Lets’ not Forget Them

It’s that time of the year again.
Every July since the year 2000, the Indian media and the Army in that order, celebrates the eviction of Pakistani intruders from the forbidding heights of Drass and Batalik (and not Kargil, as we all in the media keep referring to for some completely unfathomable reason).
The Army, of course, appropriately remembers its martyrs — the young and not so young officers and several hundred jawans — who sacrificed their lives in recapturing a piece of real estate that the Pakistanis had encroached upon. It was a heroic battle against heavy odds. After that conflict, Vikram Batra, Anuj Nayyar, Manjo Pandey, to cite just three martyrs, became household names.
This year, on the 10th anniversary, the Army has planned a larger celebration and rightfully so.
We in the media have also gone into an overdrive to commemorate the occasion.
After all, Kargil was this generation’s first war. It was also India’s first televised war. We made citizens feel that they were part of the war by beaming images right into their bedrooms.
In many ways, Kargil (I actually hate using the word, but Drass or Batalik do not have the same resonance in the people’s mind as Kargil has) is also a landmark in the military-media relationship in India.
Till 1999 the Army establishment generally looked upon the media as a nuisance. Post-Kargil, the armed forces have woken up to the media’s potential as, what the military fondly calls a force-multiplier. An uneasy relationship till then gave way to greater awareness about one another facilitating meaningful interaction.
This year in fact the Army has made special efforts to invite all those who had reported the conflict from the area that summer. This, the Army says, is its tribute to media’s contribution in the Kargil conflict.
I, like many others, was in the sector in 1999, reporting the events for Outlook magazine. Every year since 2000, I too have written or spoken about the experience in the Kargil-Drass-Mushkoh-Batalik sector.
I am also hoping to be at the Drass memorial on 25th and 26th July later this month to meet up with friends who made Kargil (that word again!) such a memorable experience in our life a decade ago.
And yet, ever since I went there last week to report on what has changed and what has not in the decade since the war, a sense of unease has gripped me. At first I thought it was plain tiredness. After all, one is older by a decade and the body doesn’t take the rigours of travelling in the high mountains as easily as it did 10 years ago.
But deep down, I knew there was something more to my disquiet than just creaking old bones.
Then suddenly it hit me this morning: Are we in the media guilty of over hyping Kargil and its martyrs at the cost of totally ignoring the others? To be honest, the answer is yes.
By admitting this, I am in no way taking away the sacrifice and heroism of our soldiers during the 1999 conflict. Or trying to belittle the tough conditions under which we in the media operated and reported the conflict.
But I will also be less than honest if I don’t admit that collectively we in the media are equally culpable in ignoring or downplaying the unending internal battles fought by the Army as well as other security forces across India.
How many of us for instances, know the names of Col. Vasanth or Subedar Chunni Lal? Or for that matter Constable Tukaram Ombale? How many of us remember the faces of the unnamed police and CRPF constables who die by the dozens in the battlefields of Chhattisgarh and Orissa? Or for that matter army jawans who continue to sacrifice their lives in counter-insurgency skirmishes in India’s north-east?
In Kargil, nearly 500 people lost their lives.
Every year since then at least 400 security personnel have died in action across India.
Is their martyrdom less significant? Don’t their families deserve similar adulation? They certainly do but I am afraid even we in the media tend to report on these incidents for a day or two and move on to our next story.
In the process, we have ignored the interminable internal security threats that India faces, be it in Kashmir, the north-east or in the heartland from the Maoists. And underplayed the sacrifices made by the gallant soldiers who fight them.
In less than a fortnight, when the nation pays a collective tribute to the Kargil martyrs, all of us can perhaps introspect and review our attitude towards other, lesser known but equally valiant soldiers who fight on without expecting anything in return.
As I look ahead, post the Kargil anniversary, it is perhaps time for me to do away with my Kargil obsession and refocus on the current and future battles.

Source: NDTV Written by Niting Gokhale

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