Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Uniform

Narendra Kumar was mowed down by a tractor carting illegally quarried stones in Morena. 

He was an IPS officer, a man in uniform with an IAS officer for a wife.The dust on this brazen, open murder has settled somewhat with a CBI enquiry underway but the moral implication of the blood curdling incident stays and resonates.

This was a man doing his job. He wore a uniform representing the government, its rules and laws and authority. There was a special burden he carried, an alloy of responsibility and accountability made heavier by the obvious physical symbol he sported, the uniform. For any other non-uniformed person, it would have been easier to shrug off an inconvenient task but with the uniform as a constant nag, an ever present declaration and affirmation of where the wearer’s duty lay….oh no, that cannot, does not, ought not to happen.

I should know, surrounded as I am, by uniformed men. Dad used to acquire an entirely different persona as soon as he donned his uniform. It was subtle, the purposeful air, the all of a sudden watchful stance and a certain squareness of being that came with the brass. For the family, it meant he was off limits while in olive, his time and thoughts belonging to the state. There was a fuss over his uniform and constant spit and polish to keep it at its spunky best. A special and elaborate handling involving exclusive hangers, dust jackets and exhaustive instructions to the Sahayak on maintenance and upkeep was the norm.

I have seen the tradition duplicated, triplicated, and facsimiled in countless homes like ours where the head of the family wears a uniform to work. There is the same acknowledgement of the primary claim of the uniform on the wearer. It is understood that the uniform will come first, always. There are questions about work you do not ask. A lot is presumed and accepted in the context of “duty”.

Men and women wear this piece of cloth in the trust and belief that they represent a state that will stand by them. These are special people who could one day be called upon to pay with their lives in the course of a regular day at work. For the citizens of a nation, their uniformed brethren are a safety deposit to draw upon someday, God forbid. In a coalition democracy such as ours, they are the visible symbol of a civilized, law abiding, and orderly state.

A uniform is a point of privilege and an honour. But a state that does not protect her representatives is akin to a parent that abandons her child or a teacher who gives up on her student or a doctor who deserts his patient. It is called a moral washout! 

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