The way bodies of defence personnel who died in the recent IAF Mi-17 crash at Tawang were transported to base, reflects very badly on the ability of the forces to handle such situations in a dignified manner.
Apparently, body bags are not among the essentials that remote outposts stock themselves with. In places where the primary need is to survive, rations and other items required for seeing through each day are of greater value to soldiers than, of course, body bags.
At the same time, the fact cannot be ignored that in places where such emergencies are par for the course, the forces do not seem to be adequately prepared. When both the Air Chief and Army Chief claimed that their respective forces are capable of fighting enemy forces on two fronts simultaneously, their inciting words were perhaps meant to boost the morale of the forces and generate a false sense of security among the masses.
While praying for peace for the sake of all, it can only be said that time can tell how prepared India might be for a full-fledged war with China or for that matter Pakistan. However, pictures of the soldiers’ bodies wrapped in material from parachute canopies and covered with cardboard sheets bound together by paracord makes for a distressing and depressing sight.
There is also no gainsaying the fact that wars that the Air Force and Army chiefs have claimed India to be capable of fighting would offer far worse sights. In a country that is not at active war, such sights are not expected, as they provide an insight into the inefficiency and unpreparedness of the armed forces.
That is not to say that such representations of reality should not surface. It was only when a soldier who was posted on the border told the world through social media how bad the food served to personnel such as himself was, that some action followed. Sadly, action followed against the particular soldier too.
In the present instance, a specific need has surfaced and it must be addressed through remedial action. For a country that has gotten used to scams that range from urea to coffins, such a situation might create new opportunities for some. There was also no surprise when an ordnance factory shell made in India exploded within a Howitzer artillery gun and damaged it.
Worryingly, India is growing increasingly dependent on other countries for its day to day military needs. Even the Make in India dreams that people are being shown comes with riders. Companies such as Lockheed Martin have already stated that they are not willing to part with proprietary technology even when they ‘make in India’.
The Damodardas Modi government, having placed its pride at stake in the Make in India programme, Aadhaar linking and such may consider these developments mere trifles in its urgency to see its proposal succeed.
However, the instance of soldiers’ bodies being transported in an undignified manner is proof of the harsh realities facing the armed forces. While the BJP government makes it a (political) point to remind people of the sacrifices being made by soldiers at the drop of a hat, dignity for the dead (soldier) is a luxury.