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Cowards in a nation of braves

Cowards in a nation of braves

Author: Kanchan Gupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: June 21, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/184129/Cowards-in-a-nation-of-braves.html

Kargil war veteran Baldev Singh was shot dead and robbed by three men in Bhajanpura, North-east District of Delhi. He was carrying Rs 8.45 lakh. The incident occurred around 10 am barely 50 metres from a police picket - reportedly manned by two personnel..." This is an excerpt from a story that appeared in last Tuesday's newspapers. The incident had occurred the previous day. At a very superficial level, this story tells us about the appalling law and order situation that prevails in the nation's capital city where policemen are deployed to protect the precious lives of 'Very Very Important Persons' who, by virtue of their status as Ministers, MPs and bureaucrats, are entitled to security while commoners who toil so that they can keep the VVIPs, their spouses and their progeny in comfort, find themselves at the mercy of gangsters, murderers and rapists. Lutyens' Delhi is the modern day Diwan-i-Khaas while the rest of the metropolis, in large patches squalid, overcrowded and bereft of civic facilities, is the Diwan-i-Aam. The glittering chrome-and-glass malls, the multiplexes and the fancy restaurants with unhygienic kitchens - my companion is still recovering from the ravages of typhoid that went undetected for almost a fortnight at an upmarket hospital - and the perpetually under-construction flyovers help cover the ugly underbelly of life in Delhi. Living in the national capital is bad; living in the National Capital Region is worse.

But let's get back to where we began: The murder of an Army veteran, a man who fought in the last war we faced, in, as media is fond of describing, broad daylight, a short distance from a police picket where two worthies in khaki were reportedly on duty. The police claim to have 'cracked' the case; four men have been arrested; the story has been duly published; and, that is the last we shall ever hear of this murder. It could be argued that the killers were ignorant of Baldev Singh's background, that he had helped regain territory we almost lost to Pakistan in the summer of 1999. But that's unlikely as they were aware of his responsibility of collecting cash from the petrol pump where he worked and depositing it in a bank. They would have also been told of who Baldev Singh was by their informers. So, here we have a shocking incident of Indians killing an Army veteran who had risked his life for the country's defence and the nation's territorial integrity. We haven't heard a pip-squeak from our so-called 'civil society' which is prompt in holding candle light vigils for dubious causes or 24x7 news channel celebrities whose hearts bleed for the cherubic faced 'Butcher of Mumbai' - one of them recently wrote a touching article in a national daily whose sum and substance was: Look at this poor lad who should be playing football and cricket in Faridkot and returning home to the comforting arms of his mummy every evening; does he deserve to swing at the end of a rope? Yes he does. As do the four men who killed Baldev Singh.

The point, really, is not merely about our society grown callous and indifferent, or the rapidly diminishing sense of national pride. It is also about the Government choosing not to remember wars fought by our soldiers and honouring our heroes - those who lived to tell tales of valour and those who fell on the battlefield. We have an annual ceremony to honour the unknown soldier at Amar Jawan Jyoti, the memorial at India Gate, and that's about all. We do not celebrate our spectacular military victory in 1971 lest Pakistanis are offended and reminded of Mrs Indira Gandhi's audacious decision to rend asunder Mohammed Ali Jinnah's "moth-eaten Pakistan" and deliver Bangladeshis from the rapacious tyranny of West Pakistan. There's a sneaking suspicion that December 16 is studiously ignored by our politicians (including, and it must be noted, those of the BJP) because the observance of Victory Day could 'hurt' Islamist sentiments at home.

So, it is not entirely surprising that the Government should also ignore Vijay Diwas - July 26 - the day a defeated, devastated and demoralised Pakistani Army turned tail and fled from the heights of Kargil, more precisely, the few remaining bunkers in its control, leaving its dead to rot in the rocky wilderness of Drass, Kaksar and Mashkoh Valley. Nor should it be surprising if Indians who have come of age in this past decade - those who were eight years old in 1999 - are ignorant of the tumultuous events whose tremors were felt around the world and shook the US into taking, for the first (and only) time in six decades, a firm stand against Pakistan. In fact, a pop quiz would reveal very few of us remember the details of the Kargil war, as also the other wars that have been forced on us. When Tiger Hill was taken back from the Pakistani intruders, there were celebrations across the country. But how many of us remember that outpouring of national pride? Or, that 533 of our finest and bravest men died during Operation Vijay?

One story that should be remembered by us, and told to our children again and again lest future generations forget, is that of Captain Saurabh Kalia and his team of five soldiers who were on duty at Bajrang Post in the Kaksar area on May 15. Suddenly there was heavy firing from across the Line of Control; Captain Kalia and his men responded in full measure; tragically, they ran out of ammunition. Before they could send out an SOS (there have been suggestions that their communications equipment failed to work), Captain Kalia and his men were surrounded by Pakistani soldiers. Later, Skardu Radio reported that they had been taken alive. On June 7, 1999, their bodies were handed over by the Pakistani Army. For the 20-odd days that Captain Kalia and his men were alive, they were brutally tortured in captivity - their mutilated bodies bore the evidence of chilling inhumanity: Ear drums pierced with hot iron rods, eyeballs carved out with knives, genitals chopped off, every bone broken and splintered. And, after all this, they were shot in the head. No apology was offered, none was sought!

On the first anniversary of our victory in Kargil, there were official celebrations and the martyrs' supreme sacrifice was recalled. By 2001, the then BJP-led NDA Government's fervour had begun to taper off. A year later, July 26 was knocked off the calendar of national events as it was seen to be an obstacle on the path to peace! Since then, the day has come and gone, year after year, without the Government taking note of it in the mistaken notion that by doing so, it would keep the Pakistanis in good humour.

But even if cynical politicians and a callous Government fail to honour the memory of Captain Kalia and 532 other men who died in the Kargil war, should we the people of India forget them too? Think about this between now and July 26. Reflect, resolve and react.

- Blog on this issue at: kanchangupta.blogspot.com, Contact Writer at: kanchangupta@rocketmail.com

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