From the time immemorial men have willingly taken up the role of saviors. When history demanded, they lined up for the supreme sacrifice without weighing dangers. They give up everything they possess for the call of duty to their motherland, they get praises as martyrs, in the modern world they get medals as well. But are they really respected in our kind of world? Are they respected by the governments, are these sacrifices valued by the countrymen? Is giving a medal, offerings garlands on their coffins by the leaders’ of the nation any symbol of respect for them? The book by Praveen Kumar Teotia raises so many different questions that we find difficult to answer.
I remember that way back in 2013-’14 my next-door neighbour in my Hyderabad house told me that he entered The Taj first as a commando of the Indian Navy, and his name was Praveen Teotia. He looked like a very ordinary person and not like a MARCOS (honestly, I realize today that I am not sure what to look for in a MARCOS); so, when he told me that he had broken rib and injuries in his body, I didn’t quite believe him. Maybe I was not confident about my luck of meeting a MARCOS ever in my uneventful life and hence I didn’t believe him. And here comes the book by him telling his story of The TAJ operation in the night of 26th November, 2008.
The lives of commandos, spies, soldiers, fight pilots inspire youngsters a lot without having the full knowledge of what it takes to be one. When Abhinandan Vartaman had a heroic return from Pakistan after being caught there after an air-strike in that country, many youngsters were interested to become Abhinandan. It is this male spirit of taking up the daunting tasks and in the process even laying one’s life for the safety of one’s country, keeps us safe, gives us peaceful sleep at night. We enjoy our freedom at the expense of someone else’s life. Are we as the civil society really truly appreciate this sacrifice of men in uniform? Does the tear we shed on TV debates, the activism we do on social media about nationalism really transpire in us respecting them in real life? Or is our love and respect for our soldiers only restricted to social media?
After reading the book, I feel it’s the latter.
The book gives a first-hand account of the initial fight that took place in The Taj on 26/11 2008 between Indian Commandos and the terrorists. But the discussion of that combat part is very limited. The rest of the book exposes the lacunae that existed in the different areas related to the Armed forces during the Congress led UPA regime in India before 2014. The book describes the serious misandry that led to a severe apathy towards our soldiers even in the forces and in the government.
After the Taj attack, when we heard some UPA leaders commenting on the national media that ‘soldiers are paid to die’, we know how much we hated our men in uniform. Comments like this confirmed the deep-rooted misandry in our leaders, misandry that has taken the sacrifice of men for granted. Even though we found in those days that most of the civil society protested against that comment and shamed the Congress leaders for that; even though we hoped that at least the civil society valued their soldiers’ lives – the book proves us wrong by narrating a specific incident that Mr. Praveen had experienced in his life.
As the first Commando to enter the battleground that night, Mr Praveen was seriously wounded with deadly bullet injuries from AK 47 assault rifle. He survived and after his treatment in an Army hospital when he was finally released, he was still with several sharpnels inside his body, with broken ribs and with his lungs and heart in dangerous life-threatening condition. But further surgery was not possible as that would have endangered his life even more. So, he was released from the hospital without those wounds not healing completely.
After getting released from the hospital he had to travel to Delhi by Rajdhani Express from Mumbai but could only manage to get a wait-listed ticket. His uncle, who was also in Navy accompanied him to the railway station, had to literally plea to the TTE to allow him on-board the train. But even when the soldier was allowed inside, the TTE could not allot him a berth. So, his uncle again had to plea to the people in the train if someone could share their berth with him.
It was after a lot of pleadings and telling the long story of his courage in the Taj hotel fight, an NRI family that had multiple berths booked for them, offered him one berth. But before that they had go to different compartments telling the story and pleading for a berth. This is how this society treated a brave heart soldier in 2008.
This story indeed exposes the kind of apathy we have for our soldiers. Even simple sacrifice from women is highly noted, appreciated and cared for but not the extreme sacrifice of men. It is this misandry that forces the political leaders to comment that ‘soldiers are paid to die’. A comment so demeaning to one ready to put down one’s life for one’s country, that it should lower heads of all countrymen in shame. But today it doesn’t. The patriotism we display seems to be confined only in political debates on media.
But was it the only incident showing male hatred in our society? What about the behaviour of his own commando unit, when his chief didn’t send anyone to the hospital to take him back to the unit? What about the ill treatment he received from his superior during the daily parade when he returned there after getting cured to some extent but when he was still having danger to his life? He was not given simple tasks but was mocked at by his PT instructor. Why was simple humane courtesy not shown by his unit? All these incidents show that we don’t even extend basic humane treatment to our men in uniform but we expect them to continue to die for us. How shameful!!
The problem of abandoning our soldiers to die is even deeper. Even though these are definitely much needed examples for this society to learn, there are even deadlier ways our social and political apathy endangers the lives of our soldiers. It’s at a national level, it’s at an institutional level, it’s at the level of our defence purchases.
The MARCOS team that was sent to the operation in The Taj that night was not given quality helmets, they were provided substandard quality bullet proof jackets and there were not enough radio sets given to them for communication. It shows clearly how misandry has impacted our political ranks during the Congress led UPA era. And this misandry could cost us our independence. Silently, our soldiers were dying at the hands of our government and some political leaders were busy minting money in the name of defence purchases. We find a silver lining when we see that after the UPA regime was over and the new BJP led NDA government took over at the center, they made quality defence purchases as mentioned in the book.
The book exposes how men’s life is taken for granted. They are everyday forced to die undignified death. The respect we show to our armed men on national debates do not transpire in our daily lives and that is a shame. The book exposes the deep rooted misandry we have at different level in our society and the reforms we need to bring dignity to our uniformed men. The irresponsible reporting by a section of Indian media during the TAJ attack, the irresponsible comments made by our leaders, the irresponsible behaviour by the Army officers to their colleagues returning from deathbed, the insensitive behaviour by the public in Rajdhani Express and moreover procuring substandard ammunition for our soldiers – all are part of the dark reality of a misandric society. We have taken the lives of our men very lightly. We have taken our men’s life for granted. We have become ready to kill our own men even before the enemy kills them. If a society becomes such a great enemy for its own soldiers, why do we need enemies at all?
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