Where have all our heroes gone?

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 13, 2009 08:24 hrs

Do you remember Dinesh Raghuraman? Or K P Vinay Kumar?

Unless they were your friends or family members, chances are that the names of these two army majors mean nothing to you.

Both of them died early October, fighting terrorists in Kashmir. Read story.

Both are now mere statistics: according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal or www.SATP.org, 62 members of our security forces made the ultimate sacrifice till November 21 this year.

Men in uniform, sworn to protect and to defend. And if needed, to die for the country.

I-Day messages - Let the world respect our Forces: A K Antony | An instrument of national power: Navy Chief | We salute our warriors: Air Chief

I know that this is the season of goodwill and cheer, and perhaps not the time to discuss this. But then again, the officers and men protecting our borders are probably missing their families too, even as they battle terrorists and inclement weather.

I have always wondered what it takes for a person to be willing to die for the flag.

I have also wondered how the families of these usually young people react to the event. Was the sacrifice by their loved one worth it? Is their obvious grief and sorrow tinged with pride? Or is there only regret, and the obvious question: Why?

Let me come at this from another way: Do we, as a nation, understand and appreciate these sacrifices? Do we honour and cherish our heroes, for that is what they are? or do we take them for granted?

Is the token annual ceremonial salute at the Amar Jawan Jyoti all that we have for them? Is a pension and perhaps a medal all that we can offer them?

Forget the dead: do we even honour our living heroes?

This December 16 marks the 36th anniversary of the liberation of Bangladesh. On that day in 1971, the Pakistani army ate crow by publicly surrendering the East to General Jagjit Singh Aurora. It is often described as the Indian Army's finest hour.

But today, how many of us are aware, or even care, that the then Eastern Command chief, General JFR Jacob, the man who actually negotiated the surrender of East Pakistan in 1971, lives in a small apartment in New Delhi's Som Vihar? Today, he is not even invited for official events to commemorate the occasion.

How many of us have even heard of General Ian Cardozo, who used his khukri to sever his left foot, which was turning gangrenous after being wounded in East Pakistan during the last days of that war?

That did not stop him from becoming the first disabled officer to command an infantry battalion, when he was appointed a Colonel of the Regiment of 5 GR (FF). And subsequently commanding a brigade and a division, encouraging and setting a precedent for other war-disabled officers.

General Cardozo, who was commissioned into 1/5 Gorkha Rifles in June 1958, had also taken part in the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the war with Pakistan in 1965.

Does the loss of a foot stop him from walking ramrod straight, from regularly writing, or indulge daily in his passion, swimming, even though he is in his early eighties? No sir.

But what have we, as a nation, done for him? Zero. Zilch.

Speaking of khukris, how many of us know about Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla, who in true naval tradition, went down on December 9, 1971, with the INS Khukri, the only ship we ever lost in war?

Till the very end, he was seen frantically helping his crew to escape from the torpedoed vessel before it was swallowed by the sea.

It took a General Cardozo to write a book about this act which "upholds the highest traditions of the armed forces and exemplifies the upper limits of cold courage."

In my book, these are Our Heroes. In my book, these are the people we need to cherish, remember and salute.

Yet it took national outrage before our Service Chiefs were exempted from frisking at our airports. While our politicians (most of whom have mile-long criminal chargesheets against them), and in some cases even their distant relatives, gleefully enjoy such privileges.

What message are we sending out to our men in uniform? That the people who head our armed forces pose a security risk? While our politicians, many of whom can be compared unfavorably with the north end of south-bound cows, leave alone headless chickens, do not?

Villagers return the body of a BSF jawan killed during clashes with the Bangladesh Rifles (AP)

My blood still boils each time I recall the picture of our BSF jawans, killed by the Bangladesh Rifles during a border skirmish in April 2001, being returned trussed up on poles, as if they were animal carcasses.

But how did we, as a nation, react to this barbaric act by a small nation that we can flood at will by just opening up the sluice gates at the Farakka Barrage? Was there even a muted protest from our leaders? Not that I recall.

Because our politicians were far too concerned about the implications this would have on their vote banks. Who cares about our armed forces losing face?

Speaking at the release of his book on INS Khukri on a cold Delhi evening, General Cardozo, flanked by Captain Mulla's wife and daughter, declared: "It is sad that while the armed forces and these women lose their husbands in battle, we do not have a national war memorial. India Gate is a memorial built by the British for those who died in World War I and II.

"What have we done as a nation? We have fought wars in 1947-48, 1962, 1965 and 1971- but what do we have? An upturned rifle with a helmet on top, with Amar Jawan written on it. Is that all we can do? I believe that a nation which does not honour its war dead dishonours itself."

As we enter another year, it is important to remember that message. Otherwise, we might not remain a country worth dying for.

The author is the Chief Editor of Sify.com. The views expressed here are his own.

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