Soldiers are not POWs and this is not River Kwai!

Preparations for spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's World Culture Festival underway in New Delhi
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Bikram Vohra comments on the use of Indian soldiers to build bridges to host a cultural fest. Indian soldiers are not cheap labour or POWs and this is not River Kwai…

Preparations for spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's World Culture Festival underway in New Delhi
Preparations for spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s World Culture Festival underway in New Delhi

Am all for the art of living (as opposed to dying, I guess) but using the armed forces personnel for building bridges in what is essentially a private civilian function is going well beyond the boundaries of propriety. This is a mistake made by the Indian government.

This is not what the army is for and by ordering them to take this contract it is tantamount to using slave labour since there is no payment to the ‘labourer.’The advantage accrues to the organisers which in this case are the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation. If you could build five bridges with civilian contractors why give the army the onus to build the sixth.

The Indian armed forces have stepped into the breach on several occasions in crises, both natural and man made, been there for their civilian brothers and sisters in times of trouble and performed impressive acts of heroism.

Landslides, earthquakes, floods, any of these situations and nobody would question it. Even if the city of Delhi currently playing host to ten unidentified terrorists was saturated by an army flag march to flush them out it would be within their purview.

One is hard pressed to understand how the Indian Defence Minister, the Defence Secretary and the army chief thought this was fine.
At least announce that the army contingent is being paid for this work. And it is not free. Fine, you don’t give it to the men but give it to the headquarters of the regiment or battalion involved. For example, if you wish to hire the Signals Mess in Delhi for a wedding you get it for a price. If you want the military band to play for 60 minutes at your private function you pay the rate and this money is used for the soldier’s welfare.

To not pay is equivalent to exploitation. It would be a step in the right direction to clarify that the Foundation is coughing up adequate remuneration for the time and effort.

The argument that the armed forces are playing a role in a 3 day fest that enhances the image of the country is not a justification. It does not matter how beautiful the event is or what revenue it brings, misusing the armed forces is just that…misusing the armed forces. That this is a bridge over troubled waters what with environmentalist going nuts over the damage to the ecological balance on the banks of the River Jamuna only makes things worse.

We cannot romanticize this travesty. These are soldiers, not prisoners of war and this is not the River Kwai.

How was this request made and why was it sanctioned?

There is no way to explain the use of military men and materials in a civilian enterprise and bring them down to the level of daily workers.
There should be a ban on this sort of commandeering of forces just because of clout and connections.

Bad move.