ARGUABLY, the first war memorial of India after independence was inaugurated at Jammu on 24 November 2009. It was the brainchild of General NC Vij, a Jammuite, and an alumnus of my alma mater, GGM Science College, Jammu.
My better half and I visited Balidan Stambh to pay our homage to all martyrs who sacrificed their lives during wars and counter insurgency operations within Jammu and Kashmir region.
These 4877 martyrs include the police and paramilitary personnel besides the armed forces personnel of the Indo-Pakistani Wars of 1947-1948, 1965 and 1971, Sino-Indian War of 1962, Kargil War of 1999 and the anti militancy operations which have been going on since 1990.
The war memorial has an interesting architecture and design and invokes in you a sense of pride and gratitude to those who gave their lives for our safety.
The central pillar shaped like a bayoneted rifle pointing to the sky is the centerpiece of this place, the sun rays filtering through its baffles. At the base is an eternal flame, placed within the butt of the rifle that reminds us of the supreme sacrifices made by our armed forces, the police, and the paramilitary forces.
The design of the memorial revolves around a 5.56 mm INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifle, a standard issue for our troops.
At the entrance, visitors pass through an inspiring pathway lined with 6 metres tall INSAS bullets majestically erected on both sides.
To say the least, this 60 metres high war memorial, built at a cost of 130 million rupees in 2009, needs wide public awareness and is in dire need of good maintenance.
There were only five visitors to this war memorial on 5 Nov 22 . Fountains are dry, the iron poles of the bullet design that are an integral part of the overall architecture of the memorial need repairs, welding and a coat of fresh paint, and the lighting is poor after sunset.
As you aproach the entrance to the memorial, the entry point is decorated with a big barrier, which is unmanned suggesting that the site is closed and you are not welcome. But, I kept sitting in my car in front of the barrier, and, soon a policeman appeared from the small one room cottage between the entrance and the exit gate, which is sealed with barbed wires, presumably a reception area. He was carrying a register and a pen suggesting that we need to enter our details in the register. If that cabin is a reception area, my humble query is : why not put up a placard saying so ?
I think, the persons on duty must be seen by the eventual visitors so that they know the memorial is open to public and protected by the police. This historic monument needs regular inspection and quick maintenance as and when required.
Periodical paint work and repairs to the structures erected should be scheduled, say around the Independence Day and the Republic Day, lest the damaged and faded nemorial be considered as an insult to the memory of the national heroes.
Now, just hold your breath ! To add insult to the injury, there was a theft of aluminium doors and windows at the memorial on 25 October, that is presently under the security cover of J & K police. The theft has since been been reported to the Bahu Fort police station.
That speaks volumes about the care and respect given to this historic war memorial. This memorial urgently needs a well programmed security cover, besides regular mantainence, which should be an ongoing process.
(The author is Squadron Leader )