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Bravo Nirmala

Editorial |

Several entities may have been involved in the decision to relax/waive restrictions on “civilian” traffic in the Cantonments, but having presided over meetings at which that long overdue action was approved, Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman is entitled to bouquets from a consistently-inconvenienced public ~ just as she is facing a barrage of brickbats from a section of the military community.

Now she must stand firm. For while the specific decision pertained to Cantonment roads, it actually ruptured a colonial-era cocoon of “exclusiveness” the military had spun for itself, encouraged by the Imperial rulers who favoured divisions between civil and military societies ~ it contributed to the uniforms remaining loyal and powerful instruments of authority.

Like all privileged sections who feel their entitlement is being whittled away, the forces are crying foul: even though many are unaware that the Cantonments Act places only limited restrictions on civilian activity.

That MPs, and elected representatives of Cantonment Boards, exerted pressure to have the anachronistic restrictions junked appears to have further irked the military.

So, as is customary, the phobia with security is being waved as a red flag. It has never been anybody’s demand that the public have access to key installations, but to want roads closed to people because they pass near a depot or vehicles’ park is ridiculous.

Almost as ridiculous as military wives claiming they would be endangered by free movement of civilian traffic, particularly when living in accommodation earmarked for families whose men-folk serve in forward areas.

As if a horde of rapacious riff-raff were about to descend on Cantonments? Surely the Army can provide sentries at such sensitive places. And, as is evident in the National Capital and other cities, defence personnel are not quartered only in the Cantonment, are there no security issues beyond that zone?

At the Army’s recommendation, select roads in a few Cantonments will have traffic restrictions, these can be reviewed/expanded later ~ but on more than notional evidence.

Nobody can dare question the privileges extended to a community that risks its life for the nation, yet there are limits. Special schools and clubs are legitimate: to an extent also are lower prices at the canteen, but should that extend to personal cars, air-conditioners, and refrigerators? It is an open secret that the entire extended clan shops at the canteen, free rations provided to officers are given to domestic aides so as to reduce their wages.

No need to re-raise the issue of sahayaks (batmen) being used to wash cars or walk the dog. Many a can of worms is waiting to be opened, military families ~ there are some exceptions, it must be stated in all fairness ~ have taken a lot for granted since colonial-era perks went unquestioned. At the core is an attitude ~ are civilians children of a lesser God?