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When India’s soldiers return in body bags


Indian army soldiers carry the coffins of their colleagues who were killed after gunmen attacked an Indian army base in Kashmir's Uri on Sunday, during a wreath laying ceremony in Srinagar, 19 September, 2016. Indian Army/Handout via REUTERS © Indian Army/Handout via REUTERS

As the country mourns its loss there is a proliferation of mindless patriotism, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

We, India, lost 18 soldiers early on Sunday morning. The Indian army states that the attackers were foreign militants belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed, which operates primarily out of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. As a country we are in grief and shock.

I always feel a pang when I read about soldiers returning in body bags. It’s heart wrenching to think of very young men, they used to be exclusively men, (I don’t think young women have joined the ranks in similar numbers), kids really; lives snuffed out violently, pointlessly, senselessly, before they've really lived. I don’t believe in war. I believe it’s mostly started by powerful men who wish to become more powerful and more wealthy.

Yet, my own reaction was one of shock, sadness and yes, of incandescent rage.

Fortunately, we have some seasoned sensible politicians, intelligent political commentators, analysts and journalists who have all advised calm, restraint and caution. The Prime Minister too, has been admirably reticent and sane in his statements in spite of extreme provocation. But, inevitably, we have our share of rabble rousers too.

We have a couple of rabid TV anchors, who generally aim their soundbites at the lowest common denominator in the audience with a view to pushing up ratings. One particularly loathsome specimen pontificates, ‘there is no time to think, we need to retaliate now.’ He rarely says anything of importance but shouts everyone down and insults speakers desperate enough to appear on his show, just to stay in the public eye. Unfortunately many other channels have come to the conclusion that if this is what takes the ratings and viewership up, maybe we should go out and do likewise. So we have a proliferation of mindless, fairly brainless, ranting and raving – all under the banner of being patriots.

On the political front, things are almost as pathetic. ‘For one tooth, the complete jaw,’ screams a senior ruling party leader. Adding ‘Days of so-called strategic restraint are over. If terrorism is the instrument of the weak and the coward, restraint in the face of repeated terror attacks betrays inefficiency and incompetence. India should prove otherwise.’

What can one say? Even more important, what can India as a country do? War, of course, is never a solution. But in 1962, an unprepared India was given an unprecedented beating because we had a prime minister who believed in peace and in his Chinese brothers. He died, it was said, of a broken heart, because his trust was betrayed. He was blamed for allowing our soldiers to die unarmed or because of ancient unusable artillery. He didn’t think we needed to arm ourselves against our neighbours. He wanted peace, an end to poverty, Camelot.

We know that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, which funds terrorism in India along with other jihadist groups, and works closely with all the militant groups involved in Kashmir, is behind the attacks. We knew Pakistani terrorists were actively involved in the Bombay blasts in 1993. I realise that preaching about peace is a luxury one cannot afford if the dogs of war are baying for your blood. But I cannot believe that sabre-rattling, mere hollow sound and fury signifying nothing, is the answer either. The people of India and Pakistan want normalcy. Neither country can afford war. We would benefit hugely from a peace dividend. Both in terms of trade and preventing billions going into a non-productive loser’s war.

As I write this, the internet is buzzing with opinions and suggested solutions, both intelligent and inane. The Indian Army has set up a web page to allow people to pay homage to the 18 men who died for their country, so the families can at least take solace from the fact that they are not alone. Everyone is with them in this darkest of hours. It would be nice if we could set up a fund too. Army widows have a notoriously hard time financially when they are left to fend for their children alone.

The last post is so so sad.

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