BSF jawan Yadav, became an instant internet sensation on Monday when he posted a video about soldiers’ pathetic living conditions. (Photo credit: Facebook)

Ravish Kumar –
“What our situation really is is something that the media doesn’t show and ministers don’t hear. Irrespective of which government is in power, our condition remains just as bad. I will send you all three videos, but I want you to show everyone in the media and all the politicians how our officials ill-treat us and are unjust to us. I urge you all to share these videos as much as you can, so that the media decides to investigate the conditions in which jawanswork.”

The media is certainly questioning the government after BSF jawanTej Bahadur Yadav’s video went viral. But Tej Bahadur has also questioned the media. He has asked us for answers too. His statement – that no one in the media shows the condition that jawansare in – pierces the conscience like an arrow. Because the media has let down jawanslike Tej Bahadur and betrayed their trust. The army, paramilitary forces, the police coerce recruits into remaining mute. Who will give them a voice?

The media often returns after speaking only with officers. During parades, cameras show close-ups of the shoes of jawansduring the march-past. Their shoes are shown in sync with a lot of pride, which is genuine and immense, but I wish the cameras would also focus on their stomachs, which, separately from the rigorous physical training they undergo, have shrunk due to hunger.

Tej Bahadur Yadav has shared in his video that he believes his life is under threat. He has requested that this video be shared by everyone so that it gets the attention of the media. This message, he said, should be heard in news rooms across the country as a message of grief. Martyrdom is not the only time to respect or pay tribute to a jawan. The many sacrifices he makes before that should be noted. But it’s a pity that the media speaks about the soldier only at the time of his martyrdom. There are times when the neglect of the families of those who have died in the line of duty is shown, but for jawanswho are alive and have to fight, there is no mention at all. This is why a Tej Bahadur has to appeal to his countrymen as he did. The situation of today’s media, which only keeps busy between ministers and debate shows involving party spokespersons, is so grave that a jawanhas to appeal to the masses to get his message heard by the media.

We are in an era where we see that the skills and methods of anchors are dominating the media-space and in effect weakening the skills of reporters. The media understands the system only on the basis of ministers and governments. It seldom sympathises with the people who work within that system. Which is why you see that teachers are being beaten up, sanitation workers are working for years without being paid on time. Such things matter neither to society, nor to the media nor the government… which is why the media needs to introspect and think of how it is guilty of gross negligence as alleged in Tej Bahadur’s video. Let us accept this and introspect instead of propagating our credibility. If the media really wants to prove its commitment and its strength and integrity to people, it should not hide by playing Tej Bahadur’s video on television; instead, reporters must pick up their cameras and have the courage to delve into the lives of jawansacross the country – be it in the army, CISF, ITBP, police or home guards. Will the media have the courage to do this, or will the winter chill be reason enough for media-persons to stay indoors (in studios) and fire only from Tej Bahadur’s shoulder?

Tej Bahadur has hinted that should the media not be just, the people will become the voice of the media. They will help raise the voice of one into the voice of the masses. Tej Bahadur’s video has strengthened India’s democracy. I could not stomach the fact that a soldier has to eat such food… one parantha for breakfast? No salt in dal (lentil)… sometimes they have to sleep without getting any food. Maybe some clever officers will blame the non-availability of ration by using bad weather as an alibi, and shut the case forever by citing discipline and rules to cover up. They may even manage to clamp the voices of jawanslike Tej Bahadur, but one thing is certain – this video will change the BSF.
“Sweat it out in training today, and it will help save lives on the battlefield tomorrow’ – I remember seeing this quote ages ago on the wall of some BSF centre. It has remained with me in thought all these years, just like a dialogue from a movie. Tej Bahadur’s video, which has gone viral, has helped save lives from authoritarianism and apathy. It is far more difficult to expose corruption from within the system than it is to do so from outside. This soldier, who is posted at the border, has shown tremendous courage in fighting for the rights of his colleagues who in turn fight for the country. Tej Bahadur’s valour should be respected and rewarded during the Republic Day parade.

Tej Bahadur’s video is not a stunt. But the reactions to his video do seem like one. Don’t we all know that jawansare treated this way? They have 11-hour shifts every day, do not get any leave… is this something new? We recognise the value of a soldier only by his coffin, that too for a few moments when we call them martyrs and fool ourselves into believing that we are being patriotic. We have never tried to find out the salaries they are paid or the circumstances in which jawanswork. Ask the constable in your neighbourhood when you meet him next. He will tell you how long it has been since he got a holiday. A jawanof the Delhi Police has been posting on Facebook about the condition of the police force. The soldier alone is not suffering, the policeman is too.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has shown urgency in this case. This should assure us all that a thorough investigation will be carried out – not just in this case, but the functioning of the entire system. Every citizen of India has one more concern… that Tej Bahadur is not made to suffer as a result of his expose’. That is why the government must assure the nation that no harm will be done to Tej Bahadur. We keep hearing of instances when a senior was shot, or a subordinate has committed suicide due to mental harassment. But in this case, Tej Bahadur has tried to reach out and communicate his message to the government, media and countrymen. Listen to him and understand his helplessness… You will hear the courage of a soldier. He is not speaking for himself, he is speaking for the country.

(Ravish Kumar is Senior Executive Editor, NDTV India)