Thursday, March 9, 2017

Panel Discussion on 'The Spirit and Ideals of Martyrdom in and for India' at IIT Madras

Dear Friends,

On 30 Jan 2017, there was a panel discussion on the subject of Martyrdom at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IITM). I was invited as one of the panelists. Below is the copy of the mail from the organisers, after the event:-

Dear all                                                                              31 Jan 2017

Reflections, IITM is grateful to all of you for such a meaningful, intense discussion yesterday. 

Col. Raman, Prof. Athreya, Dr. Sreekumar, please accept our gratitude. 

Prof. LS Ganesan, thank you for driving the entire event from the beginning and moderating the discussion so beautifully. 

Col. Jayakumar, Cdr.Radhakrishnan thank you for your enthusiastic support.

Sudarshan, and my Reflections team Ajay and Sushmitha (strong, passionate performance), Ajinkya, Bharadwaj, Hariharan, Saranya, Sourabh - great job! 

Thank you. Grateful.  

Warm regards

The gist of my discussion on the subject is given below. I thank Gens Raj Kadyan, Yogi Sharma, Govindaswamy, VK Chaturvedi, Brigs Kuldip Chhokar, Suryanarayanan and a few more, for sending me their valuable points for the said panel discussion.

Col TN Raman

" Dear Citizens of our great Nation, who have taken your valuable time to attend this Panel Discussion, my salute to you all.

1.  Though in my view, the choice of the Topic, 'The Spirit and Ideals of Martyrdom in and for India', chosen for this discussion is typical of Indian Intellectual Tradition to flog semantics, I am glad to be here for the simple reason that I am part of a community, known as the Indian Army, transcending the barriers of Caste, Creed and Religion. In our surroundings, it is not unusual, to get an invite to Krishna Jayanthi  Celebration at the Regimental Mandhir from Subedar Major Abdul Hameed. Or for a Sikh Officer who was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff, to claim that he was the first Officer from the Maratha Regiment to get the honour, and he being a Sikh was quite incidental. The same ethos was displayed by our previous Chiefs and Army Commanders, whether they were Hindu, Parsi, Christian, Sikh or Muslim.

2.   A Soldier of the Indian Army takes an Oath of allegiance to our Constitution. Right from that date he has singed up for his unlimited liability to the Service of our Nation, which includes the repudiation of 'Right to Life' guaranteed by our Constitution. Just hear the Oath a soldier takes, either in the name of God  or by his solemn Affirmation :-

   " I, ……………………………………… do swear in the name in the name of GOD that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by the law established and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully serve in the regular Army of the union of India and go wherever ordered by land, sea or air, and that I will observe and obey all commands of the President of the Union of India and the commands of any officer set over me even to the peril of my life." This oath or affirmation is taken by every soldier ceremoniously, on his completing his Recruit Training,  in a parade called Kasam Parade. It is in our Indian tradition that no one shall break a promise even under the threat of his own life. Let us also remember the two quotes from two scholars, who were from different period of time separated by nearly 2000 years.

“The Military profession is like no other profession. Nowhere else one risks his neck in obedience to orders or risks his neck in defiance of orders”.  The above quote from Chanakya was based on his experience with the Army of an Emperor. His saying is equally applicable in any democracy of today. In 1946, Field Marshal Wavell, the then Governor General of India had said,“the stability of the Indian Army may perhaps be a deciding factor in the future of India”. We are glad that it has been so.
3.  Now coming to the usage of the term Martyr. The Term Martyr, has its origin in a Religious context. It stayed so for many centuries. But, over a period of time, it acquired an expanded meaning to include giving of life for a cause, which later got attached to Nationalism. That is where it stands today. Though there are other causes like Freedom through Ahimsa headed by Mahatma Gandhi, anti Apartheid  Movement headed by Martin Luther King and Mandela, the final landing ground of all these were Nationalism. They are all Martyrs, since they all had displayed the common features, the modern day thinking associate with a Martyr.They are, 

a. Hero- A person of some renown who is devoted to a cause, believed to be achievable.

b. Opposition-  People who oppose the same.

c. Foreseeable Risk. Self explanatory.

d. Courage and Commitment. Knowing fully well the risk involved. 

e. Death- The Hero is killed because of his commitment.

f. Audience Response- The Hero's death is commemorated. People may label the Hero as a Martyr. Others may be inspired to follow the same cause.

Do our Soldiers, who  lay down their lives in line of duty, qualify to be revered as Martyrs? 
4.  In all our wars till 1971, our reports including those  of  the Print and Electronic media, have been calling those soldiers who lost their lives in wars and other operations as killed in action. No honorific of Martyr was attached to them. But, in Pakistan the same was being reported as '  'Shahid ho gaya' for their soldiers and 'Halaq ho gaya/ kar diye gaye'  (killed/slaughtered)  for our soldiers. You all will agree that a soldier dies in the battle field for a cause, affecting the Nation as a whole. After the 1971 war, Amar Jawan Jyothi for the soldiers was constructed at the India Gate in our Capitol. The Vijay Diwas Ceremony in New Delhi starts with Wreath Laying by various dignitaries, at the Amar Jawan War Memorial, at India Gate. The Rifle and Helmet, which forms the Center-Piece, belonged to a soldier, unknown to history, who died on the battle field, in the out skirts of Jessore. There is no inscription on the Memorial. After all, a Jawan is always Amar when he lays down his life for his country. Such monuments for Unknown soldier is prevalent in many countries, to honour their own soldiers and reassure their citizenry of their faith in their soldiers.
5.  In any progressive democracy, the Army is considered as the Conscience Keeper of the Nation.Therefore, the soldiers are respected, if not venerated. Though there are individual heroes in the Armed Forces, there is a collective heroism, led by selected leaders from Section level to the Army level. Some outstanding  valour and sacrifice of which our Nation should rightly be proud of. The action of Maj Somnath Sharma in 1948, who was decorated with our first PVC, Maj Shaitan Singh and his soldiers from C Company,13 Kumaon, at Rezang La in Ladak in 1962, where 109 men fought till last man last bullet and laid down their lives. Lt Col Brahmanand Awasthi and his 4 Rajput Battalion which fought at Sela and Bomdila in 1962, where we lost 336 of our soldiers to stop the Chinese ingression. A War Memorial which was constructed in honour of the Rezang La battle has a fitting tabloid with the following verse, from Horatius, by Thomas B Macaulay-

 " How can a man die better than facing fearful odds
   For the ashes of his fathers and temples of his Gods"

6,   There are many such historic events filled with valour and sacrifice of our Army in our Military History during the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan. They are now more than  5 decades old. But, Kargil is still fresh in the memories of our youth. The Kargil War commenced from early May 1999 and ended with the last of Pakistani Intruders pushed back on 26 July 1999. It caught the imagination of the people because it was the first Televised War in our sub continent. Names of places like Kargil, Kaksar, Batalik and Drass became familiar. So were the heights like Tololing, Tiger Hill, Point 4875 and Point 5203. For a change, the heroes of this war also became house hold names, like Captains Manoj Kumar Pandey, Vikram Batra, Sepoys Yogendra Singh Yadav, Sanjay Kumar, Capt Vikram Panicker, Major Saravanan, Capt Kalia and many more. To be exact, 524 brave sons of our country laid down their lives as true martyrs. . Unfortunately, the impact of this heroic struggle and sacrifice in the minds of our people did not last even a couple of years. Our endeavour is to ensure that the memory of the brave men must not be forgotten. The tales of their valour must be told and retold. The younger generation must be inspired to follow their foot steps, in true Martyr's spirit, when it comes to the question of our National Security. Above all, to give a pride of place in the society to such immortal souls, as we endeavour to do with other Martyrs. The Kargil war was fought by the youth of our country, with pure determination, grit, guts and izzat. The pride and prestige of the Regiments they belonged to and that of our country came first and foremost. They sacrificed their today, for our tomorrow. 

Do they not deserve to be honoured and remembered as Martyrs !! A quote from Julien Grenfel, 

“ The thundering line of battle stands 
And in the air death moans and sings 
But day shall clasp him in strong hands 
And night shall fold him in soft wings” 

Dear Folks, thus, “Night, eternal night, has folded our martyrs in its soft wings". Soldiers don't die. They just fade away.

7.  Is there any doubt that the soldiers of our country who knowingly sacrifice their lives, for a noble cause, be called as Martyrs? Just a few days ago, 15 of braves lost their lives in Avalanche at Guarez.  After the Kargil war, the Media have rightly omitted the word killed for our soldiers and started using 'Martyred' , which definitely sounds more honorific, keeping the decorum of the band of men who chose to defend the honour of our country against all odds, including the weather and terrain. Our Democracy is fortunate in that it is bestowed with the Defence Forces which is absolutely Apolitical. Which is also responsive to any emergency arising out of natural calamities including man made disasters. Even rescuing a child fallen into a open bore well is not neglected. 

8.  Our Soldiers fulfill all the 5 requirements of crediting with the martyrdom, as given in para 3 above, but for the sixth one. That is, Audience Response. In the recent Avalanche in Guarez, the Press and Electronic media have correctly reported the casualties as '14 Jawans Martyred'.  It is a small solace for the members of the soldiers' families. But, will remain as a great pride for them, since they now belong to the family of a Martyr.

9.   Some other thoughts which may be considered. Meaning and usage of words is dynamic and not frozen.It evolves based on the necessity of the local conditions. So is the word Martyr and Martyrdom. In vernacular, Shahid or equivalent is common usage. Martyr comes closest in dignity and definition. - most dictionaries include 'killed for a cause, belief, principle. A perfect fit! In a nation that deifies and idolizes all and sundry, even if martyr is a bit overblown in theory, is a recent common currency. Let us not discount it, unless an equally dignified alternative is evolved. 

10. A soldier doesn't fight because he hates the enemy in front. He fights because he loves the countrymen behind him". The epitaph in Kohima Cemetery says it all. " When you go home tell them of us and say for yourtomorrow we gave our today"   
11.  Therefore, any soldier killed in action, for the cause of the Nation, is a Martyr.

Col  TN Raman (Retd)

(Source- Via Gp E-mail)


  1. Beginning with the word patriotism all “isms” are discussed in AC Hall,by white collar, elite group , in IIT. Great discussions and definitions about soldiers, heroes, quotes by Chanakya and great generals. How and why a JCO or Ordinary soldier, not invited to participate to hear from his mouth what the word Martyrdom and Shaheed really means. Hypocrisy?

    1. The ORS and Jcos from down drawn families.Un accounted a soldier discharged