Two kinds of people die at regular intervals in Kashmir – soldiers and militants. The militants are driven by hatred fed by religion, with no other aim than to destroy, kill, and maim. The soldiers are driven by the duty to their profession of arms – to protect, to nurture, to grow.
The soldiers fight for us, so that a billion plus of us may live in freedom; yes, in the freedom to call soldiers asses too. Soldiers who come from families like ours; who hold the same fears, the same hopes, the same ambitions for their children, as the rest of us; who want a share of the same pie that the rest of us share. But they pay an enormously higher price to hope for the same outcomes in their lives as the rest of us.
The soldier mounts a vigil at minus 60 degrees, finger on a trigger lightly, because his thick gloves won’t allow a trigger guard, always mindful that he cannot be the reason for starting a battle and always hoping his rifle won’t jam if the battle does start. He crouches over a sonar screen 300 feet under the crushing force of the 10 atmospheres outside his submarine, hoping he won’t encounter a hostile ping and that his submarine will get him back home. He sits strapped inside a fighter cockpit in an underground blast pen, his brain revising a thousand procedures and protocols, his eyes flitting to the armament switches he will flick on when he needs to, hoping he won’t hear ‘scramble, scramble, scramble’ over the tannoy today and that his aircraft will stay with him all the way back, if it does. He’s human too. He wants to get back home. Eventually, at least.
He smiles when a politician says ‘of course they joined the Armed Forces to die’ and when another says ‘a trader takes more risks than a jawan’. He lets go with a quick clench of his fist when he reads of someone making money on the side, on a coffin meant for him.
Then, he hears they’re going to reduce the quota of cheap booze he used to get. And they want to shut down the golf course he could sometimes go to because it’s unauthorized for the Army to own golf courses. And that he won’t get pension the same way others will. And that his club can’t serve liquor anymore because the District Magistrate wasn’t given membership so he canceled the liquor license. That while he’s on leave, the judge at the civil court won’t decide his plea about his neighbour having encroached upon his village land.
But he soldiers on. Receiving nothing more for dying, than what he saved for himself. Yes, he did sign up to die, after all.