“Indians and Dogs are not allowed”. Imagine being meted out this inferior treatment in your own country, in your own land. After more than 60 years have passed since our forefathers fought nail and tooth for all this independence we revel in today. Yet there remains a systematically discriminatory framework which mocks their sacrifices in the most institutional of manners.
Indian Armed Forces. Here we are with questions that I seek answers to. And I am going to try and address the elephant in the room. From restaurants in Army cantonments to Hospitals for the veterans, I have seen that ‘Indians and dogs not allowed’ mentality hasn’t freed our minds even after Britishers left. These discriminatory practices mock fundamental rights in their face. Pardon me for my diminutive understanding of Indian Constitution, if I see it wrongly.
Let me give you little background to help you understand the situation better. My father joined the Indian Air Force in 1980s, after nearly 26 years of service he took voluntary retirement as a JWO, that is Junior Warrant Officer. Now some work structure of the Indian Army. Workforce is largely divided into 2 parts, that is Airmen and Officers (These days both are collectively called Air Warriors, which I understand is an effort to lessen the divide). Every Rank you gain, like every government service brings in better pay and better amenities. Thanks to the Colonial Era, Indian Military system had and still has two very distinct categories of soldiers whose living, eating and mingling with each other wasn’t really allowed. My understanding is that Officers consisted of British citizens and it was natural for them to not allow people from supposedly ‘lower’ ranks to mingle with them, and these were Indians if you didn’t guess it. JWO is a ‘lower’ rank as seen from that perspective.
Let me bring you to present with some incidences.
First one – My mom’s not well and we are at a Military hospital for Ex-servicemen. We all submit our smart-cards and wait for the doctor at OPD to call us up. Several senior citizens have been waiting for hours to have their turn. And thank lord, there is a priority entry for any senior citizen. As we all patiently wait, a man in his 40s walks smoothly to the smart-card counter, shows his card and gets an instant call into the doctor’s cabin. Yes, the same british-era perks are still present. You guessed it, Officers of the Indian Military forces. Why would you think a relatively young man will wait for lesser humans like Senior Citizens?
It broke my heart. People barely able to walk will have to keep waiting but someone with a higher rank will parachute into the doctor’s cabin. I always thought Hippocratic Oath was to treat patients equally and with utmost care. But there is no reason to blame the doctors and not even the army, when the whole system in place advocates for oppression.
Second one – Mom was operated and we are at Command Hospital, Pune. It’s vast and has public access. While Mom sleeps and recovers from anaesthesia administered to her we go to an on-site canteen. There are two doors to come inside. One is made of reflective cut glass, one is made of dull blue painted wood. As I take my seat on a table I realise there are two halves of the restaurant, one is where I am sitting, other is built on a step higher. I can read the board saying “Officers and Medical Students”. There is a waiter, but he wouldn’t come to your table, he does but only if you sitting on the other side. The ‘Higher’ side. The walls on the other side are well painted, my side is good just that the paint is tarnished. So is my soul. I suddenly realise how was it to be in British India or how was it in apartheid era South Africa, where you could have the money and means to travel first class but you were not worthy of it.
Am I dirty or filthy? Or is there a disturbance that my presence will set in your tranquil solitude? Isn’t that a place of public access where you are making compartments without a reasonable reason? Am I too little to sit near you? You have put a curtain between us, am I so perverse that you can’t look at me or I can’t look at you?
The same place, same menu, same price. And I face discrimination thanks to my dad’s rank. Or even if I was civilian, thanks to me being just a little human who can’t eat in the same place as an Officer’s family does.
It was tea-time. I went to a different canteen, once again in the hospital campus. For a moment I couldn’t see compartmentalization and that gave me hope that things are changing for better. And their it was, that beautiful curtain. Saving noble eyes from sight of us poor humans, with the board kindly announcing that I was not welcome. Telling me that you can pay the same price, you can be as good as you want to be, but we will never let you in.
I can write incident 3 and 4 and then 5, I can talk hours on how this institutionalised discrimination belittles a man and his service for the nation by disallowing his family to have access to basic amenities. But I wouldn’t. It will again be the same rant with no conclusions. In my understanding, ranks should get you more payment and perks but one’s rank should not let his or her family being humiliated on places of public access. Ranks decide your pay, they cannot in any way create a lesser human and more human criteria in a constitutional democracy. Imagine going to a public park in a civil establishment, and not being allowed access to it if your Income Tax return wasn’t above a particular amount last year.
I am not blaming Officers or the Military. They are are just a cog in the wheel. They didn’t decide this, they didn’t do it. It was done long back by the British. It’s the system that needs to be reformed. For the sake that children and families don’t end up being humiliated for a practice that should have been long abolished. So that our senior citizens don’t have to wait longer for medicines. So we can kill this apartheid within.
And it’s not just another random rant, I am aggrieved and fed up from this years of humiliation. Writing a letter to Chiefs of military staffs and commands remains on my to-do list. Further, if it seems legally viable, a PIL to stop such practices.