The izzat of the Kisan and the Jawan is now at stake in India, because every soldier is a farmer in uniform.
Once the farmers’ protests moved to Delhi, a large number of military veterans joined them at the Singhu border. But the agony of being labeled as ‘Khalistan supporters’ and anti-national must have surely hurt their feelings. For the first time, Vijay Diwas, commemorating the 1971 war victory, was celebrated by veterans at Singhu on 16 December.
Many who took part in the war were prepared to return their medals to the President in protest against the farm laws. In India, the farmers and the soldiers are two sides of the same coin. For generations, rural families in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have been sending their children to the Army. Reports of few serving soldiers on leave joining the protest also popped up on social media platforms. The issue is serious and can’t be glossed over by the government and the armed forces.
Media campaign targeting farmers
A section of very eager and zealous media started a vicious campaign to target the farmers as ‘Khalistani’ supporters. The narrative started to build when farmers’ organisations were accused of having been ‘infiltrated’ by ‘Urban Naxals’, ‘tukde tukde gang’, etc. Many started to blame Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and China for funding the agitation. Questions started to appear on the ‘quality’ and ‘type’ of farmers sitting at the protest sites. English-speaking, clothed Western wear, pizza-eating men could not be farmers? The sad part is that many leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were at the forefront of this skullduggery.
This was hitting below the belt on the izzat and ego of farmers. The popular image of the poor Indian farmer working to feed the nation was being defied. Potshots of all kind, including the availability of good food at the langars, became a regular feature on TV and social media. To discredit the movement, a campaign was launched, directly aimed at humiliating the farming community.
The lineage of farmers
The protesting farmers, a majority of whom are Jats from Haryana, Rajasthan and Western UP, and Jat Sikhs from Punjab, have few things in common and their historical lineage is a part of it. They consider dignity, honour and prestige to be of paramount importance. They are fiercely proud people and don’t like to be belittled and accused of being part of any anti-national conspiracy. This is in their DNA.
The kind of vicious slander that we are seeing now has started to hurt them badly. The accusations are flying thick and fast, without any thought to the sentiments of the farmers braving a harsh winter on the roads away from their families.
Are we playing with fire?
Those indulging in the slander campaign against farmers gave little thought to the fact that it’s the same stock who are defending India, the same families whose sons and daughters proudly serve the Army for generations. Are we playing with fire here? Can we, as a nation, afford to upset and hurt the feelings of communities that have been farmers and soldiers for generations? What impact does this kind of negative portrayal have on the psyche of the young soldiers at our borders? ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ seems to have become mere rhetoric.
Social media has made deep inroads into our lives. The Army can’t be isolated from this because most soldiers own smartphones and are quite tech-savvy. In fact, technology has flattened our society so much that similar content is available in rural and urban India at the same time.
At Tikri, Gazipur and Singhu, the Army veterans present are openly wearing their medals (though against service norms). Many of these same veterans have children in active service now. What is the message being sent to them?
Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan
The bulk of the soldiers from this region are from the Jat, Sikh, Rajputana Rifles, the Grenadiers, Rajput regiments as also from Armoured and Artillery units. If their kith and kin stand accused of being part of separatist groups or indulging in anti-national activities at the behest of enemy countries, the serving soldiers too are bound to feel offended.
Social media and WhatsApp groups continue to be flooded with pro- and anti-farmer content – some pure propaganda and some based on half-truths at best.
Can India afford this kind of narrative when we are in a huge standoff against China? What would be going on in the minds of a young soldier standing on guard at a high-altitude post in subzero temperatures? Especially if their family members have been sitting at Delhi’s borders for over two months now. The obstacles – rods, cement, spikes – created by the Delhi Police after the Republic Day eruption are not only scary but outrightly offensive.
After all, serving soldiers are human beings and the events going on in their village concern them. Imagine this being discussed among soldiers of pure class units on a daily basis over the last five months? The protests being a political issue, there may not be any advisory issued by the Army. Even the officers probably will avoid discussing the merits or demerits of the farm laws and their implications on the families of the soldiers. For their sake, let’s stop the false narrative against the farmers. If any radical elements are indeed part of the agitation, isolate them and prosecute them.
In some form, the ghosts of 1984 are coming to haunt us again. Name-calling and deliberate attempt to vilify large sections of our farming communities must stop. In fact, defence minister Rajnath Singh did condemn this in one of his interviews. However, many leaders of the ruling party are still adding fuel to fire.
This agitation if allowed to fester for long can go from a law-and-order issue to a national security issue. Let’s uphold the dignity and honour of our farmers and soldiers. And find an honourable exit from the issue. Let India in unison say, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’. A phrase identified with Lal Bahadur Shastri, widely respected for his leadership during the 1965 war.
Maj General Yash Mor was born and brought up in a village in Hisar district of rural Haryana. He is the third generation in the Army and belongs to a farmer-soldier family. He writes on leadership and strategic issues. Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.