Seven of Us – The Other Side of the Armed Forces: Sanjeev Kumar

Guest Post by SANJEEV KUMAR

Seven of us in my family including me, along with 90% of the young men from my village, have tried to join the army at least once in our lives. Here I am using the term ‘army’ to include all armed forces and paramilitary forces.

Three members of my family succeeded and are now in the army along with around a hundred others from my village. More than two-thirds of them gave bribes of 1-2 lakh rupees, either by selling land or using family savings, to join the army. There are others who were cheated by dalals.  Hardly any of them would claim that they joined the army to serve the nation; rather, they joined the army to bring some relief to their starving families. Most of them teased and molested girls while travelling ticketless in trains to army recruitment centres in different parts of the country. Most of them including my brother, took 7-12 lakh rupees as dowry for marriage. Hardly any one of them wants their children to be in the army in preference to other civilian jobs.

My father also tried once to join the Indian army in the early 1980s but my grandfather hid his joining letter from him because my grandfather believed farming was better for him and for the family. Whenever they quarrelled in the early 2000s, I always heard my father blaming his father for the poverty of the family, because he did not allow him to join the army. It was around the same time that I first heard of anyone giving a bribe to join the army. It was my own uncle who was barely 5 to 7 years older than me, who  sold his agricultural land to pay 1 lakh rupees to a dalal as bribe through his mamaji who was also in the army. I also heard of two young boys in my village who had earlier given around 40000 rupees as bribe to join Bihar Police but lost all their money to a  dishonest agent. It was courageous of my uncle to risk his money even though the news of how two other village boys were cheated was fresh in the air. He had the courage to do that because his secondary dalal was his own mamaji. He had the courage to do that also because he had no other alternatives.

We used to call him Bhaiswa (buffalo) because he had good muscle strength but was a slow learner. Somehow he managed to complete his matriculation in 1999 in his second attempt and got work in a local bookstall in a nearby town at Rs 800 per month. Daily he used to travel up and down from his village to the town on his bicycle. His family was so poor that he got his first full-pant (trousers) when he was in Class 10. The 800 rupees brought him his second pair of full-pants.  But his two younger brothers continued to live on half-pants and sometimes used pants given by fellow villagers. His father used to take our cattle to graze and we used to give him milk-tea every day. When the family finally heard that now their son is in one of the paramilitary forces and will get around Rs 5000 as monthly salary, no one thought about the kind of everyday dangers he would face in future.  Instead his mother in gratitude to god for the job her son had got, promised to organise Chhatpuja and put Sevan Pataka of Hanuman Dwaja.

I was in Class 7 when I first proposed to join the army once I finished my matriculation. The reaction of my grandmother was, ‘I will hide your joining letter, as we did with your father, we cannot allow you to put your life in danger’. She died before the first salary of my uncle reached his family, before she could see the miracles his Rs 5000 monthly salary could produce. But my father and grandfather was still alive to see everything. Within a few years, we also contacted one of the dalals to give 1.5 lakh rupees as bribe to let my elder brother join the army. We did this twice but could not succeed in ensuring his entry into army. But because of my father’s influence we got our bribe money back both the times, though several other who also did the same were not fortunate enough to get their money back. My brother had tried to join the armed forces ever since he completed his intermediate exam, but he failed the physical exam every time. The bribe was to escape that physical fitness test while my uncle’s bribe was to escape the written exam, since he was a slow learner.

Today, their sons are in good schools and of course, neither wants his son in the armed forces except in the officer rank.

This story is not of two families but of all the families in my village. I cannot claim that this is the trend in all other villages, but I do know that in some other villages that I familiar with too, the situation is the same.

Sanjeev Kumar is with Jagriti Natya Manch

7 thoughts on “Seven of Us – The Other Side of the Armed Forces: Sanjeev Kumar

  1. homespunworld

    Timely piece and well said. My childhood friends are also in the armed forces not out of patriotism but to allevuate the financial conditions of their families. While the families are better off with the army salaries and perk, most of them are looking for the first opportunity to retire and take up a civilian job using the army background – forget their children, they themselves do not want to serve in the forces. I am talking about soldiers and NCOOs

  2. Reblogged this on Jagriti Natya Manch and commented:

    How many News Channels gave space in their newsroom to those member of Indian army or their parents who is at the lowest rank like sepoy? They are either of major, lieutenant or captain ranks. Why? Is it because they might starts talking about the poverty and hunger which forced them to join army? Or is it because they might starts talking about the kind corruption and humiliation that they faced within army? Or is it just because they can’t speak in English as fluently as the army officers or their parents can? On the behalf of three in my family and more than hundreds in my village who are in different wings of arm forces at the lowest rank, here I am trying to give some voice to the voiceless section of arm forces of India.
    The entire civil society and media is trying to look at Indian army as either rapist, murderer, evil etc. or as martyr, selfless, nationalist, novel, unquestionable etc. By doing this, we are refusing to accept Indian army as a heterogeneous category and thus falls into the trap of right wing ideologue to limit any narrative about Indian army in bipolar discourse. By successfully limiting the debate on Indian army to this bipolarity, the right wing ideologue succeeded in not allowing the other narrative about Indian army such as class, caste, communal or even gender aspect of Indian army. My article touches only class aspect of Indian army but it would be good if we tries to other aspects also.

  3. Subhash Mendhapurkar

    Very well written with full honesty- congrats. I know most the people join army out of desperation and it has nothing to do with love for nation – as Chtrapati Shivaji said ` Army does not fight on empty stomachs – they fight depending upon how regularly salaries are paid’. This reminds me a story of a woman scholar ( from Army family) from Pakistan – right from her childhood she heard the bravery and dedication for safety of nation of a community from Gujarat Pakistan and she decided to do her PhD to find out what are drivers for this community stand on the top amongst all other communities – to her utter dismay she found that nothing but poverty drives them to join army – if a family doesn’t get a man in Army, they are sure to die due to hunger.

    1. @Subhash Mendhapurkar, plz give full reference of that lady from pakistan and her work on army. If possible please share the link of any article or book that she might have written.

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