Two back-to-back attacks in Punjab by terrorists wearing army fatigues prompted the Indian Army to issue an appeal Friday to civilians to avoid wearing “army-pattern” dresses and shopkeepers to refrain from selling combat clothes.
In the roadside markets of Old City in Chaura Bazaar of Ludhiana, however, there are multiple ‘army and military stores’ which sell army uniforms. They get their stock from retired soldiers or even those in service.
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“Even discarded uniforms, brought in by ragpickers, land here,” said a dealer who claims his wares come from the bazaars of even bigger cities like Delhi and Lucknow.
Also known as kabaaria bazaar (scrap market), the uniforms, including shoes, bags, tents, socks and caps, were sold openly in the market opposite Ludhiana railway station just a few days before the Pathankot attack happened.
“If someone brings a uniform which is in good condition, we buy it for Rs 300 to Rs 500 and sell it for Rs 700 to Rs 900,” said a shopkeeper. “Mostly jawans from lower ranks who accumulate 15-20 sets of uniforms during period in service sell them to us.”
“Uniforms are a source of pride for the soldier, we know that,” he added. “But the problem is that the uniforms issued by the government to the soldier are usually do not fit them. What is the point of soldiers wearing uniforms that makes it hard for them to move? In the open market, they get uniforms stitched and they are better with longer durability.”
“But since the Pathankot attacks, we are not selling or re-selling any more uniforms,” said the shopkeeper.
A shopkeeper from the Railway Station road said uniforms can be found not just here but even close to the cantonment areas of Pathankot, Ambala, Jalandhar and Ferozepur.
“Retired soldiers who are from poor family background keep one set for remembrance and personal use after retirement but sell the rest. The original ones , issued to them by government, get them a good price,” a shopkeeper from Iqbal Ganj market said.
It is not just soldiers who get their uniforms stitched from outside their stations but army officers, too.
“Soldiers are issued uniforms once a year only while officers have to get them stitched on their own. The unit tailors and stores get stock from authorised suppliers but soldiers have to get them stitched from outside. They spend from their own pockets and officers also do the same. Fabric used to stitch uniforms is also available with tailors in the open market,” said a senior army officer from Dholewal military complex of Ludhiana.
“Moreover, winters uniforms comes to us once in three years,” he added. “So if the uniform is worn out or does not arrive on time, we get it from open markets. These days’ windcheaters of green military shade (plain) from China have flooded the markets. the common man can easily mistake this for our uniforms.”
Arun Jain, an authorised supplier of uniforms from Ludhiana, explains how they spot a fake from the original uniform.
“You mush check the inner side of the button lines. If it has the name of the authorised company which supplies the fabric, it means they are legal. Else, they have been stitched illegally. We usually ask our army clients a few questions who come to buy uniforms apart from checking their ID cards and clicking a photograph,” he said. “But of course, this can’t be said of every body.”
A few days after the Pathankot attack, army uniforms that were on display outside many of the ‘military’ shops were replaced by colourful readymade garments.
The owners, when questioned by The Indian Express, denied that they dealt in army uniforms. “The word military is attached to our shop’s name since years. We have nothing to do with army stuff,” said owner of Indian Army Store.
Major SS Aulakh, general secretary ex-servicemen welfare society, said, “It is a crime to resell uniforms and other accessories issued to us by the government. You do not know where your uniform travels once sold in market. As per service rules, the government does not take our uniforms back from us. But now they may revisit this policy. This is dangerous.”
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