How Soldiering is Perceived as a Profession
These days there is a lot of debate about the Armed Forces; their pay, privileges, perks, pension…... In light of this, it will be interesting to analyse as to how soldiering is perceived by Indians?
I retired over 28 years back and toady have the privilege of my son and two grandsons serving in the Indian Army. It is with much conviction and even more pride that I can say that soldiering is a matchless profession.
As every soldier would do, I start my quest with a prayer:
Deh Shiva bar moheihai, shubhkarman the kabhunataroo
Na darooarsiyoo jab jahlaroon, Nischaikarapni jeet karoo
O Lord grant me the boon that I may never deviate from doing a good deed.
That I shall not fear when I go into combat. And with determination I will be victorious.
These are verses from the ‘ChandiCharitra’, a heroic poetic composition in the ‘DasamGranth’ by the Sikh Guru Gobind Singh who wrote this chapter to inspire the common man to rise against the tyrannical rule and become soldiers of the faith. The mood is essentially audacious, valiant and fearless. Soldiering indeed has always had the divine approval in India with great emphasis on righteousness and sacrifice.
In Hindu scriptures, soldiering is considered to be a noble profession that safeguards victory of good over evil. While martyrs inspire awe, scriptures seek from a soldier a resolute desire for victory.
The Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, Verse 37 states:
O son of Kuntī, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom.
Therefore, get up with determination and fight”.
The Hindu science of warfare values both niti and shaurya i.e. ethical principles and valor. It resolves that waging of war without regard to moral standards degrades the endeavor into mere animal ferocity. The traditional rules of warfighting were therefore very stringent; the Rig Veda sets down the following rules of war, with a caveat that an erring warrior will go to hell:
• Do not poison the tip of your arrow,
• Do not attack the sick or old,
• Do not attack a child or a woman,
• Do not attack from behind.
Warring sides were ordained at sunset to rest, tend to wounded and dead and clear the battlefield for the next day.
Not too far back in history Bhai Kanhaiya, a Sikh of Guru Tegh Bahadur during battle of Anandpur Sahib in 1704, was seen carrying a mashak (a pouch of goat skin), to serve water to anyone who was thirsty. He did this service with love and affection without any discrimination between the Guru's soldiers and enemy. When reported upon to the Guru for his indulgence with enemy soldiers, he was questioned; Bhai Kanhaiya replied that “he saw no Sikh or enemy he only saw wounded humans in need”. So pleased was the Guru with his reply that he ordered “From now on, you should also put balm on the wounds of all who need it”.
More recently Indian Army soldiers gave a dignified burial to Pakistani soldiers killed during battle in Kargil. The army was left with the task of burying Pakistani soldiers since they refused to accept the bodies. Indian soldiers responded with exceptional grace and buried them with appropriate rites. Graves were dug in the hard rock of the mountains in high altitude and burial took place with the Indian Muslim soldiers reciting suras from the Quran; quality and virtuous soldiering has always been the Indian Soldier’s forte.
Mythologically all key Hindu Gods, including Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva often engage in war, either as Avtaars or in their true form. They use astra – celestial weapons with fearsome supernatural power; they are indeed ‘The Soldier Gods’. Indian Army Soldiers are deployed in the rarified atmosphere of the dizzy heights of Himalayas and Siachen Glacier to protect the nation’s sovereignty. They are at the peak of human resilience and endurance in this highest battlefield of the world. Professional mountain climbers ascent such heights only when the weather is at its best and with much preparations. These gritty soldiers stand firm the whole year around; their feat is no lesser than that of their revered ‘Soldier Gods’.
Historically, the importance of maintaining armies was realized very early in India. This gave rise to the Kshatriya or warrior caste for whom soldiering became svadharma or principal duty. The remaining society lived in awe of their sacrifices and enjoyed peace and tranquility that they ensured. Chivalry, heroism and compassion even in the grimmest of struggles were virtues expected of the soldiers of ancient India. Even today he epitomizes the spirit of living for the love of his country and dying to prove it; this has been established beyond doubt in wars fought at home including the ongoing low intensity conflict and overseas.
While soldiers and armies have been an inescapable part of civilization, much depends on how the society sees the Military; essential, or a burdensome expense. Their perception and need also changes with periods of external or internal threats and calamities at one end, to, peace and economic stability at the other.
Most modern societies have accepted the Military as necessary to discourage and deter other nations and non-state actors from interfering with their peaceful existence. Strong militaries indeed guaranty peace in a volatile and competitive world and their requirement is no longer questionable. Increasingly, economic strengths of nations are mirrored in their military capabilities e.g. China and America; military power undeniably fuels economic vitality and protects national and territorial interests.
Rani Lakshmi Bai is one of the most popular woman warriors in the Indian history. She was ordered to vacate the throne of Jhansi under the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ once her husband and Maharaja passed away. She contested the decision and fought against the British with a small army. She is symbolized as a warrior riding a horse with her toddler tied to her back. Women today have accepted the profession of soldiering in large numbers and thousands are joining up paving the way for others to follow.
Before becoming a soldier, he/she must take an oath which states that:
I,.............................. do swear in the name of God that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by the law established and that I will, as in duty bound, honesty and faithfully serve in the regular Army of the Union of India and go wherever ordered by land, sea or air, and that I will observe and obey all commands of the President of the Union of India and the commands of any officer set over me even to the peril of my life.
If considered in value terms of today’s materialistic society, the soldier signs a blank cheque on the first day as a soldier for a life in service of the nation upto and including his life. His contributions to the nation cannot be broken down to ‘Cost to Company’ financial terms. The ‘Jazba’ of this oath has been demonstrated innumerable times and is acknowledged and appreciated by all citizens who enjoy the fruits of his sacrifice. Numerous shrines and temples are devoted to soldiers in India to keep the spirit and inspiration of soldiering and sacrifice alive from generation to generation. Busts of soldiers are erected in villages and large gates built in their honour. Thousands join the funerals of martyrs to pay their last respects; they know and value their sacrifice.
Soldiering however requires hard work and courage. The Indian Army Soldier embodies the spirit of ‘tyagah’ or sacrifice which makes his profession the envy of all but difficult for the weak hearted to follow. Soldiering in India is indeed perceived as a noble profession with no parallels.
This faith in me regarding soldiering was strengthened when on 26 July, as the Chief, himself a second generation soldier released the book ‘Indo Pak Wars: 1948, 1965, 1971, Battles That Made History authored by my son, Maj Gen Harvijay Singh’. The aura and elan one expects from a professional soldier with Olive Green in his DNA was immediately evident.
Soldiering, for many, has a generational bond.