A ‘fauji‘ is the Hindi or more accurately Urdu word for an Indian military man. Most Indians hold the fauji in high esteem. However, most of them steer clear from emulating the “impossible and impractical” virtues of a fauji, the biggest being: Service before self.
Last year in the month of June I did a piece on Armed Forces And The Indian Society. I had brought out that except for sporadic incidents, like the spat the soldiers recently had with their superiors in Leh; or General VK Singh, the 24th Chief of the Army Staff, trying to sort out the civil-military relationship balance through the curious instrument of his dates of birth, by and large, the Indian public holds its armed forces in great esteem. Many of our countrymen privately fantasize about the armed forces taking over the governance of the country and instil some discipline and accountability in our civic life.
However, in the same article I had brought out the increasing chasm between the civil society and the armed forces due to the decline of values in the former and due to an all time low having achieved in civil military relations (Please also read: ‘Admiral And Mantriji’) Therefore, after more than six decades of independence, we are in a curious state whence the politicians require the armed forces not just to deter and protect the nation from foreign aggression, but also to sort out the mess that they have made of the internal situation. The army lost its cutting edge by being sucked into insurgencies and law and order situations. Post 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the GoI in a contorted wisdom made the Indian Navy responsible for coastal security; thus making it one of the only leading navies in the world so charged. Surprisingly, whilst making the faujis responsible for things that should have been sorted out by good governance, the politicians and bureaucracy have relentlessly desisted from conceding even an inch to the armed forces in matters of governance.
In August this year, reacting to the killing of five Indian soldiers by the Pakistanis, Bhim Singh, a Minister in Bihar government, commented that people join armed forces to be martyred. Was this an apt description of the worth of the armed forces or faujis as seen by our netas? The sad part is that majority in our country would answer that question in the affirmative.
The life of a fauji is tough both in peace and during war and LIC. Anytime he/she can get killed. Even when alive a fauji, more often than not, lives the life of deprivation. So, how does the country honour him? No one wants to give him anything but all are vying to get something from him. The industry employs a highly skilled jawan (he becomes highly skilled because of years of discipline, training and technology that he is brought face to face with) as a security guard on abysmally low wages so as to exploit his inherent loyalty and integrity. For the bureaucrat, he is a headache since they have to think ways and means of denying what is due to him, eg, OROP or One Rank One Pay, Rank Pay and other allowances. As far as inter se protocols are concerned, a fauji has been deliberately pushed down the ladder far below the police and the bureaucracy.
Whilst the civilians fantasize about a military rule to end corruption and inefficiency everywhere, the military too fantasizes about war when the worth of the fauji is felt by the civilians. As the English poet Francis Quarles wrote in 1632:Our God and soldier we alike adore.Even at the brink of danger; not before;After deliverance, both alike requited.Our God’s forgotten, and our soldiers slighted
The society at large doesn’t comprehend the life of the fauji that is not visible to it, eg, on the border, at sea and when he is silently engaged in doing what he has pledged to do. However, it sees the fauji during parades, in the clubs and canteens and it appears to the civilians that the faujis are having a jolly good time in their pomp and glory.
Here is a light-hearted anecdote about the worth of a ‘fauji’. This is a thirty years old incident and hence indicates that it is not now that the rot has set in though now it is worsened considerably.
I was on temporary duty to Naval Headquarters from Mumbai where I was posted. I was a LtCdr then. I was going to stay in the SP Marg Officers Mess (at that time it was a common mess for Army and Navy officers; much before ‘jointmanship’ dictated that we have separate messes) (Read: ‘Anything But Jointmanship)
I alighted at the New Delhi Railway station having arrived there by fauji friendly Frontier Mail. (Read: Crossing Frontiers In The Frontier Mail)
Chugging my suitcase (no one had heard of trolleys at that time) I located an auto-rickshaw. Delhi auto-rickshaws were notorious for not going by the meter and for overcharging. So, I wanted to settle the fare with him before the journey.
“How much?” I asked the driver deliberately in Punjabi so that he would know I was from that part of the world and not easy to be deceived.
“Forty bucks” he too replied in Punjabi.
Now I knew that the fare would be only 25 bucks but considering the night-time, he could add another 5 bucks. But certainly 40 bucks was downright cheating.
I protested and haggled. But he won’t budge.
Finally, I told him that I was a fauji so that he would have a modicum of respect.
“Ah” he said joyously, “Then you just give me a bottle of rum.”
I had to give him all of Rupees forty since the bottle of rum (though much cheaper) had already been given by me to the TTE in the train for procuring reservation.
After joining the Indian Armed Forces, it doesn’t take a fauji much time to realise his true worth to the civilians and yet he continues to serve selflessly.
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