Remembering Our Martyrs

BD Sharma
Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the country’s National War Memorial some days back which is located adjoining to the iconic India Gate complex in New Delhi. The project was conceived some sixty years back to honour our fallen soldiers after we gained Independence but it is very unfortunate that it took so long to pay even the symbolic gratitude to those who laid down their lives defending our nation.
There was no national memorial to commemorate the sacrifices made by our brave hearts after Independence. The NWM pays tribute to the soldiers who laid down their lives defending the nation during the1962 Indo-china war, the Indo-Pak wars of 1947,1965 and 1971,the lPKF Operations in Sri Lanka and the Kargil conflict of 1999.
The earlier memorial at India Gate had been built during the British Raj to honour the soldiers who laid down their lives during the First World War and the Third Anglo-Afghan war. Though this memorial is also in remembrance of Indian soldiers yet it has roots embedded in the British imperialism so the need to establish a true national memorial was long felt.
The nations who have great histories never fail to pay homage to their brave hearts because they realize that the martyrs have given their today for the next generation’s tomorrow. The martyrs make sure that their country men may remain safe and don’t care for their own lives. And for that they deserve immense respect and should be heaped with pride and gratitude. It has been well said that the nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.
It is a sad commentary on the mindset of our rulers that they paid scant heed to remember the soldiers who were instrumental in defending our country. Our thinking had been so much degraded that even as liberated a man as the actor Om Puri, had the audacity to state in public, some time back, that the soldiers were not showing the country men any favour and if they were dying for the country ,they were being paid for the same. It is no coincidence that Puri represented a class who have for long been ruling us and unfortunately some of them even carry the streak of ‘India Tere Tukde Tukde’ gang.
On the other hand, nations who have a history of valour and bravery venerate their fallen heroes immensely. Few months back we came across a news item as to how Israel had carried out a secret operation to recover the wrist watch of their legendary fallen hero Eli Cohen, the master spy who had been hanged some 54 years back in Syria. They had to expend a lot of monetary resources and engaged their intelligence network to retrieve this watch, to us an object of slight significance. But any thing linked to the heroes of Israel, carries a huge weight for the Israelis.
Cohen was assigned to be an undercover agent and in order to dodge the Syrians, he posed as a wealthy Syrian business executive first in Europe and then in Argentina for years together. Once he was successful to win the confidence of the local Arab community in Europe and Argentina , he got landed up in Damascus posing as a true son of Syria. There he befriended top army and civilian officials, whom he lured to his house with lavish parties where he dispensed free-flowing liquor and prostitutes. This helped him in procuring details of Syrian army deployment in Golan Heights and other vital state secrets of the host country. These vital strategic information helped Israel to subdue Syria in the Golan Heights during the 1967 war. But due to some stupidity of his handlers and some of his own overconfidence, he got detected and was hanged on May 19,1965 at Marja Square, Damascus.
Israel had done everything in its power to stop his execution, asking foreign diplomats to intervene and offering the Syrians a huge ransom but to no avail. After his death, Cohen had been declared a heroic fighter who contributed immensely to the security of Israel and streets and buildings were named after the national hero. Ceremonies started to be held every year in honoring his memory.
After his hanging Israel had been requesting Syria repeatedly to hand over his mortal remains but to no avail. Then Mossad decided to bring back the remains by any means. Syria being aware of the importance, the Israelis attach to their heroes and the resourcefulness of Mossad, gave a slip and removed the body from Jewish cemetery and chain shifted it from one place to another to keep the Israelis off track.
During these efforts to locate the mortal remains, the Mossad came to know that one of the interrogators had kept the watch of Cohen and had given it to someone. A full blown operation for eighteen months was undertaken involving huge effort and money to retrieve the watch, an expensive Eterna-Matic Centenaire . Then another operation was undertaken by Mossad to verify that this was indeed the watch which Cohen was carrying along. After a long efforts they were able to lay their hands on the documents showing that the watch had indeed been purchased in Switzerland which used to be Cohen’s transit place during his travels. Forensics experts, photo experts to examine pictures of Cohen with his watch, and other experts were recruited. All of them concluded that this was indeed the famous spy’s timepiece.
The Prime Minister took keen interest in all these efforts to locate and bring back the watch so that the nation does not forget Cohen’s legacy, a legacy of devotion, determination, courage and love of the homeland. And the Prime Minister further assured the nation that efforts to bring back his mortal remains shall also be vigorously pursued.
Israel is a nation which stands poles apart when the security matters come into play. Though she is situated in the amidst of hostile nations yet it has fought its enemies valiantly. These valiant fights have perhaps become possible because of the reverence shown by the nation to her heroes. Showing such reverence to the brave men leads to infuse a spirit in the young generation and they are not found wanting when the occasion demands their sacrifices.
Such a tradition was in vogue even in our country, though in less intensity and we come across many instances even during the time of monarchies when a lot of reverence used to be shown to the brave hearts. Dewan Kirpa Ram tells us that Ranjit Singh, the illustrious Sikh ruler would go to any extent in salvaging the honour of his heroes. He tells us that during the expedition of Multan one of his commanders approached the fort single handedly to explode its wall, but got unfortunately killed. His dead body was likely to fall in the hands of the enemy as its retrieval was almost impossible being exposed to the enemy view and their lethal bursts of fire but the Maharaja insisted on retrieving his body. The Maharaja overruled his senior commanders’ advice of not undertaking the almost impossible task and is reported to have observed that apart from retrieving the body of a brave soldier, it also involved sending a message to his soldiery of his commitment and concern for his fallen heroes. When no one came forward for this undoubtedly a highly risk prone task, Mian Gulab Singh Dogra volunteered and while showing a rare act of bravery and agility was able to bring back the dead body in the face of intense bursts of fire. This rare act of bravery, of course, enhanced the esteem of the famous Dogra which helped him subsequently to gain the Rajaship of Jammu in 1822. But it speaks volumes of the Sikh
ruler’s concern for his brave hearts and there are numerous instances where the great Sikh ruler ensured proper respect and prize for the brave.
Gulab Singh Dogra, in his turn on becoming the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir was also particular to stand up for his soldiers. Reports had been pouring in after 1841 that some Dogra soldiers accompanying Gen Zorawar Singh, after war in Tibet, had strayed in different directions and there was pressure from the families to bring them back. Immediately after assuming power as Maharaja he approached the Rana of Nepal through the good offices of Company Bahadur to locate and send back the Dogra soldiers. After years of search by the Nepalese soldiers in the difficult and far-flung areas of Tibet, some fifty Dogra soldiers were brought back to Jammu after more than fifteen years. About fifty others had also been located but they declined to come back to Jammu as they had married the local women there and had started the life afresh. Prof Datta tells us that the then Punjab government had to make a payment of Rs 1717/14/11 to the Rana on behalf of Maharaja, the receipt of the same is available in Patiala Archieves. The amount may be paltry but the Maharaja had to make a lot of efforts and his very seasoned Prime Minister Dewan Jawala Sahai had to make a lot of efforts to convince the Lahore authorities for taking up the matter. It speaks a lot of the commitment of a monarch for his heroes fallen in the hands of hostile and unfavourable circumstances.
After attainment of freedom it seems the defenders of our country did not get their due as we didn’t recognize adequately their acts of chivalry and sacrifice. We started to live in a make-believe world where we contemplated that we don’t have any enemies and soldiery has not an important role to play in our scheme of things. It is a fact that we should eschew chauvinism and jingoism in the conduct of our security affairs. Nor is there any justification to shower undue benefits to our men in uniform as is being done in Pakistan like the proverbial grabbing of all corner plots in the country. But we didn’t do justice to our heroes either. That is why the son of Albert Ekka, the winner of Param Vir Chakra, had to pull rickshaw to get his both ends meet. And Middle class failed son of Rabri Devi started playing in hundreds of Crores without any special qualities. Some brands of politicians, film heroes and players of a particular sport had snatched all the glory leaving our real heroes high and dry. Though BJP has a comparatively better record in recognition of the service and the sacrifice of these men still a lot needs to be done for them. A comprehensive policy needs to be framed for the serving and the fallen heroes. Categorization of the Para military and Police personnel laying down their lives as martyrs, fair distribution of monetary compensation between widow, children and parents, unhindered entry of their children in Kendriya Vidyalas and Central Universities and preference in entry in Sainik schools, first preference in allotment of government resources and sale outlets, are some of the measures required to be taken to ensure dignity to our heroes and their families. Dryden, the English author has rightly said that none but the brave deserves the best.
(The author is a retired civil servant)