I am not ideologically aligned. I am also not much enthused by the two extremes of the national and anti-national debate since the foundations of India can hardly be shaken by polarized views at both ends. I am not against human rights activists since checks and balances, arguments and counter arguments, make any system more robust. I am even not impressed by retired officers of the military shouting out loud about the ‘sacrifices’ of our uniformed personnel as if other professions have no role to play in the largest democracy. I would say that the milkman who rings your bell every morning is playing an equally important role.
But then, this piece by Kavita Krishnan with a shrill headline talking of ‘Systematic Sexual Violence by the Army’ still makes me queasy. And it is not a random write-up but a drop in a series of such propaganda.
Never the one to defend wrongdoing by uniformed men and women, even by my harsh standards, this tirade mainstreams stray incidents of the past. It broad-brushes an entire organization based on individual aberrations. Should it mean, and I asked this on social media, that tomorrow if a university professor is involved in a theft, we blast off with lines like “Systematic Theft by Teachers”. Or if a Chartered Accountant is involved in an economic offence, “Systematic Fraud by CAs”? No end to such senseless overstretching of logic! How loosely has the word ‘systematic’ been used, where is the data? Where is the empirical backup?
Strange also is the bogey raised time and again by some members of the intelligentsia that the Defence Services let off lightly their personnel accused of crimes. In fact, the opposite is true. Constitutional Courts have time and again reprimanded the Defence Services for awarding punishments that are disproportionate to the offence. We ourselves feel that at times charges are trumped up and exaggerated and a single offence broken up into multiple charges. We have, on the contrary, raised a voice that military law does not meet Constitutional or international norms under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights for separation of powers. And we say this since we find that though discipline is paramount for the forces, the basic judicial norms are hazy in the military leading sometimes to excessive punishment and a much higher incidence of conviction and punishment than normal rates, arguably in order to ‘set examples’. Military Justice hence needs to be rationalized, but not since it lets off people scot-free as is being wrongly propagated, but since, it, at times, results in harsher punishments than warranted.
Any person who has served in uniform, especially of the Defence Services and the Central Armed Police Forces, would be able to say with certainty that much of the officers’ time in operational areas is spent on sensitizing troops on dealing perceptively with the elderly, women and children. Not just in India, but almost in all democracies. Black sheep, just as they exist in our society, are bound to be found in the uniformed forces, being the extension of the same society.
My request to Ms Kavita Krishnan would plainly be not to scandalize the very delicate issue of crime against women. Such baseless headlining not only results in painting a wrong picture of our forces but also trivializes the very grave matter of sexual violence by giving it a backdrop of falsehood. The only thing systematic here is the careful surgical maligning of our forces in an irresponsible and unethical manner. Our forces are being projected as some ragtag militia from the middle ages.
But more than that, it demoralizes our men and women in uniform, who are serving in trying circumstances away from their families, but who, unlike Ms Krishnan, rather unlike all of us, do not have the luxury of effectively voicing their opinion or issuing rebuttals or writing opinion pieces and participating in debates. In fact, bound by service regulations, they have no voice at all, which makes them an extremely soft target.