have often reminded journalists of today in my blogs and articles that they
represent the sacrosanct fourth pillar of democracy. But rather than being the
watch dogs of an almost bankrupt society in terms of morality, journalists
nowadays have become the lap dogs of a modern world.
not just a political journalist or a defence journalist or one covering the
medical field or crime who needs to be vigilant, honest and bold. Even an auto
journalist needs to be truthful and upright when it comes to his profession.
to auto journalism, I remember I used to be in touch with Harish Joshi who was
part of the Corporate Communications team at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd aka Maruti
Udyog. He retired a few years ago. I used to call him up whenever a new Maruti
car was launched. Sometimes he would send the car across for a couple of days
for me to experience it and write about it. We were not very close friends, but
I liked him for his intelligent and no-nonsense attitude. Well, Harish Joshi has
almost lost all faith in fair justice in this world. He lost his younger son
Captain Jayant Joshi a year back in a helicopter crash. His wife Jiwan Tara
served as a senior nursing army officer. She recently retired from her post as Colonel. Both
of them are heart-broken after the tragic demise of their son.
Jayant Joshi along with Lt Col AS Batth was doing a routine practice exercise in
their Army Aviation Rudra Advanced Light Helicopter at the Ranjit Sagar Dam
near Pathankot when it crashed into the deep waters of the dam. Both of them
died in the crash. Jayant hadn’t completed his 27th birthday. Born
on December 6, 1994 he died on Aug 3, 2021 in the crash. Could he have been
saved? Yes, emphasises his father but only had the pilots been given basic water
survival training and equipment.
Jayant belonged to 254 Army Aviation Squadron. He left behind a grieving family
and friends. His family included his father, mother and brother Neel.
What went wrong?
the accomplished pilots of 254 Army Aviation Squadron, flying over the waters
of the Ranjit Sagar Dam is part of their basic training. But on Aug 3, 2021,
their helicopter crashed for some strange reason, killing both the pilots. The
body of Lt Col AS Batth was found a few days after the crash on Aug 15 while
Capt Jayant’s body was found after 75 days on October 17.
after the crash, the Indian Army along with the Indian Navy began a massive
search operation to locate the bodies of the two pilots. According to Harish
Joshi, it was the Navy that was more determined than the Army in its efforts. After
the first body was located, and with each passing day, Joshi was hoping and
praying that the rescue teams could locate the body of his son. There were
rumours that the search would be called off.
this is where I want to talk about the role of the media. Had it not been for
some upright journalists from some leading newspapers and channels like The Indian
Express, The Times of India, The Tribune, The Wire, among others, including
tweets and hash tags by several others, the rescue operation would have been
called off by the Army much before Captain Jayant’s body was recovered.
to Joshi, it was the Indian Navy that gave him constant hope that they would
ensure that his son’s body would be recovered at any cost. As for a few senior
Army officers, they were simply pussyfooting, trying their best to call off the
rescue operations citing rising costs.
an auto journalist, I too chipped in with my sincere efforts. I met some
defence correspondents and their Editors and urged them to keep writing on the
rescue operations so that the search was not called off. The Wire Editor M K
Venu was kind enough to hear me out and was very helpful. The Wire defence
writer Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar wrote a brilliant report that made sure the
search operations continued.
Firebrand journalist Barkha Dutt from Mojonews did her bit by writing and tweeting continuously about the incident. She even interviewed Harish Joshi and kept the news alive. Harish’s old friend from Maruti Udyog days, Arun
Arora sent out several critical tweets too. Captain Jayant Joshi’s body was
retrieved from the lake 76 days after the crash.
journalists who had interacted with Joshi when he was working with Maruti
Suzuki, tweeted about the crash and Harish Joshi’s
predicament. Many of them went out of their way to keep the pressure "on". Hormazd Sorabjee, Pankaj Doval, Sumant Banerji, Girish Karkera, Kranti Sambhav, Siddharth Patankar, Gagan Sethi, to name a few, were very proactive, tweeting extensively on the issue.
know I did my bit. I genuinely grieved and I prayed for a closure. I was happy,
sad and emotional when Jayant’s body was finally found. The postmortem report
that followed emotionally destroyed Captain Jayant’s parents.
his body was bought for cremation to Delhi I was there to pay my last respects.
A brave officer of the Indian Army had died in the line of duty. An old timer like me, Deepak Joshi who was a colleague of mine when I was in The
Hindustan Times New Delhi, was also present at the cremation.
for the company Joshi worked in, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, except for a couple
of people working there, not a single person from the management, senior or
junior, was there to console the grieving father. This was not the
time for apathy, but for love and forgiveness and sharing of grief.
The Postmortem Report, another shocker
Captain Jayant’s body was recovered, a postmortem
was conducted by the Army. A 20-page report of the Institute of Aviation
Medicine (IAM) based in Bengaluru noted that multiple injuries were sustained
by Captain Jayant and even though these were grievous in nature, he could have survived.
The injuries adversely affected Jayant’s survivability in water for a self
rescue, but had he been equipped with a life jacket and other equipment, maybe
he could have been alive today. Harish Joshi is yet to come to terms with the fact
that his son had drowned after the crash because of lack of a simple life
Joshi wrote to the President of India seeking a detailed explanation. The letter
was forwarded to Secretary, Ministry of Defence asking him to find out what really
happened. Joshi received no reply from the Defence Secretary.
also wrote to the then Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Karamvir Singh, thanking
the Navy, especially the recovery team, for locating Jayant’s body. Joshi maintained
that proper training should have been given to those Army pilots who fly over
water. But these young pilots got no underwater crash survival training and
also missing during such flights was a life jacket.
said that the autopsy report of his son’s body confirmed that Jayant was alive
after the crash but he drowned because he did not have a life jacket. The
report said he died of drowning. Jayant was a great swimmer, and had there been
a life jacket, it would have kept him afloat. The moment the helicopter had
crashed, dam authorities and locals were the first to reach the spot with their
boats. Rescue boats and choppers too
joined in. Had Jayant been seen floating on water, he could have been easily
rescued. Jayant had suffered a thigh
bone fracture and a collar bone fracture in the crash which made it impossible
for him to swim up to the surface. But a life jacket could have pushed him up
to the surface. .
Army continues to be in a denial mode. Even the Minister of State for Defence
Ajay Bhatt mentioned in Parliament that flying on water is a miniscule part of
training for these army pilots. Miniscule or otherwise, what stopped the Army
from providing life jackets for that miniscule part? Are the lives of our
defence personnel not precious? Several lapses are apparent. But no senior
officer had the courage to apologise or admit that a mistake had been done. Politicians,
who generally shed crocodile tears over our defence sacrifices, pushed the
Jayant episode under the carpet literally. When Jayant’s body was brought to Delhi
for cremation, there was no one from the Delhi government to pay his or her
last respects. A martyr was coming home. He deserved a dignified send off.
Joshi and his officer wife spend sleepless nights even today thinking about
their son who died while on duty. He could have lived, had the Indian Army been
a little more careful and prepared. No heads have rolled for the lapses. No
heads will roll either. Harish Joshi sometimes feels guilty to have pushed his
son into joining the Army. Captain Jayant was a brilliant officer, he died too
Harish Joshi’s friends advice him to “move on” and “bury” his grief. What has
been done cannot be undone, they say. It’s easy for you and me to say that. But try explaining that to a distraught and
shattered father, it’s virtually impossible. He was meant to live, not die. To
add insult to injury, neither Captain Jayant nor Lt Col AS Batth got any
special mention or award on Aug 15, 2022 Independence Day. Two brave officers
of the Indian Army did not die from a shot from the enemy, but from a shot from
within. Hang down your heads in shame. We should have brought out our boys alive!
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