Have you ever heard anywhere in the world that Army has to fight its battle against common citizen of its own country and not just the enemies at the borders? This situation is a reality in India after a decision by Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman Defense Minister of India came into immediate action. The government’s decision to throw open all roads in the 62 Cantonment areas around the country to unhindered civilian traffic has led to much confusion and anger in military circles. And not just military circle many of the law abiding patriotic civilians are also raising their voices against the decision.
Many are saying that Opening Cantonment roads to civilian traffic is a haste decision and what was the rush to implement it too soon, when many other more relevant issues like OROP etc are still not sorted out? Or is it just the muscle flexing of Ministry of Defense which is openly disregarding Army sentiments just because they don’t serve as vote banks?
What is the decision all about?
The whole situation of opening Cantonment roads started with Secunderabad. The decision was based on several complaints from civilians, especially those living in cantonment areas, about harassment from Army personnel who man barricades and entry and exit points of cantonments citing reasons of security. As a result these closures led to commuters having to cover an additional distance of several kilometer. The decision followed representations and consultations that Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had with elected representatives and Members of Parliament from Cantonment areas. There were 52 roads that were completely shut to civilians in 22 Cantonments, and 47 roads in 15 cantonments that had barricades for restricted entry.
Barriers,check posts etc would be removed, sentries would be removed,traffic would be monitored for a month and a review done thereafter, implying that nothing would be done. There were certain exceptions based on immediate security threat like in Jammu and Kashmir.
Civilian point of view
Secunderabad Cantomment Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders on Tuesday celebrated the opening of the closed roads. They performed ‘Palaabhishekam’ to the portrait of Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the AOC circle. While Army video graphed the event as it speaks very bad of the intentions. Many Mps from various parts of the country said that instance of access to these roads being denied even in extremely compelling circumstances such as medical emergency or funeral leads to emotional outbursts. The various points from civilian sides supporting the decision.
- Initially Cantonments were located in far off areas away from the main city but with population explosion and city expanding its wing. It has led to lot of inconvenience to public’s part not to use the closed cantonment roads in the middle of the city.
- Closed Cantonment roads in the middle of a city create chaos to commuters when they had to cover several kilometers just because Army has closed huge roads through which they can reach their destination within minutes
- The neat and clean well maintained roads,gardens,huge lawns and less traffic are also tempting to local population and they feel VVIP treatment of Army should abolish and these amenities should be approachable to all.
- Many people has also expressed the construction of alternative roads around cantonment area and better functioning of local authorities than eyeing cantonment roads.
Military Point of View
A country-wide signature campaign against the government decision has been launched by Army Wives and children of Army personnel. They say they would meet the defense minister urging her to reverse the cantonment board decision. Most strong reservations are registered from the families living in Separate Family accommodations where women and children of military personnel live alone while the husbands are deployed at the border. Military point of view register strong opposition to the decision of opening cantonment roads
- Army Cantonments are prime targets of terrorists and this decision of opening roads to public without check imposes grave threat for yet another terrorist attack.
- Sense of betrayal is also there when Army Personnel feel their own ministry and Top brasses have abandoned them as they don’t serve as significant vote banks while civilians have huge representations from their local MPs and NGOs.
- Many people have openly spoken against vested interest behind the decision like encroachment of defense lands,illegal occupation of defense bungalow, rampant illegal constructions etc and ultimately moving Army bases out of the city and even removing army Brigadiers from the Cantonment boards.
- Military area would be more vulnerable to burglary,loot and accidents and safe haven to military personnel would no more be safe for Army brats playing outside or the Army Wives walking out alone. Many incidence of burglary and accidents are already reported within two days of the decision.
- Soldiers at the border were performing their duties with free mind but now after the decision they are burdened with this additional worry about the safety of their own families.
- Army works hard and respect environment to maintain a lush green environment within military boundaries. Also all Army Families are imbibed with deep sense of responsibilities towards various amenities and the attractive lay out of an Army Cantonment is its collective result. No civilian has any right to utilize these amenities.
- While many private residential complexes,educational institute and government complexes come lased with hi tech security gadgets and personal security guards with a sense of ownership,it makes no sense to open military roads to all.
- All cantonments come with various military establishment inside the walls where weapons and equipment are kept. This decisions imposes a serious threat to their expose even if it for a month.
The current situation
Within a few days of the decision of opening cantonment roads various reports of civilians insulting the soldiers manning the gates,rebuking and scolding them has come into limelight and various videos have been circulated on social media showing the verbal scuffle of civilians and Army personnel. The latest one shows huge number of civilians protesting at the closed gates of Separate Family Accommodation Secunderabad and demanding their rightful access inside the Army colonies too after the opening of Army roads while Military police is having tough time to close the colony gates for the sake of families living without husbands.
Many Social media campaigns have been launched with hastag #Canttsecurity #Closethe Canttgates on Twitter where many civilians,veterans and Army families are tagging PMO India, Nirmala Sitharaman, Defense ministry of India to appeal against the decision. Various prestigious newspaper and online publications like Quint, Indian express etc have also voiced Army Personnel opinions.
Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman defense minister of India recently posted on her Twitter timeline saying ” She is ready to meet wives of Army officers with an open mind”
Lessons from the Past
While there could be some inconvenience to common people, matters of national security and the people who are responsible for it can not be taken for granted. Any government can not afford to downgrade the Morales of its armed forces. There has been numerous incidents of terror attacks to Army cantonment.
2002 Kaluchak Massacre
Three militants entered the family quarter of the Army and fired indiscriminately at the inmates, killing 23 persons, including 10 children, eight women and five Armymen. The age of all the children killed ranged from four to 10 years. Thirty-four people were injured in the attack. Reports said children were thrown out of windows by Miliitants.
2016 Nagrota Terror Attack
Three militants dressed in Indian Police Uniforms attacked Indian Army 166 Field regiment unit in Nagrota and divided themselves into two groups,entered the living quarters of the base and opened fire with AK-7 and grenades. They took hostage of two infants,two women and over a dozen soldiers. Four Soldiers including an Army Officer were killed in initial gun battle in Nagrota Attacks
2016 Pathankot Attack
Six heavily armed people dressed in Indian Army uniforms breached the high-security perimeter of the airbase in Pathankot. They entered the living quarters of the base but were prevented from entering the area where “high-value assets” are parked. At least seven security personnel were killed. NSG had to be called to neutralize the threat.
2018 Sunjwan Terror attacks
A group of heavily armed men struck the sprawling camp of the 36 brigade of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry before dawn yesterday. Five Army men, including two Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs), were killed in the attack. Families were evacuated by breaking windows,women and children were kept at nearby school. Many were under dressed in chilly winter night. One pregnant Army wife was shot at the back too. Later the child and the lady were both saved by Army Doctors.
We boast about being world’s third largest military force and at the same time push the same Army to appeal for its own safety. Don’t you think it mocks the strength of a nation and sends laughing riots around the world? No country in the world exposes its military cantonments and sensitive facilities in this manner. No country disrespect the blood and sweat of its own soldiers by giving open invitations to the terrorists to attack the force which defends the same country and prevent their evil notions.
So you claiming that you can not protect the soldier who protects you for the ease of traffic?
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