The debate regarding freedom of speech and expression has again gained momentum in the country and it usually does so following any action, which is thought to be a detriment to such a right of citizens.
Actions of such sort usually come from the government of the day and are either directed at a private citizen or an institution, especially those linked with the press or politics. And though it might seem that it is only an occurrence found in India, these take place all over the world.
Though these are serious issues, the focus here is not on the legal right guaranteed in the constitution; not about allegations of governments trying to muzzle out descent; not about the press and it taking on the government of the day.
It is about the speech that critics including the public, media and political leaders have chosen to make. And as if rash and harsh statements were not a big enough problem, they are now being targeted directly at the Army and its brass.
Just a cursory glance at the statements recently made would show words like, "Gunda", "Dyer", among other which can be labelled as nothing but abuse, being used to describe Army chief, General Bipin Rawat's actions and statements.
Even though this too can be defined under the freedom of speech and expression bracket, barring a few, no one would argue that this a problematic development. And the few who wouldn't, are mostly political leaders who have tried to argue otherwise in their attempts to grab the spotlight or serve some other motives.
So now in India, when it comes to what can be done using such freedom of speech has crossed levels which are not enjoyed in any other democratic country in the world where the Army has never made an attempt to take over from the civilian government. The extent of the abuse and terms used recently are not even witnessed in country's such as the US, which is seen as the standard to strive for when it comes to giving citizens the freedom of speech and expression.
Abuse is not the same as criticism
Being the largest democracy in the world with nearly a 130 crore population means India as a whole by its very nature is supposed to have a plethora of opinions and judgments on various matters. This is exactly how it should be, as a difference in thinking leads to broader debates and more agreeable solutions to complicated problems.
And it is no different when it comes to the issue of actions of the Armed Forces. As with a strength which makes it the third largest in the world and by being deployed on various fronts as well as civilian areas, various controversies are bound to appear. A critical debate on such matters can help the government of the day in adopting better strategies.
While taking part in such an exercise it should be remembered that in a democracy, unlike countries where the Army holds all the power, it is the civilian government that decides where the armed forces are to be involved.
This is the reason why it should be the criticism of the policies of the government and not the abuse of the head of the Army, that should be the focus of all well-meaning critics. And for the betterment of the country, they should raise issues they have with Army actions by bringing them up in the media and push for appropriate actions to be initiated in line with the judicial remedies available in the country.
But the fact that abuse is not the same as criticism is something that should be remembered by those who are either trying to earn brownie points with some constituency or settle political scores. This is also true for those trying to gain more viewers or readers by making their stories contain sensational headlines and photos.
Army works on morale and hierarchy
Armed forces all over the world work on the principle of duty and sacrifice towards their country and its people while asking for little in return. This is also true in the case of India, where soldiers are faced with difficult circumstances throughout the year, in particular in border areas the country shares with a hostile neighbour, which has engaged in a proxy war in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The constant fight for survival and to eliminate the enemy is fought not on just the use of weaponry and power that the forces are provided but mainly on a high morale which the soldiers on the ground feel when performing their duty. This along with the discipline, that is instilled in all the forces due to the clear structure of the hierarchy where orders are to be followed in letter and spirit, are the backbone on which they are able to safeguard the future of all citizens.
This is exactly where abuse or critique, in the form and language that has been released recently, does the most damage. While those defending the recent words used for the Army chief would say that they were to throw light on his comments and actions, they have failed to grasp the serious threat that it is to the Army's morale when its chief is targetted in such a manner.
It is truer in Kashmir than anywhere else, as it faces combat conditions which only a few others in the world do, while also being surrounded by allegations of human rights violation and abuse, along with the actual threat from enemy forces which are mixed in with the general population. This situation has been made worse as Pakistan has again raised its efforts to create unrest by helping terrorist strike in the Valley.
These can lead to more cases of insubordination which are already being reported. And damage the forces which are already thought to be fighting with depleted resources both in equipment and manpower. The country needs to realise that the Army has enough on its plate already, without being subjected to even more challenges from withing the country that it is trying to defend.
Army is not a tool of politics
Soon after India got independence, the role and position of the defence forces were supposed to have in the structure being selected for the system of governance was debated widely, and it was made sure that the chances of the military becoming supreme to the civilian government did not arise. This was the reason that actions such as creating a position of joint chief of all the all the three defence forces- Army, Navy and Airforce- was not put in place so as not to give a single officer authority over all soldiers.
The history of the country proves that the decisions made in this regard were correct as there have been no attempts by the Army to take over the reigns of the country. And if doubts still exist on how big an achievement this is, a look at the history of the martial rule in Pakistan which became independent along with India should be enough to clear them. The country has witnessed the rule of Generals for a majority of the period since 1947. And it is not alone, many other countries around the world have also faced similar consequences.
But recent incidents that have taken place have pointed to the fact that in order to make political gains, an attempt is being made to use the Army as a political tool. And all parties, across political fences, can be judged to be guilty of this.
Though this has not reached any serious levels as of yet, any such attempts would be contrary to the successful policy on the matter which has been adopted so far. It should also be considered as a serious issue as political criticism of the Army can very easily make the army becoming political. Such a result, given the conditions of India's neighbour, can be seen as nothing but disastrous for the country.
While freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right which helps the growth of the country along with maintaining the quality of life, it should be exercised with extreme caution in the case of the army, not in criticism of its action, but the language, it is conveyed in. Especially since the soldier on the ground does not have the same liberty of voicing his concerns like the rest.
And in case that such statements ultimately lead to either a loss of morale or the Armed Forces turning political, concerns such as enjoying such rights would be the least of the country's worries. This is something that Indians, due to any absence of such a threat so far, seem to be unaware of. And the hope is that generations, both present and future, will not have the need to learn them as well.