I am usually the last one to claim superiority of the military over other services. In fact, I have always maintained that officers serving the defence services and veterans should not be caustic about civil servants all the time, since it not only vitiates the working environment, but also reflects the shallow knowledge of the military community about other professions.
All public servants serve the same flag and contribute to nationhood in their own unique ways. Some directly, some indirectly.
Having said that, I found the tweets and letters by various civil service associations on the Bomdila incident a little odd. I say so because of several reasons.
Why the Comments of Some Civil Servants on Bomdila Row Are Odd
- First, because the precursor of the incident was that of two jawans of the Arunachal Pradesh Scouts being illegally picked up and reportedly mercilessly beaten up in lock-up all night long.
- Second, because the (incomplete) clip of the Commanding Officer of the military unit using stern language with a police officer was most certainly conditional in nature, wherein in all probability he was stating that he shall take action if any illegality was committed again against any of his boys (“you dare touch my boy again”). The action that he was referring to may as well simply be legal action.
- Third, while the incomplete clip was circulated, there was no remorse or sorrow shown regarding what the two soldiers had to face in custody.
- Fourth, service associations jumped into the fray without even waiting for any independent inquiry into the incident while the reply of the Ministry of Defence was that of utmost maturity.
Ironically, the tweet, especially the one by the IPS Association, backfired, as can be seen from the responses to the same.
What Sort of Law Allows ‘Mob Justice’?
But that is not the point that frightens. The point that disturbs the most is the fact that acerbic statements were made by civil service associations and also by veterans in return, which display a complete lack of respect for each others’ occupations. The point that disturbs also is the fact that many personalities justified the beating up of the troops in custody on the pretext that they were ‘caught’ misbehaving with ladies.
Which law permits people to be beaten up in custody based upon allegations? What kind of private mob justice is that? Again, not even a whisper of this trigger by any of the service associations.
Coming to the behaviour of the Commanding Officer. I do not find it wrong for him to have visited the police station to look into whether his troops had been illegally detained or not. His anger on finding them badly injured in lockup was natural. He is legally and morally bound to ensure the safety and welfare of his troops and whether any illegality has been committed on them.
What followed, including the reports of manhandling of a young IAS officer, cannot be justified by anyone. In fact, it seems unlikely that a senior Army Officer would encourage such behaviour by his troops.
In this light, the allegation that certain policemen tried to deliberately agitate and engage the Colonel’s security detail needs thorough examination.
However still, if in the chaos and the melee that ensued, the young Deputy Commissioner was manhandled, it is highly unfortunate since these young officers are representatives of the government in districts, and need to be fully protected and provided a shield against any such mishap. They need to be encouraged, not discouraged from their duties.
Perception of Military Superiority Misplaced
The larger question of civil military relations also needs a re-look. While civil servants should be properly attuned to the needs and requirements of the military society and veterans, and there is an increasing feeling of alienation, there is also a need for the latter to refrain from passing sweeping comments against the civil services.
It is wrongly perceived by veterans, that most members of the civil services are corrupt and inefficient, not realising that all of us come from the same society. Both the military and the civil services perhaps suffer from the same ills.
The perception of military superiority, in any aspect, is highly misplaced.
Mutual Respect Needed Between Army & Civil Servants
The job of young civil servants posted as DCs/DMs and SPs in charge of districts is not an easy one.
There are so many pressures and multiple facets to the job such as magisterial functions, revenue, administration, health, crime, policing and what not on the shoulders of these young officers, which others are not aware of.
To continually pinprick them with derogatory words on social media will not result in any respect to the military community, but will have just the opposite effect. The military needs to revolve around the real world, not the other way round.
Mutual respect is the need of the times, and it is hoped that the incident in Bomdila would rather act as a catalyst for better times ahead with more optimum coordination and understanding of the roles of the defence services and civil servants.
(The author is a lawyer in the Punjab & Haryana High Court at Chandigarh and writes on law, public policy and military related issues. He is the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association and also Member of the International Society of Military Law and the Law of War, Brussels.)
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)