In defence of the Uniform
People in the profession of journalism have various jobs to perform. They are expected to know everything happening around the world and even an attempt to explain that a reporter reports on his or her particular beat could be interpreted as means to cover up personal incompetence. Such professional hazards are greater when the reporter gets exposed to a community whose interaction with media is negligible.
In the older times, when the reader and listeners had limited access to the media, it was easier to hold ground and also one could manage to speak at length on subjects which may not be part of our beat. These, however, are difficult times with tremendous exposure to social media in particular. Everyone believes oneself to be a “know-all” and such people counter the stand which the media generally may have taken, not particularly the media person in question.
I went to a very prestigious military school – Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC) in Dehradun - and happen to be its only alumnus who made journalism his full-time profession. It has now been more than 25 years that I have been standing trial for the media taking adversarial position vis-à-vis the people in uniform. I have never grudged being put on trial year after year when I make the annual pilgrimage to my alma mater for the founder’s day and have tried to mitigate the misgiving about the media in my own small way.
I have enjoyed doing this for it is also for me a learning experience, to understand the perception people in that uniform hold about the media. This perception varies from person to person, and the criticism of media ranges from justifiable to utterly despicable. Last year when I wrote a Notebook about how the agitation for One Rank One Pension was going off tangent, some said it was a sponsored article. Now, there could be nothing more despicable for a journalist to be accused that he wrote a piece for which he was paid.
How does one tell them that rarely do people in the government, irrespective of the political party in power, ever bother to thank a journalist for a favourable article? However, in case of an adverse article, the complaints and phone calls come in plenty. Never mind, such criticisms should seldom ever bother a journalist. However, there are times when a sensitive pen-pusher finds the criticism justified.
No wonder this March I was pelted with questions about how the media could go to town with the claim that the Army went around raping women in Jammu and Kashmir. I tried explaining to them that it was not the media which made the allegation. It reported the charge levelled by Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar during the International Women’s Day celebration.
“But who has made an icon out of this no-good character, who has spent nine years on the campus doing nothing. JNU has some very cheap education available, delivered by some very “cheap” thinking teachers paid from the taxpayer’s hard-earned money,” said a greying former General, a view which echoed through the gathering.
“He, for that matter, all those who have an issue with the Indian Army’s presence in Jammu and Kashmir should do a week’s attachment, if not more, with an infantry battalion on the Line of Control, or a Rashtriya Rifles unit in the hinterland to understand who is the aggressor and who is maintaining restraint,” he added. I don’t think that there would any takers for this offer among the ilk of Kanhaiya Kumars, or for that matter even Nivedita Menons.
I, too, criticise the armed forces for several of their acts. But my close interactions with them have repeatedly reiterated the confidence that we are safe as long as the people in that uniform held their ground. Holding the ground doesn’t mean only repulsing the enemy on the border but to rise to the call of duty whenever and wherever the nation demands it. More importantly, they do it with a certain amount of pride in their profession and not just for the pay and perks.
If the likes of Kanhaiya Kumars and Nivedita Menons want evidence to this they should visit the campus of the RIMC on March 13 any year. At sharp 9 am in the morning the school’s alumni and their families, who visit the school on the said date for the Founder’s Day, join the school students at the beautiful Martyr’s Memorial in paying homage to those who made the supreme sacrifice to uphold the nation’s flag. Your reporter has been going to Dehradun religiously every year for past two decades to be part of this ceremony.
What added to the poignancy this year was the presence of two young widows, whose husbands fell while on duty. The younger one held her little son, born posthumously, lovingly in her arms. The second lady, also an officer in the Indian Air Force, saluted smartly as the last bugle was sounded. There was another young man in the crowd who came to pay homage to his step-father who had won Shaurya Chakra while laying down his life for the country. He was born of another officer whom his mother had married after the valiant officer’s death.
These are rare stories of valour and sacrifice, worth its value in gold, which one would never get to hear on a campus like the JNU. But the more visible JNU crowd should remember that they are there because of the large number of young men passing out of the National Defence Academy every six months, on whom, too, JNU bequeaths its degree.
(The author is President Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. Views expressed are strictly personal.)