Saturday, January 30, 2010

For your tomorrow, we gave our today

Yesterday was Martyr’s Day in India – the day when perhaps its most illustrious martyr, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated more than 60 years ago. It’s a day largely unnoticed by the Indian public . We have many “days” these days – Children’s day, Teacher’s day, Father’s day, Mother’s day, and so on. Many are the product of a commercial opportunity exploited. In the clutter, the not so commercialised days fall by the wayside. I suggest that Martyr’s Day deserves rather more a consideration.

The supreme sacrifice for a country is the biggest call a nation can ever make to its citizens. The call comes to the military and, these days, unfortunately to political leaders. It is a supreme irony that Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace, fell victim to an assassin’s bullet. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi followed as martyrs – assassinated because of something they did in office. This post is however more on the military side of martyrdom.

Every military man knows when he joins the military that he may be required to give up his life. What an ask from society of any human being. Those who willingly take up this ask, deserve society’s highest praise. Of all the citizens a nation honours, the martyr must be at the very top.

Unfortunately the word martyr has been hijacked these days by terrorists. They promise martyrdom to ignorant zealots and then anoint them with that saintly word. These are the scum of the earth and to even associate nobility with such creatures is the worst of all sins.

If you witness the Republic Day parade, there is a very noble tradition. Before the parade starts, there is homage paid to the Amar Jawan Jyothi (the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). It is the highest salute the nation can make to its martyrs. What follows is unbelievably heart touching. After the flag is hoisted, the President awards the nation’s highest military honours of that year. Each awardee is called and a citation is read before the President pins the medal. All too often, the mother, or the wife steps forward to receive the medal , for the soldier has fallen and is a martyr. Imagine the situation for the lady – in the presence of a massive crowd, with the fog hanging over the Delhi air, the President in front of her, the entire country watching, and her son’s or husband’s supreme sacrifice is eulogised. It won’t bring back her loved one, but at least the nation salutes and respects an outstanding son of its.

If you go to Kohima in Nagaland you will see the Commonwealth War Graves, still impeccably maintained. In it lie the men who fell in the battle of Kohima in 1944 as the Second World War came to the borders of India. The Kohima Epitaph composed by Major John Etty-Leal is engraved on the War Memorial . If I may borrow those lines

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

Or Lata Mangeshkar's immortal song, sung in 1963, to which Nehru first, and a few million others later, have had tears in their eyes as they listened.

Pause for a moment to salute the Martyrs of the land.