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Fascinated by the forces
A common interest in India's military brings together the bharat-rakshak.com team
Anita Bora |
August 16, 2003 00:31 IST
Over the space of a few years, bharat-rakshak.com (BR) has established itself as a definitive source for information on the Indian military.
|Faces behind the site|
From Philadephia to New York, from Bangalore to Mumbai, meet a few members of the BR team
A team of about 25 people work across different time zones to bring this rich reference source for civilians, military enthusiasts and even the media. And for all of them, it's a hobby they are very passionate about.
It all started in 1996 when several individuals put up personal pages dedicated to different wings of the Indian armed forces. Since they were only a handful, the owners came together to collaborate and set up a resource under one umbrella. BR was born in July 1997.
Images of a few old and serious men with horn-rimmed glasses discussing India's nuclear capabilities is quickly dispersed after meeting young and enthusiastic Kapil Chandni, who looks after the navy section.
"We are all young enthusiasts, who started acquiring more and more information. We are all young. We don't have any biases or fixations. Growing up in liberal India has brought to the site freshness and new perspective," speaks Kapil for the team. None of the members have any professional training either.
For those who are always time strapped, BR's core members could probably teach a valuable lesson in the art of time management. "If a significant function takes place; like yesterday, a new ship was commissioned by the navy, then there is more demand of time and resources. The important thing is to find a balance," says Kapil.
The site is also managed out of their own pockets. While the expenses don't seem too much, there are overheads. "Internet connections are relatively cheap nowadays. But it is still expensive if we have to travel out-station on assignments, purchase and develop film rolls," points out Kapil. He's not complaining either. "People spend on so many different things. We spend on our hobby. So it works out okay."
Seetal Patel, who works out of London, explains about how they run the site. For monthly or quarterly site updates, the information is collated from all their sources. Articles are then reviewed by administrators. The bi-monthly emag, BR Monitor, has a team of editors with their own deadlines. The various sections of the site are updated at different frequencies. There are also special updates and contests on occasions, an example being the India in Space – 2020 essay, organised this Independence Day.
In general, only open source information is published. Else, it would have to be written by a verified source. Seetal says they take care not to publish information based on hearsay, or from an obscure source. "We do a good job and err on the side of caution," he adds.
With members scattered over the world, time zone differences, according to Seetal, can work both ways. "It helps people moderate the forums round the clock. It hinders in getting a quick consensus on certain issues."
The individual Web masters generally make the initial contact with freelancers and continue to be the main source of contact for future articles. Development and uploading takes place mostly in the US, UK and India. Kapil reveals that they usually have a bank of writers who volunteer to contribute. On occasions, they also approach people.
On BR's policies regarding presenting information, Seetal says, "It promotes an Indian perspective on issues of national security and response to issues is shaped by this perspective."
And has the Indian military's official site taken a back seat in the process? "At BR we can never match the official site in information content, but the freelance nature of our site means that the way it is presented is more interesting," replies Seetal.
There are, of course, challenges in running an extensive site of this nature. Some of these, according to Seetal, are a lack of access to official history of the various units and lack of ex-defence personnel who come forward to record their experiences.
Talking of its achievements, Seetal lists the team's fund raising for Kargil as one of their memorable efforts. "The forum participants raised funds for the army and their initial calls to the army woke it up and resulted in setting of the fund for Kargil martyrs." The Amar Jawan site maintained by Sachin P K is also another effort they are proud of.
The team probably has it a little easier today, since the army's attitude has changed, says Kapil. "The armed forces are opening up, though maybe not as much as we would like. But they are very helpful and cooperative."
Regarding clash of interests, Kapil says this has never happened. "History is what we basically focus on. And more than 99 per cent of the time, it can be done. Current matters might be a little more sensitive."
The feedback, has kept the team motivated. Even officials from the US Navy and military use the site. "An US naval officer told me during the India Fleet review that he went through the site so he could learn about the Indian Navy before coming to India. Now that's something!" exclaims Kapil.
Most feedback is put up on the site, and replies are sent whenever there is a specific query. The documentaries about Indian armed forces that are on sale, have met also with a good response.
About the future, the team is still excited and raring to go. "There was hardly any information when we started. Every schoolboy will know more about the Titanic than about our own INS Vikrant. In bookshops, there is nothing about the India military. We want to fill that gap. That is why we exist," says Kapil.
"It is said that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, and we want to remind people of their rich heritage," he adds.
The enthusiasm has obviously not faded, when I ask Kapil about how much longer they can sustain their efforts, He says, "We are young and we all have age on our side. We have not gotten disillusioned yet. We are doing it only for the passion and we have not come across any obstacles to stop us."
The thousands of people who visit their site will be relieved to hear that too.