Archive for December, 2007

Frisking : A way to equality.

5 December 2007

It raised a stink when the demand of the defense ministry to let armed forces chiefs be exempt from body search by security at Indian airports was roundly rejected by the civil aviation ministry. The decision was no doubt controversial. Anand Sharma, a Minister of State in the union cabinet, threw a fit when challenged at the security cordon for frisking. Immediately, the government reacted by giving exemptions to all ministers of states while conveniently overlooking the fact that on several occasions ministers, both at the center and in states, were convicted as criminals, or have been known to aid & abet criminals & terrorists. One has even been caught carrying a firearm on board, a cognizable offence. In Kashmir, ministers were found ferrying arms for & providing safe passage to fleeing terrorists in their official cars. These instances are so palpable that public consciousness needs no reminding. Many people weighed in on this issue pointing to the absurdity of defenders of India’s security not being trusted at our airports or comparing how only one person appears on the coveted ‘exempt roster’ by name while all others are covered by designations or categories. This worthy‘s only distinction is his marriage into Gandhi family. All these views have considerable merit.

Then a friend forwarded a letter someone had written to the editor of Pakistani paper Dawn that had appeared in the issue of 30th November

What a contrast!

THIS is with reference to a minor news report carried by the national and international press regarding frisking of Indian army, navy and air force chiefs at airports.

The report goes on to state that India’s civil aviation ministry has refused to exempt the chiefs of Indian armed forces from being frisked at airports on grounds that it would lead to similar demands from other authorities.

After reading this report, I am beginning to understand why India is a democracy, and why we have strayed from that path. While Indian armed forces’ chiefs are frisked at airports, we are only reminded of the ugly incident wherein the son of our infamous ex-law minister beat a fellow passenger black and blue when the latter demanded that the former be subjected to security checks like all other passengers.

PIR SHABBIR AHMAD, Islamabad.

What a contrast indeed!! Obviously, Indian Army can take justified pride in the fact that they are held in high esteem for their professionalism, non-sectarian attitude and apolitical character. Time and again, parties & politicians of all hues have sought refuge in the army by calling it to establish law & order after their invidious plays with the fabric of society for partisan advantage went out of hand. Pakistani army on the other hand arouses only ill will & animosity except when the insufferable venality of their politicians & civilian rule make it look like a savior. While the Pakistani gentleman may be forgiven for concluding that frisking of Indian armed forces chiefs keeps India democratic, we in India need to account for this better.

India is a democracy alright. Undeniably so! But everyone experiences its’ multi layered nature & the consequent disconnect with the idea of democracy. Our age old caste system has morphed into our institutions – there are unmistakable hierarchies & a pecking order. Toll post barriers at the swanky new express ways that are to transform us into a modern nation are semi permeable depending upon who you are. The entire civilian bureaucracy is euphemistically called ‘public servants’, but everyone knows who is the master or else is shown the hard way. ‘Z’ category security cover is a cherished cherry provided predominantly to our worthy leaders & top class criminals at public expense. Supporters of a Mahant belonging to VHP felt slighted when their leader was given only second class ‘Y’ category cover while two other worthies of the same outfit were in ‘Z’ category. They concocted a ploy of escalated threat to their leader to elevate him into the highest class. When the MPs give themselves enhanced perks & privileges, there is complete solidarity in our Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha. Not a murmur of dissent is heard. However, issues of national interests have never deserved such unanimous support. No wonder then that when the parliament was under attack from terrorists several years ago, many prayed for success of the mission. It was a tribute to the fervent belief that death is a great leveler.

Answer therefore is not to co-opt the service chiefs in to this web of undemocratic privileges as defense minister Antony wants to vigorously retry, but to abolish this privilege for all, only as a step – a small step, towards true democratization of our polity. Let patricians & plebeians – without exception of president or prime minister – receive the same treatment at the probing hands of security personnel in our public places. It will not lower the dignity of anybody, but may make our security checks far more efficient & dignified. If Antony, a man reputedly of rare integrity & simplicity, fails in this novel endeavour, he could begin by implementing it in the defense ministry and all defense establishments irrespective of class or position of anybody paying a visit. It is doable. A few are doing it right under his nose. An officer commanding the largest airbase in the country was in habit of cycling in the base in the evenings as a constitutional and also as an unobtrusive way of keeping tab on what is happening around. One day while moving into the innermost security ring he was challenged by the guard on duty to identify & to produce identification document. Compliance revealed the identity of the intruder and he was properly saluted. Next day the guard was called in the morning to the office of the base commander. Poor fellow was shivering with the fear of being upbraided for his insubordination. He was astonished when asked to sit down and was offered tea before being commended for doing his duty without fear or favor. He was told that if he had behaved otherwise, he would have been hauled up for dereliction of duty. We want Antony & PM & President to emulate that base commander. For that we need to salute & support those who are doing their duty.

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