The common factor between terrorists who have struck in different parts of India over the years is obviously their Pakistani origin. But take a closer look. What else do we see? They have masqueraded as Indian soldiers, wearing combat fatigues worn by the Indian security forces! That is what they have worn to break into India, enter the venue or stop vehicles and waylay unsuspecting people who mistake them for soldiers of the Indian Army.
The combat uniform made of camouflage fabric is all over the place, available in all sizes. A jacket is available for about Rs 1,000 and a pair of trousers for half that price. In earlier days, other than soldiers, only boys under five or six wore readymade combat fatigues as a fancy costume. Also called disruptive pattern, it is meant to merge with deserts, jungles, mountains and normal terrain, and is not just used on fabrics but also the defence trucks, tankers, tents, etc. It is meant for concealing the soldier from enemy view. Now, however, it is a symbol of machoism in the civil world, a camouflage for terrorists and fashion for the rest. It is also money for many who sell the material and the readymades using that material despite periodic ban on their sale.
In border states , the local administration invariably and routinely renew an order banning these combat uniforms for those not authorised to wear them, under section 144 of the CrPC. Shopkeeprs are authorised to sell them only against personal details provided by soldiers, making a register of the buyers.
In spite of that, the violators at Pathankot recently, and at Dinanagar in the same district July last, possibly bought their combat uniforms a few miles before they struck at the air base and police station respectively. In the border district of Bhatinda in Punjab, hangers with combat pants and shirts and jacket dot both sides of many bazars.
Many district magistrates know they are not able to enforce the ban on their sale. A serving officer who took up this with the civil administration was bluntly told that it is difficult to enforce this in a democracy.
It is just a piece of fabric, chill, he said. Chilling it was when soldiers were gunned down as they tried to protect the precious assets at the Air Force Base in Pathankot early this month.
And even more chilling and sad to learn that much of the readymades using the camouflage outfits circulating in small towns in fact come straight from soldiers who were meant to wear them. They were ill-fitting or made of inferior stuff, colours bleeding or material falling limp at the first wash. It is cheaper for them to sell it off and buy good fabric from the private traders and have them tailored to a good fit, a shopkeeper said.