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