KISHORE PANDEY (name changed) joined the National Defence Academy when he was 16. Life was tough but he and the other cadets clung to camaraderie as the one thing that helped them through their career in the forces. Thirty-six years of army life later, Pandey, now a serving Brigadier, had to turn around and tell a joint secretary in the Ministry of Defence that if he had had a son who wanted to join the army, he would have shot him. A reaction this intense, Pandey says, is only human. “It hurts to see a man with only 20 years of experience order around a man with 36 years of service,” he says, adding, “Why wouldn’t I want a better future for my children?”
Like this 59-year-old, many armed forces personnel echo the sense that the izzat (pride) the army was once centred on, has diminished in the public eye because the civilian hierarchy in the administration thinks itself above the defence services. An Indian Police Service (IPS) and an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer will unquestionably be promoted to the rank of a DIG and a Joint Secretary (equal to the rank of a Brigadier in the Army) respectively before his retirement. But in the Army, most of the officers are superseded at the rank of Lt Colonel and Colonel,” he explains.
Pandey recalls how when he reached a stage in his career when he thought he could help people junior him, he realised he was helpless. “I could only write letters to the civilian authorities requesting them, but the power to take decisions lies with them. That’s when you start getting frustrated,” he says.
On the family front, his wife, Pooja (name changed), whom he married in 1976, chose to travel with him wherever he was relocated. Trained as a child psychologist, Pooja says she never took her career seriously. “We had decided to be together. Seeing new places was always a high. But the children had to rough it out. Their education was forever a problem,” she says.
Their two daughters chose to marry out of the army because they knew intimately the deficiencies of cantonment life. “It’s not just the money. The country doesn’t look at the army with the same respect. The uniform doesn’t carry the same gleam. It’s only money that gives you izzat today,” says Pandey.
So what can be done to stem the exodus? “You’ve got to change with the times. People walk out of a marriage because they say they were never loved or wanted. It’s the same with the army,” Pandey says.