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Border Security Force – the true heroes of India

On a cold December day in 1965, India’s Border Security Force formally came into being. This was prompted by the India-Pakistan war which brought to light the weaknesses in the country’s border security. Until then the local police force used to also manage border security, but they did not possess the skills to handle this critical function. Since its humble beginnings in 1965, the BSF has grown from strength to strength and is today the largest border guarding force in the world. A fact that not many of us know. A fact that we must be truly proud of!

BSF personnel undergo one of the toughest training in the world and on completion of their training they are among the finest fighting soldiers in the world. This helps them not just to man the borders, but also to be able to survive for long periods in the hostile weather conditions around the border.

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India shares her borders with Pakistan in the North and West, Bangladesh in the East and China in the North East. In the North, closer to the Himalayas, the BSF soldiers have to manage in sub-zero temperatures almost throughout the year. In fact, the village of Dras, in Jammu and Kashmir is said to be the second coldest inhabited place in the world. Despite this, there is a very strong BSF presence in this region after the Kargil war which took place in 1999. We must also remember that our soldiers do not have permanent accommodation at the border posts. They live in tents or shacks or temporary shelters where no heating system is available. Under these cold, harsh and hostile conditions the soldiers have to keep their morale up and stay vigilant.

Along the borders in the North East our BSF soldiers have to deal with not just cold weather in winter, but also extreme rainfall and rugged terrain. While we do enjoy getting wet in the rain, isn’t it nice to head back home and get into warm, dry clothes? Imagine our soldiers out there standing in the rain all day, for months together, so that we can stay safe and warm in our homes.
BSF soldiers face another kind of extreme weather along Rajasthan border where temperatures soar to 47 to 50 degrees in summer. The blistering heat coupled with sand storms make it unfit for habitation. Yet our soldiers are out there in the heat and dust ensuring that no one intrudes into our borders. And, we already know, they do not have any comforts – like an AC – in their temporary homes. So the next time you complain about the weather or the AC in your home not working, think about the soldiers working in severe climatic conditions for us.

Now, imagine that you are away on a holiday. You M_Id_432010_BSFvisit many places and each night you may stay in a different place. While we enjoy the travel and sights immensely, we are happy to get back home, to sleep in our bed and to be surrounded by familiar and comfortable things.

However, the BSF soldiers do not even have this simple luxury. They have to live a nomadic life. For security reasons their place of duty is changed every day. Which means that they do not have the comfort to going back home to a familiar place at the end of a hard day’s work.

Moreover, due to shortage of soldiers, each jawan is given a large area to patrol. This means, even while on night duty, they must keep up their vigil. Imagine if they were like the night watchmen we employ in our buildings – who fall into blissful slumber a few minutes into their duty! How dangerous that would be for our country!

Due to the nature of their jobs, our BSF soldiers have to follow a very strict discipline and vigil. Even minor mistakes can result in serious punishments for them. This is because a small slip-up on their part can result in serious threat for the country. It is indeed a high pressure job with no room for errors.

So, what really is the role of BSF? Their job is to prevent trans-border crimes. They must prevent smuggling, infiltration and other illegal border activities. They must also be observe and report and unusual activities from across the border. During war time, BSF jawans act as guides to the Army as they are familiar with the local people and terrain. In addition, they help manage refugees, guard prisoners, perform raids…etc. When any kind of natural calamity strikes the country, BSF soldiers help in the rescue operations as well. For instance, during the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, BSF soldiers were the first to reach the affected area and start rescue work.

Is it all work and no play in the life of a BSF solider? Unfortunately, that is true! Each BSF soldier is allowed only 75 days of leave in a year. This is the only time they get for themselves and their families. The rest of the time they are working tirelessly. For us.

Let us take a moment today and every day to think about the jawans who are out there. These men and women of the Border Security Forces are our true heroes. Because unlike the Army, BSF fights an unending war and they never have what we can call a peace time.

I’m grateful to have got this opportunity to speak about these brave, unsung soldiers of our country. To be honest I knew virtually nothing about BSF, until I started preparing for this talk. So thank you once again for this opportunity. I leave you with thoughts about our soldiers. I hope you will join me in wishing them peace, health and happiness. Jai hind.

A school is a school is a school…not!

When we knew we were shifting to Navi Mumbai, my first concern was a good school for my daughter. However, I saw that the area we were shifting to, had a number of reputed schools, so I was reassured. I decided a school was a school was a school. Any child in middle school has to start working hard and it really did not matter which school she is in. I found a reputed ICSE school – walking distance from home and I was happy.

However, three months down the line, as we are cramming for first term exams, I’m plagued with guilt. I feel that I should have researched a bit more about schools in the area.
Not that the current school is bad. Everyone seems to think its ok.

I mean if you are extremely academically oriented, this school is perfect. But we have always favoured a school that offers a more all-round education. I believe, a school is after-all the microcosm of society. Children learn social behaviour, they enjoy their childhood and somewhere in the process they also gain knowledge. If you ask me, a child learns from every little experience. You take them to participate in inter-school culturals – they learn. You have a carnival in school and involve the senior children in organizing the event – they learn a hell of a lot! If you have debates and JAM sessions, they prepare for the topics with enthusiasm – and before you know, they have learnt a whole lot more without even realising it. Or how about you ask them to work out a drama on a particular topic they are learning…say in history…how much fun is that!

For me, formal, academic, learning at school is a by-product. Whatever else they learn is what matters more.

So, here’s a reality check. My daughter’s current school has 4 tests a week. Two on Mondays and two on Fridays. It essentially screws up our weekend (among other things). Then they have maths teachers who write sums on the board and ask the students to copy, without really explaining the concepts to them. Copious notes are given on every topic in every subject and students are expected to memorize and vomit! Whatever happened to students understanding and writing it in their own words? I’ll tell you what happened – the students in this English medium school cannot speak English. In grade 7 they are not comfortable speaking the language. So they need to be spoon fed the answers!

However, by doing so, the school is completely curbing any kind of independent thinking. The children are not imaginative or intuitive. They feel helpless to learn if they do not have the answers.

Ok fine. Let’s accept that for the moment. What horrifies me more is that they have exams for art, music, general knowledge and…wait for it…value education!!

I mean…what?!

Why can’t the kids learn art for fun? They are actually given topics to prepare! What happened to spontaneity? What if the kid prefers shading and does not want to use colours? What if the child has a penchant for abstract drawings? Or, what if, the child’s drawing abilities stopped at stick figures? If you have to grade the child at all, why not give them the freedom to draw or create whatever they like. Creative expression. Mark them for the thought behind the art – not for the artwork itself. The point of art is freedom of expression – right?

Ok. Let’s grudgingly grant them the art exam. But value education? This is not an exam subject. This is something, the child needs to imbibe and practice every single moment of their life. This is their foundation as human beings. As global citizens. However, in this school, they are given question and answers to memorise and write. In the meanwhile, outside the school gates, children unwrap chocolates and throw the wrappers right there.

General knowledge exam? How about making that a bit more fun? And having just a quiz and getting the kids excited about it a bit?

Music – kids are given a choice of 2 Hindi songs and one English song. They can opt for any one. And mind you, there is no like a ‘music period’ that the kids have during the week. These songs are sung during the school assembly. So if you happen to have learnt it…good for you! I mean, imagine a school with no music. Sad.

Wait. There’s more. So apparently when the kids are in grade 3 or 4, they are asked to choose a musical instrument. I’m not sure, but I think they are given a list of instruments like guitar, tabla flute etc and asked to choose one that they would like to learn. And then…wait for this…they have to LEARN IT THEMSELVES! So what the hell was all that select-your-instrument-process all about? What if I don’t want to learn an instrument from your list? What if I want to learn the Saxophone? Or what if musical instruments are not my thing. If you are not planning to teach in the school – why make the kids choose at all? I don’t get the point!

Now comes medical check-up. Firstly, I think every school must have medical check-ups. Every school I have been to, or heard of, has it. I remember my school used to have an annual medical check-up. A stern looking doctor and nurse would visit the school, make us stand on a weighing scale, check our height, make us stick our tongues out, pry apart our eye lids…and so on and proclaim us to be in good healthy, albeit a tad overweight or some such thing. But in this school, they give us the medical check-up form and we go get it done ourselves. What? Seriously? If I feel there is problem with my child, I will do it. If you are not doing it, why are you dictating that I must?

Ok, back to the academics. Right. If you are a wholly academic school, let me sigh and accept that. But then, live up to that name. Till date, my child says, they have not visited any lab in school. Not even the computer lab. And computer is such a practical subject! Instead they learn things like –
Step 1 – to open a file go to the top left corner of your computer, click on File and Click open
Step 2 – a new file will open. To save this file click on the top left corner…
Well…you get the drift! What’s the point of learning computer this way? They need to be hands-on don’t they? Fine, have the theory classes, but also take them to the lab and show them how it’s done! Seeing is learning – at least in case of computers.

And Chemistry. An entire lesson on physical and chemical changes. Not one visit to the lab. The teacher gave them the experiments and the results. Duh.

The heavy school bag she has to carry is another Pandora’s box. But I do not wish to open it here. My child lugs a heavy bag (at least around 7 kgs) – up six floors to her classroom. Eeveryday. It breaks my heart. I would like the school’s director the try doing that for a day!

I really think this school needs to loosen up, have fun, allow its students to have fun. They are not allowed to talk – even during lunch breaks. It’s a school, not a monastery, dammit! The poor class teacher is forced to eat lunch with the kids – because, you know, she has to ensure that the children behave! I’m sure she needs a break from the kids and vice versa. I’m not surprised to know that the teacher turnover is very high in this school. All the good teachers leave!
Honestly, I’m really really really disappointed. I expected the school to be up to some standard. People always say education is better in the Southern states – and I thought that was a mindset. Until now. Now I wholehearted agree.

So hats off South Indian schools. Especially the top Chennai schools. You guys have got the formula right. You are the right mix of fun, learning, social skills, cultural grounding and sports. My daughter and I miss you immensely Chettinad Hari Shree Vidhyalayam, Chennai. You are truly one of a kind school.

Swacch Bharat. Possible? Yes!

People are skeptical. They discuss animatedly outside tea shops. India? Clean? Hah! Narendra Modi is dreaming! They say as they crush and throw down the paper cups in which they just had tea…

Once I was traveling by auto right after a heavy spell of rain. The roads were flooded. The auto driver was whining and telling me that he spent the entire night, draining water out of his home as the rains had caused sewage water to overflow. People throw trash on the road, he proceeded to explain, that goes and blocks drains. When will people understand this, he moaned. As he was saying this he spat out into the rain water and also proceeded to crush and throw some newspapers lying around his seat…

So, yeah…where does one start with this clean India thing? Doesn’t it look too far fetched?

But hang on. I have a theory. The clean India mission needs to be implemented psychologically.  Telling people to clean up their act does not help, because most of us are so used to our action, we don’t even know we are part of the brigade that’s messing up the place. So screening expensive ads on TV channels, if you ask me, will not help. People will nod, agree and go about their business. They don’t realize that when they crush that newspaper and throw it on the road, it goes and blocks the drain.

Now my point is stop talking and preaching. It’s time to show people what clean means. The human brain is a funny thing. When it sees something better it aspires for it. Like, you’re driving a Maruti Swift, but you aspire for that BMW.

So step one. Stop spending obscene amounts on TV ads. Instead, what I propose is, lets take the children of our government schools on a school trip to Japan (or ok, if thats too much to Singapore). SHOW them what CLEAN is. SHOW them how schools can be kept clean, how streets can be kept clean. SHOW them how no one, spits, urinates and throws things on the road. SHOW SHOW SHOW. Their brain will assimilate it all. Then they will come back home to the squalor and find it hard to accept it. At this point – tell them, they are the ambassadors of clean India. It needs to start from them. Their home. Their neighborhood.

Step two. Tie up with the fancy sanitary ware companies. Lets open really really swank, 5 star level public toilets. Full with lovely mirrors, citronella aroma oil, soaps to wash hands and so on. There toilets should be manned and by smart, uniformed employees. They must be polite, yet intimidating. Encourage the slum dwellers to use this facility. But sternly tell them to be kind to the next user and keep the toilet clean. Tell me who can make such a place dirty? It will intimidate them. Yet if they are welcomed, they will use it. And once they use it, can they ever go back to defecating in the open?

The problem I think is that we build for them these regular toilets, which look dirty the moment they are ready for use. The person manning them hates his/her job and could not care about maintaining it. When you privatize it, the name of the organization is at stake. What an amazing branding exercise for the private sanitary ware companies. If they pull it off, they will never again have to have a marketing and advertising budget! They will get all the publicity and goodwill for free! Everyone in the country will patronize them. It’s win win situation for everyone.

Also these two ideas can be applied, pan India. They are not language specific. I noticed that all the Swacch Bharat ads are in Hindi. The message is not reaching half the country!

More thoughts on this soon. Meanwhile, be good. be clean. Swacch Bharat is possible. We have to make it possible.

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