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Pornography of death - The Indian Express

Manvendra Singh ()
March 26, 1998

Title: Pornography of death
Author: Manvendra Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: March 26, 1998

The widow gave the crowds her brief on grief, and in return
wanted their votes. The message, at every such heliborne meeting,
was grief, grief, and more grief

would today have been a Major in the Army. He can never become
one, because he is not around today. And his premature departure
>from this world on May 29, 1987, was on account of an audacious
attempt to dislodge the Pakistanis from a post on the northern
sector of the Siachen Glacier. From that post the Pakistanis had
a field day in pinning down our supply routes to the critical
Bilafond La complex. It was, therefore an unimaginably bold
endeavour to eject the Pakistan Army's Special Service Group from
w hat they called the Quaid-e-azam post. Ale volunteered for the
midnight operation, but lost his life in the process. The
mountaineering aids that 'he helped put in place were, however,
put to good use by those who subsequently followed him, and again
voluntarily. And with that awesome feat, his unit the Eighth
battalion Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry and one of its Naib
Subedars, wrote a new chapter in the annals of military history,
and retitled Quaid as 'Bana Post'.

IC 43117 is now, however, remembered only as a statistic under
the heading 'Operation Meghdoot/Vir Chakra'. He joins the
countless hundreds who have willingly sacrificed their lives and
have received decorations; and those thousands of other
undecorated soldiers who died for independent India. To the
Government of India these members of the dead appear monthly, but
only on slips of pension payment papers. They are, nonetheless,
remembered in every nook and cranny of India. In some household,
somewhere in lesser known India, these soldiers exist in a
photoframe and a trunk full of once used uniforms. That is where
they belong, these heroes of war. Having given to the country
the only thing truly his own, life, a soldier is thence removed
into an etching on stone, and an unread Roll of Honour.

But why the focus on this long deceased Second Lieutenant of 8
JAKLi, especially when far better known cases of valourous deaths
exist in the story books? In a nutshell, it is possible to say
that IC 43117 tried to do what had never been attempted, but
which absolutely had to be done, and knowing full well that the
stacks against him ever returning were piled high.

Martyrdom: the suffering of death on account of adherence to a
cause and especially to one's religious faith. Quote, unquote.
This a dictionary explanation, and about as succinct as is
possible to come by. It is also the only passage that fully
describes the actions of soldiers felled by combat. The
preordained result of a premeditated feat, nothing more, and
nothing less.

That, however, is not the end of the soldiers story. Despite
their sacrifices, their actions continue to be belittled by the
politics of India. When everything governmental can be renamed or
rewritten, what is a mere dictionary meaning for the most
frequently used word in the national political lexicon? But this
is India, where interests other than national predominate, and
where everything but the truth must prevail.

This is precisely what was sought to be done by the daughter of
an Italian army sergeant at more than a hundred public meetings
during the span of this election. The deaths of her husband and
mother in-law were recounted in full extremities of loss, grief,
widowhood, and despair. The politics of those two deaths was
sought to be converted into martyrdom by some deft exclusion of
historical facts. Ale widow gave the crowds her brief on grief,
and in return wanted their votes. The message, at every such
heliborne meeting, was grief, grief, and more grief, It is her
grief in which the nation must participate, her widowhood is also
that of the people, her loss is to be shared by India. The show
on display was an incurable affliction for the garnering of
returns from death.

As is the wont in this insensitive India, wherever she wanted
votes for her widowhood, there was at least one house in which a
son has not come back from the front, and never will. That in the
entire countryside heli-go-round there was not one mention of any
other Indian's sacrifice was only to be expected from those
nurtured on 'family as India'. But what of those in that
grieving house, and that village, when 'martyr' and 'martyrdom
constantly thrust at them was not of their sons but two
politically motivated assassinations? Suffering is hers and hers
alone, no reason to consider other sacrifices, in the truest
sense, that have been made. No time to bother about that young
woman, widowed because my husband sent hers' to Sri Lanka; or
that other one, whose life is torn apart because my mother-in-law
ordered her husband into the Golden Temple. To say that they feel
wretched is an obvious understatement.

And wretched too feels the widow of the first Army officer to be
ambushed in Punjab. She collected his very high decoration, and
when she responded to the government letter sanctioning her the
customary gas agency/petrol pump, Indian officialdom asked her
for many lakhs as baksheesh! Her husband wore a balidan badge on
his uniform, and living up to the responsibility of that badge
went from this world in the manner of a sacrifice. Today like her
countless Indian sisters, that soldiers widow ekes out a living,
making ends meet in order to bring up her children, forgotten by
this nation and resigned to her sadness. Quite unlike India's
first widow, constantly reminding Bharat about her loss, and
asking for a permanent compensation. Sustaining the memories of
death and destruction for the sake of political destiny.

A few months before that incomparable sacrifice at 20,000 feet
over the Siachen Glacier, in a Jerusalem auditorium an irate
audience harangued a Palestinian artist about the holocaust et
al. The wrath of the Israelis was ignited by the screening of a
film about this Palestinian's first visit to his home after
decades as a refugee, and it was made by a Dutch Jewish film
maker. From the far corner of the hall an old man got up to be
heard by his younger countrymen, and displaying the concentration
camp number etched not merely only on his arm, declared that
since he had experienced what everyone was so animated about, the
right to say something rested with him. What happened, he said,
was unforgettable, but equally so is the practice of using death
as the means to a political objective. This, he declared, was
the' pornography of death'.

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