Army Culture: Of Buddies And Religion

Army Culture: Of Buddies And Religion

Author Unknown, shared By Major General Sanjay Kapoor VSM (retd), a Guest Contributor. He is Consultant, and Professor of Surgical Oncology.

When I was a first termer in NDA (not the political one; this is the far more prestigious National Defence Academy), I overheard two Drill Ustaad speaking to each other about the new Colonel Training of the academy. "Madrassi hai, pata nahi kya kya changes ho jayega training mei", one of them mumbled in a forlorn tone.

Being a South Indian myself, I wondered why this particular emphasis on the Officers’ regional base was to be discussed. I soon forgot about it, caught up with the hectic routine of the academy. One day, while being seated in the academy, I saw a smartly turned out Sikh Colonel striding on to the stage to address the cadets. I shot a quick question to my neighbour, "Who's he?" I got a response in return, "Colonel Training".

"No way, the Colonel Training is a Madrassi, not a Sikh officer," I said in all my dead sure and smug tone. "Yes, you fool. He is a Madrassi - he belongs to the Madras Regiment". My smugness made a quick exit and I learned a lesson that day. An officer's religion is that of his men. Period.

That day, and the 18 years that have followed, I saw not one reason to believe otherwise. Religious beliefs in the Army have fierce rooting. Men kill and die on the war cries of Gods and Goddesses. It is what keeps them bonded, glued and motivated. It is what makes them believe that they are being looked after. In this overall scheme of things, a leader's role is nothing less than the link between the deity and the man on the ground.

A 'Bihari' may well be a Coorgi from Karnataka and a 'JAT' may be a Mallu from Kerala. It is the Regiment that matters, not the origins. Terms like 'Pahadi', 'Pandit', 'Tambi' are terms that are used with pride and dignity, not otherwise.

Most common sights that one would encounter in a Fauzi religious ceremonies would be that of a Sikh/Muslim/Christian Commanding officer or Subedar major performing the regimental Hawan and Aarti on religious occasion; people of all faith come together in devotion under a common roof called Sarv Dharm Sthal; singing their hearts out in Aarti or Ardaas.

Not only that, but he was also a good professional soldier who knew his tasks on the Gun well and took a keen interest in Unit activities in addition to being a fantastic Boxer and sportsman. Every day with Javed was learning. He was a storehouse of knowledge. My Father coined the term ‘Hanuman’ for him. He was like that. No task was impossible and nothing was less than 100%.

He was part of the family. Need I mention that not once did it occur to us that as per the social norms, we were at two extreme ends of the spectrum? A South Indian Brahmin family and a North Indian Muslim. There simply is no place for religious biases or prejudices in the Indian Army.

There was an occasion when we were posted in Delhi and were allotted a spanking new flat as accommodation. I was tired of staying in the guestroom and was keen on shifting into the house immediately. My wife was then out of the station and not likely to get back any time sooner. Initially, Javed tried to delay the shifting by giving reasons that the house was being handed over slowly.

Thereafter he started giving flimsy reasons amounting to much more delay. When I finally confronted him on what was happening, he gave me a sheepish answer that we were waiting for the auspicious day to shift into the new house! My wife and Javed were in constant discussion on this so-called auspicious time. Eventually, it did happen and he completed the ritual by boiling milk in a new pot until it boiled over the sides to symbolize an abundance of prosperity and food to bless the new home as per the Hindu rituals. Only then was I allowed to set foot into the house!

Javed was with me through thick and thin. He was there when I picked up my little one in my arms; he was there when we had a marriage in the family and he was also there when we picked up the mortal remains of my Father and lit the funeral pyre when I was down and out. Religion cannot superimpose itself on humanity or the soldierly bonhomie.

Most common sights that one would encounter in a Fauzi religious ceremonies would be that of a Sikh/Muslim/Christian  Commanding officer or Subedar major performing the regimental Hawan and Aarti on religious occasion; people of all faith come together in devotion under a common roof called Sarv Dharm Sthal; singing their hearts out in Aarti or Ardaas.

These are not some special sights. These are some of the most common ones which do not even need a second glance or be mentioned especially since the fabric of the Indian Army is so interwoven with acceptance of all religions and beliefs. There is simply no room for bias or favouritism.

It is very important to follow religious practices and beliefs in the army. Simply because a Soldier needs to repose his faith in a Superior Being. It is that belief in the Almighty that assures him that no harm will come his or his Paltan's way. It is that hope which consoles him that even if something were to happen to him, his family will be taken care of.

And it is the same belief that gives him confidence of victory in the battle field, however impossible the odds are. It is essential that the hope and belief remain unadulterated and regular gatherings in the Sarv Dharm Sthal be organised to keep the flame of their faith burning. A notable dialogue of the Protagonist from the Hindi Movie 'PK' goes thus - "Till the time I believed in the existence of God, I had hope of finding my Remote. The day I concluded that there is no God, I lost my hope". Succinct and precise. 

An officer has a massive responsibility. As was evident in my earlier examples, dealing with a multitude of faiths and beliefs, it is a sensitive and delicate balance that has to be ensured. Years of peaceful coexistence preclude any undesirable situation from erupting but as an officer, this balance must be maintained at all costs.

The boat should not be rocked, least of all by an officer himself. I have realized that what works best for every individual is to keep their strong beliefs to themselves and not give them air. Each individual has the freedom to practice their religion but being part of an organization like the Armed forces, individual choices mustn't clutter the environment.

At no cost should personal preferences come in the way of discharging official responsibilities. If the men under us are different colours and flavours, we are the Blender. And on that note, Heave Ho!

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