A nation that does not honour its heroes (martyrs) will not long endure”. —Abraham Lincoln.
The famed American president made this comment nearly 150 years ago, but its abiding message remains relevant even today.
A Duty to Honour the Martyrs
There is no bigger sacrifice known to man than to lay down one’s life in the defence of the nation. It is, therefore, the bounded duty of all to honour their valour, sacrifice and martyrdom. Moreover, it must be done in an enduring, dignified and holistic manner.
It is not enough to give our heroes a proper military funeral. It is any case is a sine qua non for any self-respecting nation. But to truly honour them we must also adopt, nurture, and give succor to their families. Needless to say, it is not something for a year or two, but for as long as it takes.
Fight for the Dignity
Our nation still does not have a national war memorial. This is a nation which has fought three-four major wars since its independence is indeed inconceivable.
A reason could be that our ruling political class does not have an army tradition. It could also be that our serving soldiers and veterans have not shown the same urgency or righteous anger over it as they have in fighting for the OROP or the pecuniary anomalies in the pay commission.
It must be our collective endeavour to battle equally hard for the dignity and respect due to our departed martyrs.
At the formation level and in all regimental centres there are well maintained and often grandiose war memorials. Traditionally we all have a solemn ceremony once each year at these temples of our fallen comrades.
The question therefore arises –
Are these annual rituals and two minutes silence with sounding of the last post, enough to commemorate our gallant martyrs? Does it thereafter absolve us of our responsibility?
I think not.
What About their Families?
What about the surviving family and children of the deceased soldiers? Are we not supposed to be part of an extended family for life? If so, I think we all are guilty to some degree of gradually overlooking the needs of grieving families. As the days pass, and memories fade, they are often forgotten and left to fend for themselves.
This poignant point was driven home when I recently met the gutsy wife of a martyr who inspired me by her fortitude but was frank enough to tell Army Chief lays a wreath at a war memorial me that the army has a rather short memory and little time for its martyrs and their children. She has set an example by setting up on her own, a foundation to attend to the needs of army widows and their dependents.
The families of our ‘Veer Naris’ as we gratuitously call them, do not seek any financial handouts, nor are they in want of our pity or sympathy, what they need is our empathy, bonding and emotional support. They need to belong and be counted and be integral part of their erstwhile unit and regiment.
We should reach out to them to help them in mundane chores, like renewal of ECHS cards, CSD cards, school admissions or carrier counselling and support information on schemes and opportunities and such matters. At each unit level, we must put in place a robust, sensitive and highly responsive system which tracks, supports, interacts and provides the regular connect with the families of all martyrs through their life span. We must adopt our martyrs and their families in the true meaning of the word. Only then will we pass the litmus test of a nation and an army worth dying for.
Lt Gen Sudhir Sharma, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VSM,(Retd) is the Chairman of MitKat Advisory Services, India’s leading premium risk consultancy. He hails from the Brigade of Guards.