Decades ago I read The Fourth Estate, an interesting novel by Jeffery Archer. The book is about two media barons who do everything to be successful. The level of competition surpasses all ethical norms and in order to outdo each other they cross all limits. To get that extra edge over the other, first they create news and then report before the other one.  That was the time when cable TV had just started in India and 24 hours news was still in its infant stages. Some portions of the book looked unreal at that time. How could one media house itself create news and defeat the other by being the first to report it? How could desperation to be the first to ‘Break News’ lead to killings and other malpractices? But today the death of Lance Naik Roy Mathews is a shocking example of how news is created and reported. Even, if it ends in killing an innocent soldier.

It is said that ‘death’ makes the most interesting news. But in India the news about army has surpassed even that. In last 3 years main stream media is engaged in spreading propaganda about army. Pathankot terror attack, Uri terror attack, surgical strike by Indian troops on Pakistan terror camps and Gurmehar issue, army was at the centre of storm. Media helped by some opposition parties, tried their best to create doubts about army’s role in surgical strike without realizing how devastatingly it would affect the morale of the soldiers.

When I read about Roy Mathews, it made me sad beyond words.An innocent unassuming soldier answered some general questions of a journalist without knowing her reality and the purpose.Soldiers are generally simple men who are not aware of the ways of the world because of the uncommon nature of their job. Roy Mathews didn’t know with what intent Poonam Agarwal, the Quint journalist was asking questions to him. He was not aware of the camera and the mike that she was wearing. He was not aware of the consequences of his talking to a stranger. Poonam Agarwal posted this tweet after the ‘sting’ of the soldier and deleted it after his suicide.

Not only the tweets related to the soldier’s ‘sting’ but the videos were also taken off from website. Why?

Why shouldn’t the website and the journalist be held responsible for Roy’s death? Why there is no case registered against them?

Why is media suddenly interested in the ‘dignity’ of soldiers? Army as a big organization must be having many problems. If media is interested in raising issues related to jawans and genuinely want to better their lives, it could focus on those problems.Why is media concerned only about the ‘dignity’ part? Wants to prove the inhuman behavior of officers towards their men? Want to create rift between officers and the troops?

Sahayak system may have been started by Britishers, but over the decades it evolved into a strong bond between an officer and his buddy. There may be a change in the relationship due to the changing times but the basic bond is still intact. There are many incidents relating to Sahayaks that come to my mind while writing this piece. As a newly married and staying at Coimbatore, how patiently the south Indian Sahayak taught me a little bit of Tamil so that I could interact with my maid. Once when my husband was away on official duty and I fell ill with severe stomach ache, he ran crying all the way to the unit to bring a vehicle to take me to hospital. The last Sahayak before my husband took volunteer retirement still calls us to wish on Diwali and New Year. Is it possible if they were ill treated?

Indian army is a large force of more than 12 lakh men. In such a large organization some untoward incidents may happen but it doesn’t mean that all men are ill treated by officers and their families. In field areas Sahayaks are must but in peace stations,civilians can be registered with station HQ after thorough investigation and allotted to officers on sharing basis, one among 3-4 officers that too on payment.

With changing times, traditions need to change. Troops are more educated and more assertive. Army under media scrutiny all the time can be very dangerous. Every little thing being blown up by media hounds can create unimaginable damage to the army.One quality that is must for the army to function smoothly is its discipline. With easy access to social media, some undisciplined jawans may use social media for covering up their mistakes and escaping punishment. Time has come for army to include in its training curriculum – the proper handling of social media and journalist like Poonam Agarwal with strict instructions to not entertain media without authorization.

Indian army doesn’t need media or social media as weapons, nor should it allow media vultures to make it their weapon.


Rita Gupta