced the verdict that the ‘booby trap’ planted by the terrorists was ‘simple’.

The write-up further questions the honour bestowed upon the Late Colonel on his death, forgetting that such honour was not just the done thing in such eventualities but also in many other circumstances, including in certain situations for retired officers, people of eminence and even political personalities. To question whether he ‘deserved’ it, is nauseating, to put it mildly.
 
Now coming to main issue that I would want to address for clarity of the general reader.

Military operations, the world over, do not just involve bullets and bombs, as perceived by many. Military operations, from start till culmination, involve aspects that are at times invisible, volatile and fickle even for the elements who participate in them. It is redundant even to question whether the Colonel’s death was an operational casualty or not! Of course it was. To put it in simple terms, would he have died if the Pathankot terrorist attack had not taken place? Negative. Recently four of our soldiers died in an avalanche near one of the highest battlefields in the world, was it not an operational casualty? Of course it was. Surely they were not there on a picnic but were deployed for our defence in an operation notified in that area in the Gazette of India. To be killed by a bullet or the vagaries of nature is inconsequential when the task at hand is operational. A soldier falling down a gorge while patrolling in a counter-insurgency operation or an officer dying of cardiac arrest while deployed in one of the coldest battlefields or dying of a snakebite in a trench on the border, are all battle casualties, even as per regulations. So much so that the rules related to monetary benefits to such casualties ordain that even an element of negligence, if any, would not come in the way of such grants.

None could’ve describe it better than the Punjab and Haryana High Court in a case decided in the year 2010 when it recorded that an ‘act of heroism’ was an exaggerated expression and a person need not have his finger on the trigger or hurling a bomb so as to be entitled to benefits and any person who suffers injury, including an accident in an operational area, is a battle casualty. The Delhi High Court, in 2013, also reiterated that all personnel who are present in operational areas and whose aid and assistance is essential and perhaps crucial for success and those who imperil themselves, directly or indirectly, and are in the line of fire during the operations, would be covered under the category of ‘battle casualty’. In any case, for the gallant ones, the line between fearlessness and ‘stupidity’, as the editorial puts it, is pretty thin and breachable, and it is all very well to comment on it while writing a piece on a laptop in one’s room.

Rather than commenting in vacuum that there was lack of discipline on the part of the late officer or that the Army is being reduced to an object of ridicule, we would have been rather fortunate if the oped had set its energy on calling for better equipment for our foot soldiers and restricted itself to the improvement in procedures to prevent such casualties in the future, since after all, what are we going to do with all those Missiles and deterrent hardware which in reality we are never going to employ, if the men and women on the ground go to battle without basic necessities or safety! Instead, The Telegraph indulged in cynicism about the life of a soldier we just lost in a terrorist attack and before the dust in the lives of the families of all those we lost could settle, took the path of tastelessly and insensitively calling out and stating that “an officer like Niranjan should be taken to task even after his death”.

If this is the reaction a military casualty is going to elicit, I wonder where we are headed. But then there is solace in the thought that it was just an opinion.

46 comments:

Rohit Sharan said...

I fully agree with u.It is unacceptable from a paper as respected as Telegraph. Its such a surprise tht the same nation that produces so many bravehearts who r ready to die for it also gives birth to such thankless and clueless ppl who cant give the most basic respect to a martyred soldier. Well I feel sorry tht to safeguard the "tomorrow" of such ungrateful ppl the soldier has to sacrifice his "today".

Amarjot Mangat said...

Maybe the editor of The Telegraph would like to volunteer and demonstrate how exactly is the disciplined and non-stupid way of defusing an Improvised Explosive Device even with all the possible protective gear at his disposal. Maybe he would like to show what responsible soldiering is all about. Does he have 'what it takes', i wonder...

sourjya said...

The chief should give an open statement against this write up which so insensibly written if he really considers himself to be the head of the family.Further if this is the reaction of the citizens of this ungrateful nation then I wonder where are we heading for in future

NSwaminathan said...

The narration reveals the anguish of the author of this blog on behalf of all the brave hearts of our nation. Even a rustic uneducated person will respect the dead whoever he was. It is the custom and tradition not to talk ill of a deceased person. So, I wonder how 'The telegraph' published such an account! Now a days it is common for the media persons to pass comments (definitely with a bias) on each and every happening; also to allow favorable views only during panel discussions and silence the opposite views! Only when news/comments with a slant giving scant respect to the truth are put and end to, our nation will progress!

Vijay Verma said...

very accurately said Major Navdeep.

The article "Martyr's Rites in The telegraph (Calcutta) is irresponsible and speculative written from an Ivory tower, by someone who has no sense of the ground situation.

Disturbing to note that journalists lack basic sensitivity. I am deeply hurt by the language used against the slain soldier. At least give the family of the soldier who has laid his life for the country, a chance to grieve his death. Selling your newspapers by sensationalising the news is in bad taste. I expect maturity from The telegraph and our journalists. Pathetic journalism

Cdr Vijay Deep Verma (Veteran)

Anonymous said...

Sir, I agree with you that the Col covered himself with glory fighting for the country. His job was risky but he led from front. Just one point. Though Army regulations have included incidents where officers have been killed by their japans as battle casualty, the GOI notification does not cover it and so liberalised pension is not given in such cases by CDA. Kindly enlighten me on this contradiction?

Airco said...

When one faces the barrel of a loaded gun with someone else's finger on the trigger, the line between bravery and foolishness becomes very thin....

Unknown said...

Major Singh, first of all, thank you for your service to the country. The citizens enjoy their freedom due to your sacrifices. Now, with due respect to the sentiments of all, you have not addressed the basic premise behind the article posted in The Telegraph - was negligence a major factor in the death of a senior officer? It appears to be the case and if so, all efforts should be made to prevent a recurrence. All your counter arguments appear to be a case of hurt feelings but do not identifying the root cause of this accident.

Respectfully,
Surya Vir Singh

manav musings said...

Too much of "Expert opinion" on TV and couch potatoes forming opinions based on such TV shows and lastly lack of editorial prudence allow for such articles to be published.

Even a jawan driving ALS in Kashmir Valley on logistics duties is performing operational duties.

I doff my hat to you sir for your retort to Telegraph's article.

Ritu Goyal said...

I am thankful to you for having written this piece. Even though I am one of those who resorts to emotion when anything negative is written about the Armed Forces, I was too shocked to read the Telegraph piece which was sent to me by a 'friend' and a journalist as a response to one of my emotional responses on the casualties of the Pathankot attack. He wanted to prove his point - that there is undue glorification of our military apparatus (which honestly, I can't see anywhere) - and sent me this piece to show that Lt Col Niranjan was responsible for his own death and therefore, to not glorify his death would be the ideal reaction to media stories on him.

MBG said...

Agree with the contents of your piece.
The Op-ed seems to be a mischievous one. Apart from the tastelessness of that piece, I find no reason to drag in the whole Army in it. If vicarious responsibility is the issue, should not that NSG be held responsible? After all, it is a different organisation working under MHA and late Lt.Col. Niranjan was on deputation with them. If vicarious responsibility is to be fixed,it should be aimed at the NSG and, ultimately at the NSA who was, reportedly, controlling the whole operation himself.
MB Ghosh

Bachitter Singh said...

This is the reason why youths of the day hesitate to join forces. Govt. organises countrywide camps to attract youths. On the other hand I remember one of incidence in punjab that a school teacher was deployed during J&K elections. unfortunately he died of heart attack. Govt. job was given to the kin plus monitatry banifits. Millitry they treat as 'white elephant'. They are remembered only in 'hard time.'

Col. VG Rajan said...

Navdeep : YOU ARE APPRECIATED AS ALSO WHAT YOU HAVE PENNED. kudos.!!!!

Wg Cdr K M Vijayan said...

Dear Maj Navneet,

Well written article. Is there any provision for the Armed Forces Association to take these ill informed journalists mafia to court?

K M Vijayan

Wg Cdr(Veteran) Dr K M Vijayan

soumitro kahali said...

thank you, maj navdeep....for your very well articulated comments on the op ed. i was so disturbed and pained after reading the op ed, and wondered how could the editor a national level newspaper be so callous,thankless , insensitive and ignorant so as to pass judgement on the death of a soldier who died while performing his duty for the nation!!god save this country!!

Manohar AM said...

All this is because of our judgemental media, who questions even the SC orders. The government too is at fault for creating things like VRS in place of PMR for servicemen; now a new thing have come up, "operational casualty and non-operational causality." As you said, the public treat the military service a formula based profession, and causalities are avoidable and are not accepted fact. The ultimate truth is the military service is not worth a profession for future generations as it has become a thankless job.

Brig Deepak Sinha(Retd) said...

Navdeep,
This was not an opinion piece as you perceive but an editorial. They need to be sued for defamation.
Regards
Brig Deepak Sinha(Retd)

Krishna Prasad said...

Your concern is genuine. But is that mean that military operations should be above media scrutiny? Media has every right to raise questions. that should not be equaled to 'insensitivity' or 'cynical'. If you want no questions asked territory you are actually asking for 'no democracy'. Let media do its work and as you rightly said in your article it is only 'opinion'.

Jagdish Sapkale said...

I agree and respect the way Maj. Mandeep has replied to the most unethical write up by the Telegraph. The term Battle Casualties aren't familiar with most of the Citizens and the writer seems to be one of those ignorant lot but that is unacceptable from Telgraph editors to make it Public without knowing anything about Military Rules and Regulations and the Conditions under which The Defence Forces operate during any Insurgencies !!
Jai hind !!

Harikrishnan said...

Sir,
I am not worthy to even comment on your words or on the words of any personnel of our defence forces who stand vigil to protect me. But I shall do that, because when I think of my anguish at Telegraph's message, I realize how much more hurt and anguished would the valiant members of our forces be, not to mention the family of our brave officer. Our forces are disciplined, that is why when we talk of the Deep State in Pakistan, our forces are fully loyal to the will of the political executive. Discipline is the reason why on cold foggy nights our men crawl close to the border to prevent any infiltration. Our forces are sacrosanct. The risks they take with pride - protects us. War and skirmishes are not arenas to try being armchair quarterbacks. Civilians like me can never or rather should not even aspire to understand the heart and mind of a human being while he stands in battlefield, only because he chose to protect his nation and countrymen. I remember reading how when a Marine stepped out of his home in uniform, all the people on the street clapped. Our forces have never received claps , nor have they sought it. Our forces need to have cutting edge technology all the time so that they can protect our country better and go home to their families, safe. That is what we should worry about- constant upgradation of equipment and provisioning of all necessary resources for their professional and personal growth. As for the rest, including standard operation procedures and tactics- we should leave it to our forces to decide and hone as per their understanding which is far superior to that of any civilian's or newspaper's.
Jai Hind.

Suresh Pal Singh said...

such questions will always be asked by media because they have no idea what battle look like,the nearest they have come to cover the event are the mob violence,or law & order chaos created by anti social elements.all journalists those who have been in to conflict zones like kargil etc will never ask such stupid questions.I only have one request let these people undergo 5years compulsory mil trg then only they will understand what discipline and laying down ones life means.to accomplish your mission you have to make assumptions,asses situation,and take decision against the time,in doing so one can be right or may go wrong.if one go wrong he/she is not stupid.This country in general&such journalists in particular will always remain thankless to the soldiers of this nation for they don't know the meaning of sacrifice.A soldier has a unwritten bond with his Nation that's why he dies for his NATION.

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep,

you have rightly pointed out that the article was not written in true spirit. But it is also true that it is due to media and social media that we get to know about army causalities and the stories about martyrs. Sometimes with that too they go over the top and fix camera lights over each and every details right from birth to martyrdom of officer. But even that helps the public to appreciate the sacrifice being done by these brave officers.

Having said this, I would also like to pint out that our own army officers who want to showcase every casuality in defence services as supreme act of bravery and whip up emotional atmosphere, are indeed very cold when personnel from sister forces in BSF CRPF etc attain martyrdom. If I correctly remember at the time in 2010 when 76 personnel of CRPF were ambushed and martyred on a single day in rough and remote jungles of Chattisgarh, we had certain gem of officers of high ranks shamelessly masquerading as experts and deriding the CRPF martyrs as stupids, ill trained and what not.

I myself was so hurt that these so called Gentlemen have themselves known that during these operations anything can go wrong. Leave alone being emotional most of the Amry officers were seen mocking CRPF personnel in a time grief. Anyhow it shows that as a society we care only when one of our own dies and that applies to Army too, for them only sacrifices by their men count, rest are for mocking and making expert opinion careers on television.

Jai Hind

Cdr GC Rai (Veteran) said...

Sir, What ever you have said is absolutely true. It is also sad but true that the people who hardly know about military life or remotely connected give unsolicited advise/guidance/opinion. Worst part is that the entire country and the system does not react including military.

RSS said...

I more or less agree with the views expressed by every subscriber but I would like to add here that there is a set procedure for dealing with every complicated work including the explosives. One, who is trained as an expert must always act as an expert while working on special devices. There are not a thousand ways for looping of the wires or, for defusing a device but, to avoid loss, such works need complete concentration and tons of proficiency. The oped seems neither right nor wrong to me since carelessness and ignorance may kill. In 80s, I had an opportunity to work with a colonel from USSR who had a great knowledge on his subject and sharp precision and speed for manual demonstration. Most of our officers hate getting dirty but they are better in administration and theories. I feel sad for the wife and the child of Lt. Col. Niranjan and, also, for those other families who lost their sons for our freedom and peace.

TJ Homes said...

Krishna Prasad, there is a lot of difference between media scrutiny and derision and ridicule. Telegraph has just done that.

Ambar Sarkar said...

Telegraph by publishing the insensitive comments, when the nation is still in mourning, has hurt the feelings of lot of people. I would like the writer and Editor to explain what forced them/him to do so and hope it will not be TRP!

sarath said...

In response to Suryaveer Singh and Krishna Prasad, the fundamental transgression of the article in the Telegraph is that it doesn't ask any questions to the powers that are. It points blame on an individual on the basis of just the available information of his name and rank reported in the media post his demise. The article neither presents any facts nor reports to form this opinion. It merely issues statements of condemnation and the publishers and editors have stood by it.

Payaniga said...

Nice rebuttal to 'The Telegraph' oped. Usually second guessing ones intent is not productive. This article has 'hurt' sentiments of many leave alone the sentiments of the shattered family. I would like to think that 'The Telegraph' intentionally decided to shame and destroy the sentiments and morale and then build itself up of the rubble it created. If its intention was noble it would have or could have picked a timing that allowed for healing of raw nerves; and at the minimum anonymized the illustration. Neither of this was done. This reminds me of the time Politicians and so called intellectuals railing against the death penalty just as a terrorist is being put to death.

While politicians and pseudo intellectuals get away with their selective protest, the news papers may not get away with trying to be a 'shameless phoenix' off of our fallen hero.

prashant said...

The journalists know more about war than military, more about politics than politicians, more about covert operations than the spies, more about governance than the babus, more about the monetary policy than the RBI etc. Alas! what they they really don't know about is journalism.

Prashanth Nayak said...

Stupidity indeed.. Its the stupidity of all the brave soldiers that put their life on the line so that a smart journalist can sit comfortably and type away to glory.
Its stupidity to serve a nation so ungrateful.
Its stupidity to be away from the family so that the arm chair experts can sit with their child on lap and point a finger at those dying on the border.
Its stupidity to have an engineering degree under your belt and join the army when he could be
in the USA making much more. Its stupidity when he does not finch before going in to needle a live bomb... Don't join the army this nation does not deserve it.




AV said...

The subject The Telegraph op ed is certainly a derogatory article. It is also a very poorly written with his arguments presented without facts. Is the writer himself an explosives expert to have concluded that it was 'stupidity'. His facts are not clear also .... though an Army man may not have his fundamental rights but he certainly has a right to an honourable last rites. It is unthinkable for a newspaper of such high repute to question the last rites of a fallen soldier.

The only reason I can think of for them to have used such a low article in their op ed is to perhaps an attempt to 'negative publicity'. Now so many people are talking about the newspaper which many would have forgotten about.

So much for a 'stupid' op ed!

AV said...

Is it possible for a concerned citizen to take the newspaper to court on this issue? If yes, how?

Anbas said...

There is no doubt that Indian armed forces are doing a great service to the nation, not only in the battle fields but also whenever disasters struck the country. They saved many lives whereas they lost many lives. A person when joins this service is definitely aware about the risk of his or her life and yet willingly acts. We should respect them. However,those in charge of this country should explain how our borders are being infiltrated every now and then.

Kaushik said...

Media might've right to question but not have the right to be the judge and the executioner. Here they've judged the martyr stupid and irresponsible and executed ridicule on the dead. Who are they to sentence someone guilty?

Anonymous said...

Well written, Sir!! Freedom of expression is necessary but it should not be misused. It does not give anyone the right to insult a soldier who lost his life defending the motherland. This oped is nothing but slander of the highest order. Maybe the unknown author of this oped can be sent to Siachen for a month to experience reality.

Medha Sachdev said...

Thank you sir for this amazing letter. People in this country are increasingly forgetting the real import of freedom of speech and expression. Thank you also to you and every armyman for keeping us safe. Jai hind

Natarajan V said...

Ridiculous to learn about the needless controversy. Telegraph has to atone. Paper will entail more harm to itself than to the departed colonel.

Anonymous said...

This one article from an irresponsible rogue element of Indian media has caused more damage than the terrorists themselves. The article is a testimony of the author's shallow knowledge on military operations and verbal diarrhea hiding behind the principle of 'freedom of press'.It is nothing but a cheap shot at publicity and limelight,only that this time, it is at the cost of a fine soldier who laid down his life for his nation. When the entire nation mourns with the families of the martyrs, The Telegraph and its 'Chairborne' brigade if analysts wants star wars kind of technology and robo -cops to fight terrorists!!

Rahul Kumar Singh said...

Sir,

I can't start to imagine the pain and suffering it must have caused to listen to such insult by the very people you risk/lay down your life protecting. We are honored to have an army who can deal with such behavior in such a dignified and matured manner. Please know that such intellectual goons are small in number and would become sidelined because of their own stupidity. Please accept my thanks and appreciation for maintaining the utmost character.

The article was not an opinion but an insulting piece written by the Editorial group of Telegraph. It was a ridiculously shameful piece of journalism and these so called opinions should be classified as acts of sedition. There is a significant difference between concern and mockery. A leading media house with such a nonsensical bunch of editors is a matter of huge disappointment.

Jai Hind
Rahul Singh

Sandeep Sharma said...

I salute and respect to our Brave Indian Soldier. Shame on those Newspaper who wrote negative about our Indian Army. "‘The Telegraph’" Shame on you and your whole team. I don't want to use any abuse word for this newspaper but Yes, they must relize the important of India Army for whom we are living freely and safe. ‘The Telegraph’" Team , afraid from God don't write such nonsense article against our Brave Indian soldier. ‘The Telegraph’" team more sad about death of terrorist rather worried about our Brave Indian Soldier who laid down their precious life to protect our Mother Land. Shame on ‘The Telegraph’" team Hundred crore times.
‘The Telegraph’" Shame and shut down you newspaper.

PS said...

I Fully agree with you sir,
Though i am not belong to an army family nor my ancestors are from those, but it is well understood that to make bluff, to check out the lop polls, discussion on what was pros & Cons in the operation... are very easy to discuss and writing out.... but the real fact is you are no more in state of condition when you faced the reality... instead of Saluting and respecting the sacrifices of Col. Niranjan, you have make the bluff and insult his sacrifice towards his nation.... if you media & Journalist can't do betterment for your country then its fine... but at least don't show disrespect to our real heroes of our countries....
Give respect to our soldiers, because of them your are living in a fearless and free country...
I am proud of our Indian Soldiers and we all should.... They Deserve the Salute....

Anonymous said...

A formal complaint needs to be made to the Press Council of India against the writer of the Op Ed and the editor of the daily. Maj Navdeep has of course replied nicely.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with Major Navdeep Singh. The editors at The Telegraph have been unkind

karunakaran a ex havildar said...

very bad attitude of news paper managers, they must self regulate their report before putting on paper, how it hurts a soldier, unless he is a soldier, he may not be able to understand the crisis of a soldier whether it is man made or nature made, all are battle casualties, we should ask for an explanation from him for having written highly objectionable article without verifying facts and figures

Jai said...

I once commanded a company position in Kargil where my forward-most post was just 50m from the Pak post opposite. An Inscription on a rock there said it all : "The line between courage and fool-hardiness is faint but fatal"

Every courageous act which fails to achieve the aim can be branded as fool-hardy by those who have never been in and do not understand combat and every fool-hardy act which meets with success can be an act of bravery

Akhil said...

I FEEL SAD FOR THE YOUNG CHILD ,AND WIFE OF LT.COL NIRANJAN.
PRESS SHOULD REFRAIN FROM COMMING TO CONCLUSIONS ON MILITARY OPERATIONS.AS THEY DONT KNOW THE
ORDERS GIVEN BY HIGHER UPS.
ALL CI OPS SHOULD BE TREATED AS WAR LIKE SITUATIONS.NO COURT OF ENQUIRES.NO POSTMARTEMS BY
PRESS /CIVILIANS.
THERE WAS A CORE COMMANDER WHO WENT ON TO BECOME CHIEF , WHO HAS GIVEN TEN COMMANDMENTS.
IS IT POSSIBLE IN CI OPS.
WHY BLAME PRESS , WHEN OUR OWN BOSSES DONT STAND WITH US.
NOW IT IS TIME WE CHANGE ARMY MOTTO ,TO MEN FIRST ,NATION NEXT ,SELF AND DONT CARE FOR ENEMY.