Know Your Enemy

Stop glorifying martyrdom, India. It insults our heroes

Let us honour those who lay down their lives by thanking them for their service, but never betraying an appetite for their deaths.

 |  Know Your Enemy  |  4-minute read |   22-02-2016
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Something punched me in the gut yesterday, and it hasn't stopped hurting. A well-known retired Army veteran sent me a picture on WhatsApp. It was a photograph of a helmet and rifle silhouetted against a background of the eternal flame and the setting sun - the unmistakable "Amar Jawan Jyoti". Emblazoned across it in the kind of font that we have now gotten accustomed to on social media were these words: 

"NOTHING CAN TAKE AWAY THE GLORY OF DYING FOR YOUR NATION." 

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The image, likely shared widely already, came on a day when the Army suffered a terrible blow in the saffron-growing Pampore suburb of Srinagar. In a matter of just a few hours on Sunday, three young special forces commandos had been cut down by terrorist fire - a shockingly high price to pay in a single localised encounter. Their deaths though are only the latest instalments in what has become a fairly predictable feedback sequence.

Soldiers get killed shockingly often in a country that's engaged in a proxy war that has no time-out. The truth is, when soldiers die, mostly nobody notices. When the country (read media) do notice, it's because there's something unusual about that death: (a) conspicuous gallantry quickly communicated by the Army. (b) conspicuous violence, like a beheading or mutilation. (c) part of a media spike in the India-Pak narrative. (d) unusual circumstances, like the Siachen incident.

It may have been coincidental that just at the time I was looking at the image that war hero had sent to me on Whatsapp, another Army veteran had this to say in a private conversation (and I paraphrase): No matter how many scams hit the Army, no matter what anyone says, nobody can never replace the glory of dying for the nation. You can only imagine it. We live it every day and fulfill our dreams.

The idea that dying while fighting your enemies is glorious is hardly new. Militaries the world over use it for two reasons: One, to emulsify the otherwise carnal texture of such deaths. And two, to soften the blow of regarding death in such terrifying circumstances. Honouring the brave is an adjunct to both of these, slightly more clinical impulses.

But this isn't about honouring the dead. Soldiers who die in the face of enemy action are braver than literally anyone else alive. They function with utter knowledge that the breaths they draw could be their last. They bring to the fight a hundred-percent while compartmentalising the inevitability of a stray bullet. Those three young men who entered the EDI building in Pampore, trained for a brutal fight, went into that building fully aware that there was the possibility they wouldn't live to debrief their commanding officer. That's the nature of the fight.

But it is not their death, nor the honours that we rightly pile on that that is a problem. It is the notion, somehow, that there is glory in their death. That dying for your country in this manner is somehow everything a soldier should aspire to. That there is no greater acquitter in the living world, than exiting it while defending your homeland.

I would submit that India doesn't want martyrs. We want our Pawans, Om Prakashs and Tushars to be very much alive. We want our Lance Naiks to survive to fight again. We don't want to have to honour their mortal remains. We shouldn't want to pacify ourselves and their families that their sons - Pawan was just 22 years old - died gloriously in the nation's service. We shouldn't want to spin tales of pride and bravery to drown out the collective guilt we must courageously face over sending our soldiers to die. We do, and should. But we shouldn't want to. There is nothing aspirational about martyrdom.

Let us honour those who have laid down their lives by thanking them for their service, but never betraying an appetite for martyrdom. India doesn't want martyrs.

A Facebook post by Captain Pawan Kumar that went justifiably viral shortly after his death said, "Kisi ko reservation chahiye to kisiko azadi... Bhai humein kuch nahi chahiye bhai bas apni razai..."

I'm willing to bet everything I hold dear that Pawan didn't mean "eternal sleep".

Then again, we'll never know.

Writer

Shiv Aroor Shiv Aroor @shivaroor

Editor (Output) at India Today TV. Interests: Military, marine biology, boxing, metal, videogames, horror, hypocrisy.

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