Toxic Criticism and the Helpless Indian Soldier

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No one can ignore the mindless and toxic criticism that our armed forces get nearly every single day. It is often said that the chivalrous Indian Army soldier is not affected by such imbecile views, but is that the case?

Recently terrorist leader Riyaz Naikoo was killed in an encounter with armed forces and this action was hailed as a milestone in the fight against terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. However, following this mindless and toxic criticism poured in. Our soldiers in addition to dealing with brutal terrorists have been dealing with such toxicity for decades now.

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Our celebrities and social media influencers often rant about how difficult it is to deal with trolling. Now imagine being called a murderer when you gunned down not an innocent but a vicious terrorist who had their hands red with the blood of innocents. Believe it or not but our soldiers face such trolling on a daily basis in insurgency-hit areas like Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur, etc.

The Soldier’s Dilemma

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indian soldier
Several media houses often try to paint a humane picture of terrorists however no such consideration is given to soldiers.

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A Lieutenant Colonel, who served in Jammu & Kashmir and also received the Sena Medal, says, “The Indian Army soldier is highly professional. In combat, the only thought he has is regarding the combat operation itself. However, as soon as he finishes the operation and returns to his base, such mindless evaluation does bother him. Besides being demotivating, one also feels helpless as well as angry since the people for whom he is putting his life in danger are so ignorant. But as an officer, we make sure that our boys don’t feel this way and are ready for future challenges.”

A soldier, in an active combat situation, has to deal with a lot of mental stress. He has to save himself, his counterparts and most importantly his nation. However, a terrorist’s only goal is to inflict as much damage as possible. In other words, the hands of a soldier are tied whereas nobody ever questions a terrorist.

The Armchair Antagonists

Imagine yourself surrounded by armed terrorists who are more than ready to murder you. But here is the catch, you cannot retaliate until these blood-thirsty murderers attack you first. And if you do not act in such a way then you will be labelled a ‘cold-blooded murderer’. If it sounds idiotic then you just read what several so-called human rights activists say to soldiers who tried to save their lives and the lives of several innocents by shooting at terrorists first. Don’t the soldiers have human rights?

Several media houses often try to paint a humane picture of terrorists however no such consideration is given to soldiers. Media houses like The Indian Express and The Wire recently ran a human interest story on Riyaz Naikoo. This story focused not on the horrible deeds done by him but on his so-called ’ordinary’ life and painted him as a ‘misguided Kashmiri youth’. Starkly opposite to that, The Indian Express accused the Indian Army of attempting a coup in January 2016. While The Wire in July 2019 published ‘we need more humane and moral soldiers, not cold-blooded killers’; effectively labelling our soldiers as murderers. However, ironically no story from such popular media houses ever tried to look into the personal lives of these soldiers.

Due to bias in reporting, the soldiers know what to take in and what not to. ‘We know the media houses that will report without facts and will be biased. Most of these reporters just write reports sitting in the comfort of their homes or offices and don’t even know the realities on the ground. Thus, we ignore such news sources’, says a serving soldier; thereby proving the potency of the Reception Analysis.

The Legacy of the Indian Soldier 

Indian army soldier
The very soldiers who are called killers and murderers are taught the phrase ‘Win Hearts and Minds of People’ during their training for Counter Insurgency operations.

Internationally and historically, the Indian soldiers have always received accolades for their conduct – be it for their conduct in Sudan, Liberia and Congo as a part of United Nations Peacekeeping Force or in Bangladesh during the 1971 liberation war. During the Bangladesh Liberation War, the Indian Army was not accused of even one case of misconduct with civilians while the Pakistani Army’s numbers ran in thousands.

Such mindless criticism has prompted uncalled government actions time and again be it at the state or the centre. This has also prompted Army personnel to lodge cases to fight for their human rights. In one such case, the Army officers put forward a statement that summarises the frustration the soldiers face due to these criticisms and subsequent actions. ’The army personnel had in their petition argued that they now faced questions from juniors in the chain of command on whether they should fight the proxy war as per their military training and operational realities or as per yardsticks of peacetime operations’, said the defence lawyer representing over 300 Army officers during a Supreme Court hearing in 2018.

The Human Behind the Uniform

The very soldiers who are called killers and murderers are taught the phrase ‘Win Hearts and Minds of People’ during their training for Counter Insurgency operations. Besides this, the soldiers have to abide by the Ten Commandments of the Chief of Army Staff which range from carrying out civic actions as a part of their duty to respecting human rights.

Our celebrities and social media influencers often rant about how difficult it is to deal with trolling. Now imagine being called a murderer when you gunned down not an innocent but a vicious terrorist who had their hands red with the blood of innocents.
Many native soldiers who fight terrorism in their native states suffer the most, as even their families are constantly threatened by terrorists.

On this matter, a senior army officer, who has extensive experience against insurgency in North East India, says, “A soldier who is fighting on the ground requires moral as well as organisational support. And when the soldier does not get such support his psychological strengths dwindle. Such unnecessary criticism diverts us from fighting terrorism to countering such virulent arguments. Many so-called Human Rights groups publish arbitrary reports without even knowing our side of the argument. This societal pressure due to adverse publicity indirectly impacts the conduct of operations. It manifests in loss of more soldiers’ lives as they have to think twice before engaging terrorists. We now are forced to video and photo record our operations, which though helps us to battle false news but causes diversion from the attention needed in active operation.”

Many native soldiers who fight terrorism in their native states suffer the most. Just like the brutally murdered Rifleman Aurangzeb of Jammu & Kashmir, many local soldiers face a lot of hate for fighting terrorism. “Till about ten years back I had to tell my neighbours and relatives in my home state in North East India (state name withheld) that I am working in Delhi University whereas, in reality, I am an officer in the Army. If I did reveal my true profession, my family’s life would have been in grave danger. Even though the situation has now improved a lot and people understand the good work army is doing but that fear is still there.”

The answer to the question of whether our soldiers are effected by mindless and toxic criticism is a big yes. Not only does this make the soldier demoralised but also leaves the Army helpless. The training of the soldiers is to be strong yet sympathetic, courageous yet caring and chivalrous yet compassionate. Checks and balances along with scrutiny of illegal actions are welcome; however, trolling or toxic criticism with hidden agenda is not.

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