New initiative to de-stress troops

BSF personnel can now video-conference with their families back home

New initiative to de-stress troops

Borders are essentially unsettling places. Each night, as the straining pitch of darkness and deceitful terrain threatens to swallow ones daily quota of vigour, a Border Security Force (BSF) platoon on the move is just getting started.

Even a minuscule folly could be a matter of life and death. Enemy guns and those peering eyes from across bunker posts are hard to ignore even for a minute. Sweltering summer months or the intense chill of the winter, patrolling the 540-km-long Punjab border with Pakistan will always remain unforgiving. Those cherished Saturday nights freaking out with friends and that usual 9 to 5 job and then back-to-home regime are invariably a dream for soldiers on the borders. Stress is imminent, at times irreversible, which is why the BSF has worked out a solution. The prestigious border force has brought “home right at the border”.

BSF constable Shivarama, posted at the India-Pakistan border in Punjab, is from a village in
Hassan district in faraway Karnataka. For only two-months in a year--all of his annual leave entitl­­­ement-- he’s with his family back home. But now, almost every day Shivarama is talking and chatting live with his family via a video link. It’s the first of its kind initiative by the BSF.

So far the facility, titled “Apna Ghar Sarhad Par,” is limited only to the Punjab frontier. Plans are being expedited to replicate the model on all border locations where the BSF has its base.

The concept is simple and easy, but is already having a tremendous impact on the behaviour and psychology of the troops on the border. Every day between 6 pm and 9 pm, the duration within which troops can connect live with their families through video-conferencing and chat, troops after a hard day at work collect at the venue at the BSF headquarters on the border for a virtual glimpse of the family. The facility for now has been set up at the Integrated Check Post at the Attari border, besides at the BSF’s Amritsar headquarters in Khasa.

Just like Shivarama, for Manipur resident and BSF personnel Sapang Ditinder, the stay away from home in the barracks has of late become comforting. Now, Sapang patiently waits for his turn to connect with his children and wife in Manipur. Many of the families, officials say, have desktops and laptops back home, courtesy the tech-savvy children and that makes the facility possible. Officials say they hope this facility would put to rest much of the yearning among troops to go back home. It’s a great stress buster and already working wonders, officials feel.
Harinder Kaur, a woman constable of the BSF in Amritsar, has her home in Hoshiarpur district of Punjab.The new facility has added new zing for this young woman to her daily routine.

Kaur says she now feels more at home talking and chatting with her family almost daily. “I feel refreshed at the end of the day. That’s the key,” she says.

BSF Deputy Inspector General MF Farooqui maintains that the facility will be instrumental in addressing issues of frustration that stem from rigorous work conditions. Soldiers on borders often turn homesick which hits performance levels at times. “They can now see and interact with their families. Certain impending issues back home that shoot up stress can be settled. They can even be a part of the small ceremonial functions like Rakshabandhan,” he said, adding that the facility attempts to destress troops. More such facilities are being created at various locations for logistic convenience of the force.

Stress and risks of work on this border are a lot different and pose new challenges every day. Punjab borders with Pakistan are notorious for narcotic smuggling, especially the high-priced heroin. The latest report of the Narcotics Control Bureau on drug seizures in the country reveals that the seizure of heroin from Punjab was more than the total seizure from all the states put together. The border with Pakistan is entirely manned by the BSF.

Reports tabulated on the basis of heroin seizures that took place in the last three years, till the end of March 2013, state that nearly 814 kg of heroin was seized by Central agencies and the Punjab police during various operations on the border with Pakistan and within Punjab. Heroin recovered from all the states during the same period accounts for less than 700 kg.

The extent and magnitude of the task of the BSF on this border is both critical and crucial given that most of the heroin seized in Punjab was of south-west Asian origin that enters India through Pakistan.

At the national level, the BSF has declared the current year as the “Year for the Jawans”. Various welfare measures underway will benefit troops and this video-conferencing facility is one of the many initiatives being taken. BSF officials feel the facility is a great feature, especially for personnel who hail from far-flung places in the country and cannot visit their families often.The challenge for the BSF is to make aware its personnel of the facility and make use of it.

According to officials, there are personnel who are neither computer savvy nor have the internet set up back home. But as the popularity of the facility catches up with troops like addiction, the BSF says its mission will be accomplished.

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