All They Wanted Was A Martyrdom Of Valour, Not Of Senseless Tragedy

published on March 2, 2014
 Simran Brar            

I sat by the TV a couple days ago, as news channels confirmed the demise of 26-year-old Lt. Commander Kapish Muwal and 25-year-old Lt. Manoranjan Kumar in the fire onboard the INS Sindhuratna. The brave young officers choked to death while saving the lives of their comrades and protecting the ageing submarine from a far graver outcome. I searched for these young martyrs on Facebook, hoping to find pictures. I wanted to look into their faces and imprint them to memory; I wanted to recognise and remember these men who signed up to protect the nation, but perished much before their time suffocated by the callousness of an arrogant government.

I close my eyes, trying to imagine what went through their minds in the those final minutes when death was certain. “Not like this,” they must’ve thought, “Not like this”.   I open my eyes expecting a tear to flow down my cheek as it often does when valiant men of the Indian armed forces lay down their lives for a nation that is quick to forget their sacrifice. But tears don’t flow anymore…all I feel is rage.

Rage that young men of this nation die at the altar of a government and bureaucracy that sends them to their death in peacetime in floating coffins. Rage that our defence minister, a man whose incompetence is overwhelmed only by his lack of appreciation for our military, has the audacity to accuse our Navy of “frittering away” national resources. Rage that an outstanding officer and leader of our men has to resign before a preoccupied nation stops to give its military a second thought.

Most of us will never understand or appreciate the patriotism, courage and honour that drives a man to pledge his life to his country. We will never share in the heart-wrenching sacrifice these bravehearts and their families will make for our amnesic nation. But that certainly doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility towards them. The disproportionate nature of the sacrifice we exact from our men in uniform, makes it a moral imperative for civil society to fight for them against the enemy within – a callous, corrupt and self serving government and bureaucracy wreaking of hubris and stolid disregard for its military.

Beyond tests of moral rectitude which our government fails abysmally, I doubt that there exists a regime on the planet more vacuous in thought or more delusional in psyche vis-a-vis national security. A fifth grader with just a cursory knowledge of geography understands why it is crucial for a nation such as ours with its 1.4B people, 15,000 kms of landlocked international borders, and 7,500 kms of porous coastline to have a robust and well-equipped military. As if our size weren’t enough, we’re flanked on the west by volatile, terror-ridden territory and on the north by a belligerent territorial aggressor. Could it be any clearer that a powerful, well-funded and competently commanded military is paramount to our sovereignty?

Why is it then that despite the obvious answers, our government have gotten away with gross apathy towards the armed forces’ upgradation and maintenance needs? Six new stealth submarines approved in principle as far back as 2007, are still nothing more than a bunch of files shuttling between the defence and finance ministries, even as 20 naval personnel have lost their lives in the last 8 months in accidents on ageing subs at the end of their operational lives. Admiral Joshi, a formidable officer, skilled and exacting leader and an honourable man, finally resigned after his consistent attempts to procure better equipment and newer vessels and repeated requests to dredge the Mumbai harbour fell on deaf ears, even as he continued to lose men.

Why has the government been able to escape the consequences of its egregious inaction that has cost us the lives of patriots who were shortchanged even in death?  Who when they pledged their lives to the nation, hoped for a martyrdom, if that were to be their fate, of valour and consequence, not one of senseless tragedy.

The reason, often obscured by the depravity of our politics and the overwhelming corruption in government, hides in plain sight. In a democracy, however imperfect it may be, the government gives its people only what they ask for, and ask for vehemently. Last year, the nation launched a massive campaign against sexual violence in the aftermath of the horrific gang rape of a 23-year student in Delhi. The unprecedented national fury and fierce demand for stronger legislation and implementation, made the government finally sit up and take notice. We, as a nation, had reached a tipping point. We were not willing to accept the brutalisation of our women anymore. While much more needs to be done in this regard, it was a momentous, long-due beginning.

We need to do the same for our men in uniform. The nation needs to rise as a monolith with rage and determination and demand that our government give our military the vessels, machinery, weapons and resources they need to preserve our sovereignty. We have to fight for our men to honour the memory of our heroes who perished in tragedy, betrayed not by the enemy, but by their own government and country. May not a single son of our land lose his life to faulty equipment or an ageing vessel. We owe this to our men; we need to do this for our heroes. Else, Lt. Commander Kapish Muwal and Lt. Manoranjan Kumar will never rest in peace.


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