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August 31, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Rajeev Srinivasan

Some Mother's Son: Bring on the draft

It is a chilling litany: the lists of people in India's armed forces who are killed every day in the course of counter-insurgency operations. On a random day, five Border Security Force soldiers killed in Nagaland; 11 from the Rashtriya Rifles in Jammu and Kashmir; a brigadier and a lieutenant-colonel blown up by a land-mine, also in J&K. And unlike those who perished in the killing fields of Kargil, there is no martyr's welcome when their personal effects make their last journeys to some impoverished village somewhere in the heartland.

They become mere statistics, these brave men who gave their lives, often after nasty, brutish and short tenures in these zones of low-intensity conflict. No eulogies in the 'progressive', 'secular' media, even though these men are truly secular, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians, all dying for the country -- it appears bullets are unaware of religion. No tear-jerking stories. I know, and you know, the reason why: they were not 'people like us'.

They were not hip, urban, globalised Indians, products of good schools and universities. They were generally peasants at the soldier level, the sons of farmers from some interior village. They are the poor, those without clout, those who are literally cannon fodder. Nobody misses them. Of course it is true that there are officers who are 'people like us'. But by and large, the Indian armed forces are not the way to money, power and fame, unlike in other countries we could name.

Secondly, the officer corps are now finding it difficult to attract people, so they have taken to advertising for a 'few good men' somewhat plaintively just as their US counterparts do; in this case, emphasising the good life officers lead, with evocative photos of them playing polo, dancing with beautiful women at formal balls and so forth.

There is a third factor -- Indians are notoriously prone to badmouthing their country. There is little pride in being Indian; everyone in the middle classes wishes to escape to the promised lands as soon as possible. This is partly because we all live in a highly artificial neo-Macaulayite environment: Enid Blyton, Biggles, Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, Mills and Boon, Baywatch, Friends, Allie McBeal fill our imaginations, not the palpable reality of India.

There is one way to sort of fix all three of these problems at one go: create a draft, compulsory military service for young men (and perhaps women) after they finish college. I suspect that if socialite evenings in Delhi are taken up with worries about whether their offspring will make it through the day, the Jammu and Kashmir problem and the Northeast problem will be solved in approximately one week. NIMBY, as they say, Not In My Back Yard.

Each of our fat-cat politicians will suddenly have an epiphany that the soldiers who perish with such monotonous regularity are each of them Some Mother's Son, as in the 1996 film about Northern Ireland. Some mother grieves for each sepoy who falls to a hail of terrorist bullets; for each grunt blown up by an improvised explosive device.

The idea of a draft would not be very popular at all, I am sure. What I am proposing is that every 21-year-old who graduates from college be required to participate in active military duty for two years. This is the sort of thing that the Singaporeans do; and the Israelis do. The Americans used to do this in the days of Vietnam.

What I understand from the Israelis and the Singaporeans is that the draft helps them get a new perspective on their nation and what they individually owe to it. Yes, they spend a few years of their youth in the discomfort of the barracks, but what they get in return is invaluable. Discipline. The ability to sacrifice for the greater good of the community. Self-respect. All very important for India too, if only we could inculcate these things in our youth.

Surely, the well-connected will subvert a draft so that their brood are spared the prospect of ending up as hamburger in some remote alleyway. Let us acknowledge this up front and set up a purely economic mechanism. What is the price you wish to pay to avoid military service? What is the value of your child's life? How does $100,000 sound, which you may donate directly to the armed forces to get an exemption? No other ways to get around it, disabilities don't count, nor does conscientious-objector status.

You could send your child abroad for college, to avoid the after-college draft. Well, it will cost the same $100,000 for a four-degree at an Ivy League college in the US. So that is the price you pay, regardless. If you choose to send your child abroad, that is fine; that is another seat open at an IIT or an REC. Maybe the country can choose to sell that seat to a foreigner for $100,000?

This may sound crass and mercenary, bargaining to avoid the possible death of one's child. But then, consider that we are doing this already. We are getting away by 'hiring' the poor to do the dying; but we don't dip into our pockets to pay a 'salary' for them. The draft and the exemption scheme capture the actual 'salary' we the clever middle-class have avoided paying by craftily getting the taxpayer to subsidise it 100 per cent for us.

Being economically rational beings, the urban middle classes will react. There are two ways out: either cough up the full social cost that bad political decisions impose; or reduce the risk of mayhem to their brood by reducing the risk of terrorism. If they choose the latter, we will see a steely resolve by the nation to stand up and break the back of state-sponsored terrorism. It is no longer theoretical.


Dear readers, thank you for the overwhelmingly positive response to my previous column "Hindu pilgrims massacred". Several hundred emails came in, and I obviously cannot reply to them all individually. A number of readers asked me to publish my columns in the mainstream Indian print media. Well, I have tried, but they won't print my stuff, as I am not a 'secular progressive'. I tell painful truths, which they would rather ignore.

Several people asked me to lead or take part in movements or organisations that are working hard to arouse the world's conscience regarding the mistreatment of Hindus. I am delighted to see so much action, and I will give my full moral support. In general, though, I am a polemicist, a pamphleteer, rather than one who takes an active role in organisations.

Several Christian Indian readers wrote suggesting there was a qualitative difference between the murders of the Hindu pilgrims and the attacks on Christians. Their refrain -- startlingly uniform considering these people were from many parts of the world -- was that the former was an attack on Indians by foreigners and the second was by Indians on Indians. (Film-buff readers will forgive me if I am reminded of "lithe and fierce like a tiger" from Costa-Gavras' Z.)

I disagree -- there is no difference. For one thing, I only talked about Graham Staines. He was no Indian, but a white Australian. Secondly, it is clear now that most attacks on Christian Indians were executed by the Muslim sect Deendar Anjuman with funding from Pakistan. Therefore this is an attack on Indians by foreigners, just as at Amarnath it was an attack on Indians by foreigners. Third, the Hindu pilgrims and Staines were both deliberately targeted on account of their religion.

Dear readers, do not buy into the easy 'secular progressive' lie that some 'Hindu fundamentalist' group is running around attacking Christian Indians. If this were indeed the case, the consequences for Christians would have been far more grave. The same 'secular progressives' became extremely quiet as soon as it turned out that there is evidence it is Pakistan-funded Muslims attacking Christians with the intent of causing communal disturbances. (Yes, that is evidence, not 'evidence' as's own story had it.) It is clear that for Nehruvians 'secular progressive' means 'apologist for mischief by Christians, Muslims and Marxists'.

By the way, have you ever wondered why we say 'Indian Muslims' and 'Indian Christians', but 'Hindu Indians'? Nobody other than me says 'Muslim Indians' or 'Christian Indians': it sounds a little odd. The truth of the matter is, we expect Muslims and Christians to have primarily a Muslim or Christian identity, and only incidentally hold an Indian passport. But we don't say 'Indian Hindus': we say 'Hindu Indians', because we expect Hindus to be Indians primarily and Hindus incidentally. The very terms expose our biases and expectations. And perhaps the truth?

A few readers asked why I only blamed Nehru, who is after all, dead and gone. I must quote Shakespeare: "The evil that men do lives on after them." It is also true, alas, that the BJP bunch don't seem any more competent at dealing with our two evil neighbors. Are we just dumb? Are we a tired and defeated civilization? I don't think so, but I wonder. Sooner or later, the baleful Nehruvian influence will disappear, and we will move forward.

For those who thought that I was a bit extreme in suggesting there was apartheid in India against Hindus, consider the following. Hindu pilgrims get massacred in Amarnath, but the Indian government spends Rs 1.2 billion in subsidising the Haj pilgrimage. "India is perhaps the only country that provides subsidy for Haj Pilgrimage", said the report, from Yahoo/India Abroad. It continues, saying that India sent 112,000 pilgrims last year, second only to Indonesia's 155,000.

Reader Balwant, among one or two others, was upset at what I thought of Nehru. They are entitled to their opinion. But let me quote Swapan Dasgupta in India Today: "Nirad Chaudhuri thought it epitomized the Allahabad brahmin's instinctive approval for anything Islamic and, hence, 'cultured'." This concerns the arbitrary anointing of the so-called Nehru jacket and tight trousers as the 'national dress of India', when it is anything but: there are very many ethnic costumes in India. But it points to a fatal flaw in Nehru's character: he worked with a simplistic "Muslim = good, Hindu = bad" formula. He was wrong.

Rajeev Srinivasan

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