The most common grouse of the retired armed forces PBOR especially from the army is there inability to bring up their children under their own supervision. I get to hear this grievance many times over. The issues principally revolve around extreme difficulties in settling their children because they have not been able to provide the requisite quality education to their offspring to give them a well rounded personality and a modern outlook. This issue is baffling because, as one sees it, there are no shortages of schools and colleges raised by the armed forces, even in way out settlements to meet the educational needs of the children.
When confronted with this paradox, the stock reaction of the complainant is that neither could he keep his family under his care in the limited service quarters provided at his place of posting nor in a separated family quarter when he was on a field assignment. What was meant to be conveyed was that their children had per force to be left to the mercy of the village ethos under care of their kin and a fitting atmosphere was denied. Because no housing was available. Even when accommodation for the family was hired at settlements in the vicinity of their places of posting (for which a provision exists under the rules), the living environment was one of ghettos where life was surrounded by criminality and waywardness. Within their means, proper housing was beyond reach.
The children grew in these slums and picked up the most undesirable habits which left a lifelong scar. I was told that the common impression that most of the Jawans leave their families in their villages to take care of their elderly is an old fashioned conclusion, deeply seeped in the past. This notion is not entirely true in the rapidly changing domestic scene with enhanced awareness even in the rural areas with multiplicity of health care systems. With the phenomenal communication revolution and means to reach long distances, one can fulfill the family obligation without actually being there. The clinching argument was that the villages can not provide the facilities and the housing in settlements was very harmful.
My observation thus is that some corrective steps need to be taken perhaps, in the accommodation policy which governs the management of housing in the armed forces. Amongst many yardsticks contained in this policy, in my view , the quota of 35% of the establishment for allocation of housing earmarked for ORs is at the heart of the problem. This grouping covers up to the rank of a havildar and during these periods their children are in their most formative years. In fact, in most of the cases, he is already out of the service before crossing this hump. Some amelioration comes for JCOs who have an enhanced quota to get a house.
But the damage is already done. Contrary to a yet another fixation in our thinking, men marry early and some of them have children touching 15 when they separate from the service. It is these children who ought to agitate our thinking. The question is how do we ensure that this largest segment of military manpower gets its share in the grooming of its children in the national space? What is even problematic is that many of ORs go on to join other paramilitary forces for continuity of livelihood and are deprived for a life time. They would legitimately feel cheated. Let me at the end make the most logical observation. The numbers in the armed forces have stabilised over the years and one does not see quantum upward rise in future. Therefore, should we not think in terms of making houses for all? The policy of not exceeding 90% of the overall establishment would still provide for wastage.
–The author an ex Army Major, was a member of the Haryana Legislative Assembly from the Congress party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org