OPINION: Do we, as a nation, really care for our soldiers?

Are authorities taking enough care to avoid letting soldiers lose their lives?

Col-Ashutosh-Sharma-Major-Anuj-Sood-Naik-Rajesh-Lance-Naik-Dinesh-SA-Qazi-Handware-Encounter-martyrs-PTI (Clockwise, from top-left) The five martyrs from the Handwara encounter: (Top row) Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh, (Bottom row) Lance Naik Dinesh, S.A. Qazi | PTI

The news that five men—Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, SM; Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh and Lance Naik Dinesh, all of the 21 Rashtriya Rifles Battalion, along with Inspector Qazi from the Jammu and Kashmir Police—were killed in an encounter while undertaking a counter-terrorist operation in Handwara sector of Jammu and Kashmir, was the brief insert in the newspaper early this morning.

While most military fraternity WhatsApp groups immediately started brief debates and expressed solidarity on the issue, the ‘might’ of the military, was busy with the planned tri-service extravaganza of the day’s flypast, dropping petals on hospitals, along with band displays and lighting up ships.

As a hardcore infantry soldier, even 15 years since my early retirement from the Indian Army, my heart aches for the families and units of our brave hearts who are killed in combat. While we as officers have gone through the portals of the Indian Military Academy and equivalent Alma Mater and pledged our service even at the peril of our lives for the defence of our country, yet I wonder if the nation really cares for such loyalty in diversity. To show their support toward the martyr’s family, the supposed protectors of the military express their condolences packaged in an oft-repeated standard formatted letter couriered through the Indian post.

Idiocies like "The Nation wants to know" are what we get to hear as the media competes to be the first to report (often before any official confirmation is received). Such first reports are often followed by media debates on incident reports with the so-called experts invited to sensationalize the issue. What is really missing in such varied projections is a sense of déjà vu amongst the media and in most cases amongst experts on these panel discussions programmed to increase the channel's TRP ratings.

The respected print media too fails to inform its readers about the sacrifice of soldiers using appropriate space in the newspapers. Are we really responsible and respectful citizens? Can the authority not ensure that some space, if not an entire page, be dedicated to carrying such obituaries and anecdotes related to the event?

While I am certain there will be some form of inquiry on the incident report, including questioning why the Commanding Officer was holed up in the target house and killed, yet I am also sure that the accountability factor of commanders up the channel will not be quizzed or questioned. Was it the pressure for quick results or was it just a lackadaisical approach to the operational hazards that deflected the question of accountability?

I would believe the latter because of an earlier equally-grievous recent happening under similar operational conditions and perhaps in the same sector. The martyrdom of the five brave hearts: Subedar Sanjiv Kumar, Hav Davendra Singh, Paratroopers Bal Krishan, Chharapal Singh and Amit Kumar from the ‘Elite Para Commando’ Battalion who were killed only a few weeks earlier.

My professional take on the subject is firstly the question of getting a highly specialized unit to undertake such a task, which did not require such specialized skills. Did we need a special unit to undertake the task to track supposed terrorists, based on information of footmarks spotted on fresh snow? I am confident such a task was well within the capability of the unit deployed in the area with the Special Forces being tasked to strike targets of strategic nature and perhaps deep inside enemy territory.

What is the outcome of such sacrifices? Do we as a nation really care for our soldiers? I think the long and short answer is that we do. We are expected to care and offer respect for every such incident and pray for the departed and the bereaved.

Even so, the question continues to irk my consciousness. As a colleague ‘once in uniform’, I appeal to the authorities who are presently in command of forces at various levels to speak up on issues which directly impact the morale of the armed forces, to be the change that we want to see. I also appeal to all media to be more responsible in their reporting and to show their commitment towards respecting martyrs and respecting their families.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK