Military Matters

Welfare of ‘thanedar’, not just soldier

How a visit to a village underscored the need of teaching soldiers not to misuse their soldierly status

Welfare of ‘thanedar’, not just soldier

Photo for representation only. - File photo

Col KT Udupa (Retd)

FOR officers of India’s armed forces, the honour, welfare and comfort of the men they command come next only to the safety, honour and welfare of the country. ‘Welfare’, as taught in military academies, involves those duties of a leader that keep the minds of his men free from personal worries, keeping them in the right frame of mind to carry out assigned tasks efficiently. During my early days in service, a soldier reported a land dispute in his village. His parents had been harassed by neighbours. Old-timers advised me that this was a routine problem. Anti-social elements would take advantage of the absence of the soldier, the bread-winner, and create law and order situations.

The standard procedure was to send a letter to the police authorities of the soldier’s home district. I went through a thick file, ‘Welfare of Serving Soldier’, which had copies of letters to police authorities. These were all in the same style, with just the name of the soldier and his particulars changed. There were but a few responses. After quizzing the aggrieved soldier in detail, I prepared a comprehensive letter, listing his allegations against the neighbours. In the end, I added that it was the soldier’s version based on inputs from his relatives and requested the authorities to carry out an unbiased investigation.

The clerk, on seeing the long letter, was aghast, “Sir, this is a routine matter. Why spend so much time on this? Nobody will bother at the other end.” I insisted that he type it out without any mistakes. A few weeks later, he was all smiles as he handed me a response from the police, who had written to inform us that they had carried out inquiries, found partial merit in our complaint and had acted upon it in an appropriate manner.

A few years later, I moved to a unit in Delhi. A jawan there complained about land-related problems in his village. During discussions with my boss, it was decided that since his village was barely 75 km from Delhi, instead of a letter, it would be better to personally visit the police authorities. The jawan seemed reluctant and requested that a visit was not necessary; a strongly-worded letter would be enough. It was brushed aside and one afternoon, off I went with him to his village, highly enthused with the spirit of soldier welfare.

The police station in charge was in an adjacent playground with 50 persons sitting in an orderly manner in front of him. He received me warmly and heard me out. He replied, “Thanks Captain Sahab for taking the trouble to come here. This place has many armed forces personnel and we are besieged with letters from your units, all with the same heading, ‘Welfare of Serving Soldier’. All these people are here with letters from their relatives’ units.”

Pointing towards one specific row, he continued, “See this line here? They have many letters against your soldier. I am glad you came here personally.” Then, in rustic Haryanvi, accompanied by laughter, he added, “For the first time today, it is ‘Welfare of serving thanedar’.”

By this time, our chief protagonist was missing. He was found sitting in our jeep, trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible. The thanedar took me aside and said, “Sir, your chap is a major trouble-maker. He threatens everyone that he knows many Generals personally and will have all of us fixed.”

Anyway, since both the warring parties were present, we were able to get to the root of the matter and broker truce. Our return trip was in complete silence as I mentally listed out the many lessons I had learnt that day, the most important being — here onwards, for me, welfare would also mean teaching my soldiers not to ever misuse their soldierly status.

Tribune Shorts


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