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Surya Gangadharan
Friday , December 14, 2012 at 14 : 49

Honour for our soldiers will come when our people demand it


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The pictures would classify as "passport sized", usually faded black and white, showing a man or a number of men with name, rank and number below followed by a few lines in tribute from "the commanding officer and all ranks".

The tribute is usually badly worded, littered with adjectives (heroic, braveheart); sometimes they seem a direct translation from Hindi. But it's impossible not to be moved and for those of us from military families, we know that in the quiet of cantonments and posts in some forgotten corner of the country, individual units do ceremonially honour their war dead.

What of the civilians? It took them 50 years to acknowledge the thousands of men who fought and died in 1962. The 1965 war doesn't resonate but 1971 does (there's even a "memorial" under India Gate). Kargil is "iffy"; even today the Congress Party seems to distance itself from that war (and its 500+ dead) perhaps seeing it as the "BJP's war".    

As for the public, don't gauge the affection for the military by the crowds that turn up at Rajpath during the Republic Day Parade. Many young people may not be aware of the many wars fought since Independence. I recall the shock of a young colleague who thought the Gorkha troops at the parade were Chinese!

Now, there's talk of a national war memorial for all those who died since Independence. It will be around India Gate, we were informed some months ago. Since then nothing further has been heard.

Some serving and retired officers say their own leadership is to blame. If the police could acquire place for a memorial in Lutyens Delhi so many years ago, why could the military not have done so? No Indian Prime Minister is going to stand up and say, "Let's have a memorial for the fauj." It has to be driven by the military.

The criticism seems valid but as a senior retired officer told me, "Does the nation give a damn about us? We're remembered during war, forgotten thereafter." The "forgotten" takes many forms. It can range from denigrating the military in terms of protocol and depriving them of pay and allowances even when they have died in the nation's defence.

But honour and respect for the soldier cannot be imposed, it has to come from deep within. Kargil did lay that foundation with disturbing images of the dead and dying beaming directly into our living rooms. Today the military academies are full (more because of the economic situation and the desire for "pakki naukri"), nevertheless, so many more Indian families now have a member in uniform and are beginning to understand what it means.

We now have a serving minister in the Territorial Army. The torture and death of Saurabh Kalia and five Jawans is with the UN Human Rights Council. Honour for our men in uniform will come when the people demand it.


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More about Surya Gangadharan

Surya Gangadharan is International Affairs Editor at CNN IBN and was in Egypt to cover the anti-government movement. He has covered wars in Afghanistan, the UN intervention in Somalia and Rwanda, elections in Pakistan and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka where he interviewed the top leadership of that time. He has worked for the Straits Times Group in Singapore and also for PTI, the Indian Express and India Today in India.
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