Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Requiem For The Martyrs

A must read Article for those who value the services and sacrifices of Indian Armed Forces

by Lt General Syed Ata Hasnain

The martyrdom of Major Mukund Varadarajan and Sepoy Vikram Singh in the Shopian encounter in South Kashmir is a test case for India’s old world values of Patriotism and Nationalism.

“Lament not the death of a soldier for he who dies on the battlefield in respected in heaven”.

These beautiful words etched as the epithet on the war memorial of The Garhwal Rifles at its Regimental Centre at Lansdowne may sometimes be taken literally by uncaring citizens of India.

The expression of poetic paradox is not supposed to be a literal advice but rather an uplifter of collective morale. However, nations not known for collective conscience which should arise from a realization of strategic threats to their security are wont to taking such poetic advice literally, and never mourn their warriors at all.

At no time was this more evident than after the recent Shopian encounter when soldiers, past and present, grieved the sacrifice of two more of their kin. Major Mukund Varadarajan and Sepoy Vikram Singh, bravehearts of the Army’s 44 Rashtriya Rifles deployed at Shopian, South Kashmir achieved martyrdom battling Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists in a fierce encounter. But for a few lines on media tickers and some visuals from wreath laying ceremonies their sacrifice was a forgotten one among the hum drum of electoral politics and who said what about some inane personality. For citizens of India and the ‘new conscience keeping moguls’ – the media – that is ‘news’. Sacrifice by sons of the nation far away from their homes, fighting existential threats to the nation is just an event which needs a brief mention and then relegated to statistics to read the trends of security in a conflict ridden state.

Raising the collective conscience of India towards a degree of sensitivity for the sacrifice rendered to the nation by its braveheart warriors is as much a challenge as rooting out corruption which has crept into its collective psyche. Each time a setback occurs in the performance of their onerous responsibilities warriors are left to grieve by themselves, within their community, without remorse or regret by people who are responsible to lead the nation and build its character, or even by those who think they are patriots and conscience keepers. Undoubtedly, an unfortunate commentary on the state of the nation.

As a social media buff I find myself in isolation while taking the initiative to sensitize citizens about a setback suffered by our security forces. While members of various groups are quick to express their condolence with a few words of regret, rarely do they remain observant about such events and care to spread the word or sensitize their associates. The collective conscience of India towards the sacrifice of its warriors has never really been a strong part of its heritage in spite of its rich martial traditions. Citizens are far too busy with daily chores of life to really care about those who have chosen professions which involve threat to their lives. The common and almost sickening refrain is that they have chosen their profession and are paid to run the risk.

Commenting on my Facebook page an Army officer wrote –“No one cares for our fallen soldiers. Which makes one wonder, why such nameless, faceless sacrifices by our men in uniform…for an ungrateful nation?” The same officer went on to write- “I don’t care for politics and politicians much but this is what I read and will always respect Barack Obama for….

”’So long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known. When you take off the uniform, we will serve you as well as you’ve served us – because no one who fights for this country should have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head, or the care that they need when they come home.’”

The anguish of the warrior class within our ‘caste system’ has never been more intense. No doubt the nation is going through one of its greatest political churning moments and a high profile commercial extravaganza is on in its favorite sport in another glitzy part of the world. No one expects the nation to come to a grinding halt every other day when a braveheart loses his life in a conflict situation battling the nation’s enemies, nor does one need banners to announce such news; all that is asked for is an acknowledgement of the sacrifice, a few words of remorse and empathy towards the families who have lost their all. The warrior looks for his self-esteem and his dignity in life and in death. Our mythology and our scriptures guarantee him that. Deny him that in life and he still will not regret but denying it in death is tantamount to sacrilege.

The profession of arms is not a ‘work for pay’ profession. Once you don a warrior’s uniform you are condemned to live by the ideals it carries binding you to an ethos as none other. Why has the citizenry of India and its political class in particular never understood this? Many claim that it is the lack of a strategic culture which gives the nation its inability to rise and be counted during setbacks. The cantoning of the Armed Forces perhaps is another reason but that helps to keep them away from the influence of negative trends; they need to be different, culturally, morally and ethically.

Is this the best time to hard sell the Armed Forces and CPOs of India and their sacrifice to obtain a more sensitive response? Firstly, we have all to rise above the emotional and the practical to discern what actually is the right response in such moments. The Internet has revealed to warriors and other countrymen how developed countries and some not so developed ones honor their heroes. So do we honor our heroes; only if they are Bollywood stars and cricket superstars. The propensity of our nation to not even lustily applaud the winners of the highest medals of valor on Republic Day reveals a psyche which is both disturbing and grotesquely negative. No psychiatrist research has ever been done to analyze why this happens; has nationhood bypassed us; do we revel in our individualism so much that we forget that the nation’s security can never be taken for granted; that a few good men choose to give their all and yet be condemned to the notion of being paid to give up their lives for the sake of others.

It seems that patriotism is just reduced to a commercial contract; pay for lives lost; pay for security and forget how this nation has withstood threats to its very existence right through its 67 year history. It is time that a few good men arose and took the entire issue of National values by the horns. Didn’t Naveen Jindal do it with the National Tricolor. The nation has to learn the whole gamut of Nationalism and stop paying lip service to its martyrs. The political class has to be made to realize this as much as the entire government machinery whose onerous responsibility it is to oversee the growth of a national culture of patriotism. I salute Jindal Foundation for its flag campaign. Many more corporates have to come on board to undertake this responsibility and not just leave it to the Government.

But most of all it is the unofficial fourth organ of the state, the media which has to learn to draw balance and stop judging the worth of martyrdom, patriotism and nationalism in terms of eyeballs and TRPs. If martyrdom in its opinion is not a saleable story then it bears the responsibility to make it saleable; after all the media too has a national responsibility beyond its watchdog status. As a patriot and a nationalist it is my appeal to the nation, every dimension of it, to take a leaf from its own history and restore the position of martyrs to the highest rung of the ladder of national icons. Let us regain our collective conscience as a nation because listen to this advice or not the warriors of this nation will continue to perform and give the supreme sacrifice whenever necessary; that is their karma, their ethos. Can you ever deny that?



  1. The article focuses on the need to somehow get the country to honour its warriors. My observation to this is - Why?
    If the country does not honour its warriors, which it clearly does not, why bother? And is it even doable? Can the thinking and feeling of a complete nation, about 130 crores of people of diverse cultures, be changed like this? Genetically, Indians have never bothered for societal values over personal gains.
    And what will be the effect of such attitudes on the motivation and quality of soldiers. No doubt, it will deteriorate. The quality of protection the nation gets from its soldiers will go down. But that is not the problem of the warriors. We must be what the society want us to be. Outside of the social will, we must not seek an identity. We are not a vendor supplying goods to the society but a force created by the society, as they wish.
    The defence of the nation depends not on the soldiers, but on its people. The Indian people have clearly demonstrated that they do not care for its armed forces. In effect, they don't care for their security. Why should we take it upon ourselves to educate them?
    I have 28 years service in the army. While I enjoyed my tenure immensely and was paid pretty well, I do feel that the risks I took for the nation and the Indian people was neither paid for adequately nor sensible on my part. They didn't deserve it.

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  3. 'Lament not the death of a soldier for he who dies on the battlefield in respected in heaven' - This is pure promotional material by smart guys in our society, so that some guys keep dying to help the smart ones keep living their lazy lives watching cricket and Friday release new movies. Not unlike the ad 'Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande'. That ad helps sell more eggs, this 'martyrdom' ad helps more people make that death decision. Why intelligent people do not see this, beats me.