|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | ADMIRAL (RETD) J G NADKARNI|
|June 20, 2002||
Admiral (retd) J G Nadkarni
The forgotten soldierEach year, on the last Monday in May, the United States celebrates Memorial Day. Memorial Day has traditionally been a day of remembering the many heroes who lost their lives during the Civil War and other wars in which the United States has been involved. People visit cemeteries, war memorials and monuments to the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who were lost in action and lay flowers at these sites in their memory. There is, of course, no dearth of such memorials and statues in American cities. Roads, bridges, tunnels, and buildings are named after war heroes.
Near where I am staying at present is the Nimitz Expressway, named after the famous admiral of the Second World War. Not far away is the General MacArthur Tunnel.
Honouring servicemen is a time-honoured tradition in many countries of the world. In Britain, November 11 is traditionally Remembrance Day. The Queen leads the nation in remembering its war heroes and a ceremony is held at the Cenotaph in London. The whole nation observes two minutes of silence at 1100 on the 11th day of the 11th month.
The erstwhile Soviet Union lost over 20 million men in the Second World War, or the Great Patriotic War as the Soviets called it. Every town and city has its war memorial and in a touching and time-honoured tradition, the first visit of all couples after their marriage ceremony is to the war memorial.
Now a small quiz. India has fought many wars since Independence and lost many jawans, sailors and airmen in them. Name the street in New Delhi where India's war memorial built after Independence is situated. How many streets, flyovers, tunnels, ports or airports have been named after India's war heroes?
Everyone knows the answers to these questions. Shamefacedly we have to admit that our concern for the jawan finishes the day the action is over and he returns to the barracks. The country makes much of its armed forces before and during a battle, not afterwards. It is an unfortunate fact that except for those put up by the soldiers themselves in army cantonments, there are no monuments in memory of jawans even in the nation's capital.
Even our erstwhile rulers, the British, remembered their loyal subjects by putting up the India Gate, a memorial to those lost in the First World War. There are umpteen statues of politicians, but none of Thimayya, Cariappa or Ram Das Katari. No road is named after Maneckshaw, the one man responsible for India's glorious victory in 1971.
Rudyard Kipling, the Raj's favourite poet, put it best.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
Indians are second to none when it comes to patriotic fervour. It is at its most effusive in times of action. Indians donated generously to various jawan welfare funds after the Kargil action. The Centre and the states outdid each other in declaring monetary and other awards for the widows of the brave soldiers who lost their lives in that action.
But sadly, like in many other things, we tend to be fickle in our love and devotion for the jawan. For every soldier who lost his life, thousand others also fought just as bravely. And what about those who laid down their lives in lost causes? For over three years, nearly 70,000 Indian troops were engaged in a bitter and dangerous peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka, losing over 2,500 men. Yet when they returned at the end of their tenure, to his undying shame, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu did not even think it fit to receive them at the Madras Harbour. Ironically it is the same politician whose party is a partner of the NDA coalition, which is putting on a brave act with the help of the same jawan.
India's armed forces have done the country proud during the past 50 years. The men have not only defended their country bravely, but are always prepared to lay down their lives for its independence. In return, they ask only that they and their families not be forgotten in times of peace.
In 1982, the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting was held in New Delhi. During the weekend all the heads were flown to Goa for a "informal retreat". Elaborate preparations had been made to ensure that every type of sport and relaxation activity was provided. On being asked what she wanted to do, Britain's Margaret Thatcher had only one request. She had heard that some British seamen had lost their lives in Goa during the war and were buried nearby. She wanted to visit their cemetery and lay some flowers at the graves!
Over the past hundred years Indian soldiers fought all over the world, from China to Eritrea to Italy and France. Their exploits during the two world wars are legend. The Indian Army won the second highest number of Victoria Crosses. Many Indian soldiers have their graves in the fields of Europe. Does anyone remember them? Has any Indian prime minister ever expressed a desire to visit these sites and lay a wreath?
If the treatment meted out to our heroes and martyrs is bad, the fate of those who serve silently and then retire is worse. Nowhere in the world are ex-servicemen treated as indifferently as they are in this country. Each year more than 70,000 servicemen retire, most of them in the prime of life.
The Indian Army has to keep a young profile, which inevitably results in a large number having to retire after serving only 15 years. At that time they are about 35, with a family and school-going children. They retire on a meagre pension, not sufficient to keep body and soul together. Although the Army Resettlement Organisation does its best to prepare them for later life, most find no worthwhile jobs after retirement. A large number resign themselves to eking out an undignified existence as chowkidars, ignored by their government, people and country.
Why are India's numerous patriots so silent when it comes to honouring the soldier? Why is there never any public clamour for a national memorial for the soldier? Where do our leaders and people vanish on Remembrance Day [yes, we too have one on January 30]?
The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between India and Pakistan is slowly receding. The Indian jawan has been at the front for the past six months, away from his family, suffering the intense heat of Rajasthan and the sub-zero temperatures of Siachen so that his countrymen can sleep securely at home and hold their heads high. He keeps hoping that at least this time his country and its people will remember what he did for them and not forget him in future.
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