Writer’s block Society

Border issues

It is difficult to say whether Constable Tej Bahadur Yadav was being foolish or brave when he posted those videos about the supposedly terrible food that the Border Security Force serves its men, but one thing can be said about him with certainty: he has a bright future in either movies or politics, considering that he knows how exactly to conduct himself in front of the camera.

With three short clips — the longest, about 2.30 minutes long, earned some 10 million views — that he posted on his Facebook page, this rustic sentry from Haryana single-handedly did what even the Opposition parties are no longer capable of: shaking the government and stirring the nation. He is today a hero, even though what he did was an act of gross indiscipline: (to transliterate a saying in Hindi) drilling holes in the very plate that served him food.

Whether there is any merit in his allegations — that the food was terrible because senior officers sold off most of the raw material to civilians — is under investigation, but his videos interested me immensely, because over the past two years, I have been visiting border areas in Punjab and in the states surrounding Bangladesh, and therefore have some idea how the BSF functions.

I have had lunch at border outposts (BOP, in BSF lingo) — the food will remind you of your mother’s cooking — and spent time at observation posts, or OPs, wondering how the men (and sometimes women) manage to stand there for 12 hours a day, six hours at a time, rain or shine.

It is often said that people sleep peacefully at night only because the army keeps awake guarding the frontiers. That is not entirely true. The army too sleeps at night, at least on the borders with Bangladesh — and also Pakistan, which has been at war with India on four occasions. Except for the Line of Control in Kashmir, which is guarded jointly by the army and the BSF, the remaining boundary line with Pakistan — in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat — is defended by the BSF. And unlike army men, who get posted to comfortable locations after serving on the frontier for a couple of years, a BSF man, throughout his career, serves in locations where the weather can be harsh and the terrain hostile, where there are no cinemas or malls or restaurants but only villages and sometimes nothing. No one understands remoteness better than a BSF sentry.

And yet, in spite of having been trained to be the first line of defence, the BSF, raised in 1965, remains a police force, governed by the home ministry. Unlike an officer in the army — or the air force or navy — who can always dream of becoming the chief someday, a BSF officer cannot harbour such an ambition. As per rule, the top boss of the BSF must be a senior officer from the Indian Police Service, and such an officer, until he is assigned the role — invariably towards the fag end of his career — usually has no idea about life on the border, leave alone the experience of policing the border.

That’s not all. BSF personnel who joined service after 2004 are not entitled to pension. Therefore, the complaint about pathetic food, if at all valid, is just the tip of the iceberg. Resentment runs deeper in the force, and it is about not being treated on par with the army — in spite of them being trained as soldiers and not policemen. If you don’t hear them complaining, that’s because when you are in uniform, you don’t air your grievances in public — certainly not on Facebook.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 7:23:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/Border-issues/article17034792.ece

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