An ex-Jawan reflects on retirement, civilian life and the Agnipath scheme

Nine years after returning to civilian life, he’s still attempting to adjust and his disillusionment has only grown with time

An ex-Jawan reflects on retirement, civilian life and the Agnipath scheme

Garima Sadhwani

Like thousands of other Indians, Rajesh Kumar Bajpai was still in his teens when he decided he wanted to be in the army. From a farmer’s family in UP’s Hardoi district, he aspired to an adventurous life and serve the country as promotional advertisements had promised.

Why not join the police? With a faint smile, he admits that the image police had in society deterred him. In April, 1994 at a little over 17 years of age, he was recruited into the Jat Regiment and was sent to Bangalore for training. Six months of physical training (fitness, drills, weapons training, etc) and 12 months of technical training (they were briefed about the places they’d be posted at, trained to use parachutes, do paragliding) he got his first posting at Kalka.

There he underwent training for 16 more months, after which he was posted at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. He spent the next 19 years of his life in the army. He is not sure how the Agniveers would fare with six months of training. But though a few blunders are waiting to happen, he believes the scheme can be assessed only after four or five years following the return of the first batch. What he is certain about is that no attempt would be made to make Agniveers believe that the country had the back of the army.

Following his return to civilian life in 2013 he realised that 90% of the people didn’t care much for ex-soldiers like him.“Leave gratitude aside, they often show us no respect and will not offer a seat to a soldier standing in a train/bus.”

Like most ex-soldiers he too now works in the security industry. During the lockdown, police would charge him money or issue challans even when he showed his identity proof and explained that he was on duty.

In 2014, he was cheated of Rs. 26 lakhs (his life’s savings and Rs. 10 lakh as loan) on a property deal. Police told him to arrange for Rs.10 lakh more for help. Filing a criminal complaint and do the rounds of courts for years, they impressed upon him, would be foolish. Perhaps he should have taken the stint in the army just as another job without the baggage of nationalism or pride, he wonders aloud.

The lumpsum amount that the Agniveers would receive after four years, Rs. 11.5 lakhs, he believes, would be helpful. The kids could buy cattle or tractors with the money and could take to farming or they could study further. At the age of 25 or less they would be better off and have more options, he feels. At the age of 35 when he left the army, his own options were farming, ordnance factory, security agencies or turn into a physical training instructor.

But he underlines that the apprehension of some of the Agniveers turning into a menace to society may not be entirely unfounded. Some of them, with training to handle military grade weapons, could be tempted to trade off their knowledge and experience.

What he is also certain of is that the Agniveers would not really be soldiers. “You can’t make someone a good soldier in four years; you can’t send these kids to the front because they wouldn’t have any experience or skills required to either fight or protect.”

The government might save some money on pension and gratuity payment but they’ll have to spend on the training of the 25% Agniveers they plan to retain in every batch. They would also have to be posted in peace stations for some more years so that they can undergo training.

He blames successive governments for not doing enough for ex-servicemen. “If they know in advance the number of soldiers retiring every year, can’t they arrange jobs for them in advance?”

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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