In a secular country like ours, where we not only have a secular but, also, apolitical defence services, it is extremely important that religious sentiments of personnel are adequately addressed and handled.
As is evident in the letters displayed above, there has been a situation in 40 Arty Div in Ambala where a JCO has refused to comply with orders regarding his 'choti'. In such emotive issues it would not be advisable to allow situation to reach a stage where a JCO writes a letter directly to the GOC of a Division and refuses to follow instructions of his immediate superior.
But this has happened. And there is a history to it. It is not as if the Army has overnight woken up to the fact that this JCO has been sporting a 'choti' for the last 27 years out of a total career of 28 years.
The problem has emanated as usual from the unit level. This JCO was serving in 3 Field Regiment when he entered into a tiff with the CO. The issue was mishandled at the level giving the JCO enough reason to complain against the CO in the chain of command. The issue was further mishandled at the Brigade level thereby forcing the Subedar to write to GOC-in-C seeking his intervention and failing that, seeking interview with the then COAS, Gen Deepak Kapoor. Needless to say, neither materialised.
So, again, as usual the Army chain of command resorted to the problem with a short-sighted way. They posted out the JCO from the regiment to a ERE posting in 40 Arty Div. Everything was hunky dory as the JCO reconciled to facts of life in the Army and continued to go about his job.
It was at this stage that he declined to clear some bills which he perceived were not truthful in nature. The bills were of a Brigadier in the formation. And then came the get-together at the JCOs Mess on 15th August as as tradition warrants, officers of Div HQs were being hosted by the JCOs.
It was here that the GOC reportedly caught sight of the JCOs choti. And as per the JCOs, instructions were passed out to ensure that it went out of sight and accordingly a letter was issued by the Battery Commander to the JCO.
Pushed to the wall, and knowing what had triggered this reaction, Subedar Shukla fired-off the letter to the GOC pointing out several things and hinting at many others. Besides, of course, seeking an interview with the new COAS, Gen VK Singh.
And then, to ensure maximum effect, the news went to the media. Both print and electronic. And now the Army went into damage control mode. Someone used his brains in Corps, Command and Army HQs and decided not to go into a knee jerk reaction.
As of now an uneasy calm or truce prevails between the JCO and the powers that be. But it has all the potential into developing into a ugly situation.
The Army may be well within it's right in asking the JCO to do away with the tuft of hair on the back of his head. But then in today's world this has to be done with tact and care and seeing the profile of the individual. With the history of confrontation in the unit behind him, it would be obvious to any dunce head that the JCO would rebel. Yet, no care was taken to handle the situation with care.