It has been almost a year since Mumbai was attacked by 10 terrorists who tore through our lives and ravaged us. For most citizens of Mumbai, that attack was possibly the closest they ever came to confronting the dangers and the violence that men in uniform have to tackle every day. These are sons who come from remote villages, brothers who choose hard careers and fathers who don’t see their children 10 months in a year—in a good year.
My thoughts go back to 27 November, the second day of the attack, when National Security Guard commandos stormed into the Taj and Oberoi hotels. Like every Indian watching that scene, my heart swelled with pride. When India sent its best to take out the worst that our enemies could throw at us.
When I learnt what those commandos had to face and how they opened at least 500 rooms, fighting non-stop for 72 hours with no food or water, and neutralized every single one of the terrorists, without a single collateral damage—a feat that is unparalleled in counter-terrorist operations—I was proud to belong to the same country whose badge those soldiers wore on their uniforms. The deafening cheer of the crowds that saw them returning after the mission told me that I was not alone in that raw emotion of pride.
This is not just about the NSG though. It is about our forces battling in Jammu and Kashmir, in the North-East, in the searing deserts and freezing mountains. It is about troops who rush to the rescue during natural calamities, who make it possible to hold elections in midst of floods and Naxal violence. It is about young majors who leave behind widows and toddlers. It is about police constables who hold a blazing AK-47 barrel in their bare hands so that we can sleep well.
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Most people would not do that job for a million dollars. They do it for a lot less. So one year later, what have we done to reinforce support, admiration and gratitude to our troops in uniform? How have we shown that we are proud of them and wish that they will always be victorious? Sure, we could contribute to the funds raised for those who died and we have. We could watch a few programmes about cricketers visiting those troops and we have.
But a year later, we must realize that national security is no longer an issue we can be non-participative about. We need to put our skin into the game and prove beyond doubt that we stand behind our troops every inch of the way, just like they have stood between us and our enemies.
Many years ago, a general narrated this telling story about the Indian Peace-Keeping Force’s (IPKF) induction into Sri Lanka. The initial days of the mobilization were hurried and massive number of troops were being pushed in with minimal logistics. Soldiers were tasked to be prepared for combat on landing and carried several days of cooked meals on person. They were burdened with heavy equipment as they trudged towards the transport aircraft.
During one such occasion at Thiruvananthapuram airport, a plane’s back blast caught a soldier off guard and his rucksack blew open, strewing its contents all over the tarmac. The soldier ran one way and the other trying to collect his belongings, food packets and letters from home. Since Thiruvananthapuram was a civilian airport, there was a crowd of onlookers who were amused by this soldier’s frantic dashes and couldn’t control their laughter.
And it was at that precise point that the general realized that IPKF was doomed to fail. Any country that sends its soldiers into combat without its solid reaffirmation behind them is bound to fail.
A couple of years ago, I was on a flight in the US, when the air hostess announced that two US army personnel were returning from their tour of duty in Iraq.
The entire aircraft, without exception, gave them a standing ovation which didn’t stop for several minutes and until most passengers had personally thanked the two overwhelmed soldiers.
That is a fundamental requisite of combat. Soldiers don’t draw their strength and morale from equipment or resources. They draw it from the society and the community they help protect. And the kind of support which the society commits when one of their warriors falls in the line of duty. This is why soldiers place their lives on the line. And if we have to avoid the epitaph of a soft state, this is the psyche we need to cultivate as a nation. However, we cannot think our way into doing new things; instead, we need to do our way into a new way of thinking. So what can we do to support our troops? Surprisingly, quite a lot with little effort.
One of the areas that the Armed Forces struggle with is resettlement of ex-servicemen into the mainstream. Officers and men who are barely into their late 30s need help. It is not about sops or reservations; instead, they need skills to translate military competencies into corporate ones.
Indian Institutes of Management and several premier business schools run short MBA programmes for officers who are leaving the forces. As corporates and individuals, we owe it to them to volunteer as faculty. Corporates could conduct similar programmes for ex-servicemen within their premises. They could simply decide to hire a fixed percentage from retiring soldiers.
Non-governmental organizations could fix a certain percentage of their vacancies for children orphaned during operations, individuals could adopt the responsibility of assisting a widow or siblings in skilling and finding a job. Companies could encourage their CSR programme to be oriented towards the forces. They could also encourage their employees to consider stints as short service officers or join the territorial army or the civil defence. In other countries, companies and private citizens adopt battalions or individual soldiers and help them through their careers and thereafter. Frankly, it is not about the monetary assistance, though that helps. It is about saying thank you for laying down your today for our tomorrow.
The need of public support for our forces is a pressing one. The heartening news is that most people and companies do want to help but don’t know where to begin. If you are one of them or someone who has ideas or resources to contribute, please write into http://crosshairsmint.blogspot.com
Raghu Raman is chief executive of corporate risk consulting firm Mahindra Special Services Group that advises companies and organizations on threat assessments and risk mitigation strategies. Respond to this fortnightly column at firstname.lastname@example.org