A moving set of videos by a BSF soldier, highlighting pathetic working conditions of jawans in hostile border areas, poor food quality and corruption of higher authorities, has gone viral on social media, triggering widespread outrage. At a time when terrorists from across the border have been striking with a chilling regularity, the revelations by constable Tej Bahadur Yadav of the 29th battalion deployed along the Indo-Pakistan border in Jammu & Kashmir should serve as a wake-up call. What is particularly worrying is the allegation that the ration supplies were being siphoned off by corrupt officers and the jawans were sometimes forced to go to bed with empty stomach. The videos show how the guardians of borders work overtime under poor conditions and get sub-standard food and ill-treatment from top brass in return. Understandably, the videos set off angry reactions with the social media users castigating government for its callous attitude towards soldiers, who risk their lives to secure our borders. While Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s prompt response promising immediate action is welcome, what is needed is a thorough and impartial investigation into the plight of jawans and fixing responsibility for lapses.
It is a flawed notion that the leadership of the armed forces should be above public scrutiny so as not to demoralise them. There is a tendency to silence any criticism of the functioning of security forces by invoking patriotism. But, in a mature democracy, all wings are answerable to people and should function in a transparent and responsive manner. A starving soldier and an avaricious officer certainly don’t serve the cause of patriotism. While appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to probe their plight, the BSF soldier has expressed fear that he might be harmed for exposing the truth. The BSF statement, dubbing Yadav as a habitual offender of absenteeism and chronic alcoholic and warning of disciplinary action, does not help in addressing the serious issues raised by him. Only an independent and impartial inquiry will ferret out the facts. Even if the charge against the soldier is true, there are standard procedures of counselling to discipline him, without ignoring the red flags he has raised. No attempt should be made to cover-up lapses and punish the whistleblower, if he is found to be one. Any government that takes pride in the valour and sacrifices of the armed forces must be prepared for an honest introspection of the working conditions of the foot soldiers, who brave enemy’s bullets every day to keep the country safe. A recent report by the Army had pointed out at least 50 gaps, ranging from body armour, night-vision gear to flawed fuel storage, that pose threat to soldiers’ lives. These lacunae must be addressed urgently to improve their living conditions.