The relentless ruckus over the Rafale purchase must not be permitted to drown the validity of the lament of the families of two test pilots of the Indian Air Force who were killed when checking- out a supposedly refurbished Mirage 2000 strike aircraft at HAL’s airport in Bengaluru on February 1. While emotion did run strong when Garima Abrol, the wife of one of the victms, Squadron Leader Samir Abrol, articulated her grief on social media, she did make a point which the defence establishment would be churlish to ignore or underplay. Refusing to accept her husband being reduced to another meaningless statistic, she has made bold to demand she be informed of the findings of the Court of Inquiry routinely ordered into such mishaps. Though they have yet to go public, several other military widows would share her lament, not be satisfied with words of condolence from the “Generals”, or even a visit from the defence minister. This government has opted to hail every soldier killed in action as a “martyr”, Garima Abrol has advocated a way of making that term more than mere lip-service.

“Transparency” and “closure” are buzzwords of the 21st Century, and the “brass” and bureaucracy would be disgracing itself if it stuck to its stiff-upper lip posture and wanted the modern Indian woman and her family to adhere to the obsolete maxim that a soldier’s lot was “not to reason why”, but to “do and die….” There is no such thing as an “accident” ~ every mishap is a case of negligence. It could be technical shortcomings or poor maintenance for want of trained personnel, spares or equipment (particularly in the navy and air force) or inept leadership in the army ~ that is of limited relevance.

The moot point is the family’s entitlement to know who/what went awry. Courts of Inquiry cannot be used as a smokescreen to cover up wrongdoings. At present they are a handy tool to deny information or discussion on what seniors deem uncomfortable. The much-vaunted military system of accountability is relegated to the ridiculous when reports of Courts of Inquiry etc are condemned to dusty shelves which nobody dares clear. Remember, decades have elapsed but the Henderson- Brookes report on the debacle of 1962 is still “secret” ~ so what chance of learning why a contemporary jetfighter become a flying coffin?

Nirmala Sitharaman will soon be tying up the loose ends of her present term in South Block. It was not always smooth sailing, yet she would ensure a wholesome legacy if she put in place a system by which the findings of courts of inquiry were “opened”, so that at least mistakes were not repeated and young aspirants to the uniform were convinced they were opting for a sensitive system. And military wives were enlightened as to why they had to “break their bangles.”