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Social Work
Wars are Tough, & Peace is Tougher
Armies of The World now Increasingly have a Mandate to Provide for The People who Suffer in conflict zones, and The Indian Army has led by Example through Operation Sadbhavana
Issue Date - 17/03/2011
Countries may or may not win wars. But people, more often than not, lose them. And when it comes to people who are unfortunate enough to be living in conflict zones, the losses are often incalculable and beyond repair.

In that sense, their disdain or even detestation for the very forces that are meant to protect them is hard to question. But then, the Army’s prime responsibility is to protect the borders of a nation and its people from external attack. Aren’t armies across the world doing enough by risking their lives and fighting the enemy in conflict zones? Or should their role indeed go beyond it?

“If you look at all the conflict regions of the world, for example Afghanistan, Libya and also within our country, be it Jammu & Kashmir or the North East regions, the Army is extremely functional in protecting and safeguarding the boundaries and the people”, says P. K. Shah Jahan, Assistant Professor, Centre for Community Organisation & Development Practice, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. However, it is also true that a number of human rights violations have been reported against the Indian Army, which have tarnished its image. To cite an instance, Amnesty International had highlighted the issue of mass graves of hundreds of people being found near border areas in J&K. While the Army claims that they were armed militants, conflicting reports claim they were bodies of a number of civilians. To be true, allegations outnumber official reports by large numbers, and it is tough to confirm or discount such claims. But it is important to realise that these reports significantly enhance the negative perception in the minds of people in conflict zones, ironically for the very forces that are trying to protect them.

Protecting the rights and privileges of countrymen on the basis of feuds related to religion, ethnicity and nationality, protecting them from external attacks, handling extreme mishaps and situations, et al are only one side of the coin. Armies today are expected to play an important role when it comes to promoting peace as well as building bridges. In recognition of this fact, Operation Sadbhavana was a unique programme launched by the Indian Army in 1998.

The underlying objective was to bring back peace and faith in the lives of people of J&K, who were totally ravaged by terrorist attacks and the resulting clampdowns. Rampant blazing of schools, government buildings and other important centres had spread terror all around. An immediate program to ensure the safety of people as well as helping them move back to normal lives was required. The Northern Command took help of Operation Sadbhavna to promote developmental activities. The underlying theme of Operation Sadbhavna has been to ‘help the people of J&K to help themselves’.

Over the years, the program has actually managed to bring a lot of positive change in the lives of people and free them mentally from an inclination towards terrorism. Proper health facilities (50 Primary Health Centres) have been established in the remote and inaccessible areas of J&K. Approximately 250 medical camps have been organised in conjunction with the civil administration and free medicines have been distributed to the poor and needy. A total of around 4,00,00 people have been treated so far. Besides, the Army has set up mobile medical teams to go to remote areas to provide health care. They have also provided scores of artificial limbs to those affected by enemy firing, mine blasts or terrorist atrocities. A total of 120 veterinary camps were also held to treat around 7,000 animals. Sources say that sections of the local population have also developed good terms with the Army.

Education is the primary agent to spread awareness among people who need to come out of shocks, understand the present situation and lead life accordingly. Operation Sadbhavna started 50 Army Goodwill Schools that provide rural children with proper education and generate employment among teachers. Scholarships were also provided to around 300 students studying outside the state and hostel facilities were created at Leh, Rajouri, Mahor, Manjakot, Reasi, Budhal and Baghbela for 820 children. Women Empowerment Centres and Vocational Training Centres have been established in J&K. Notable initiatives have also been taken in the direction of adult literacy, electrification, water supply schemes, afforestation & agriculture.

The Indian Army is doing its best to conduct surgical and professional operations based on hard intelligence in a manner that they cause minimum inconvenience to the local people. Destruction of terrorist infrastructure, has been their primary objective, but the futility of resorting to the gun is being slowly realised. With the Army focusing on breaking the ‘Over Ground Worker’ (OGW) - Terrorist nexus, there has been a definite fall in the number of youth getting inclined towards joining terrorist groups.

The Northern Army has also earned the reputation of a “People’s friendly Army” having undertaken numerous rescue and relief operations during natural calamities. After providing several rescue and relief operations during the Snow Tsunami of February 2005 (Operation Rahat), the  earthquake of October 2005 (Operation IMDAD)  and the unprecedented floods of 2006 and the Leh Cloud Burst in 2010, the Indian Army is gaining local trust. After its success in J&K, the operation was taken to the North East region, and has been heavily helped by troops of the Northern Command.

The past year has seen waves of sympathy globally for stone pelters of Kashmir and their calls for Azaadi. Clearly, there are some wounds that are too deep to heal too quickly, and one cannot help but sympathise with them and hope for a lasting solution to their misery. Initiatives like Operation Sadbhavana are exemplary steps in that direction by the army. Protecting borders cannot be compromised on, but it is equally important to make India strong from within.

Anindita Chakraborty           

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