It was when I saw a comment on my FB page from an old friend who asked me if I would like to spare a kind word for ‘them’ – those who lost their lives in Kargil – that I realised how deep was the yawning chasm between my worldview and my interpretations about current affairs , role of the military , AFSPA, and issues like Kashmir, the North East and the vicious killings in Chhattisgarh.
Dear friends – thank you for continuing to engage and listen and read – even though our views are clearly on opposing ends of a very wide spectrum. That is what a true and open democracy should be about and I like to think that we want to retrieve that kind of democracy.
Of course, like many others, I salute and remember those who have laid down their lives in the line of duty – be it Kargil, be it 1971, in rescue operations in peacetime, or “counter insurgency” in the North East. Please don’t for a moment get me wrong or judge me so hastily without trying to understand why today I seem to take so many positions which appear critical of the men [and increasingly women] , in uniform. I too was a part of the uniformed fraternity from birth until the age of 53, when my husband retired as head of the Indian Navy.
I am no less proud of the professionalism, the selflessness and valour with which our armed forces, as also other security forces have displayed as they are deployed on a variety of missions. In peacetime too we have to deal with death and senseless loss of life -as indeed in the recent loss of the AN32
However, my own exposure to a very different reality – outside of the protected and often completely ‘divorced from reality’ lives that we have led in the Defence Services. My political education, or should I say re-education, started when I spent a month in Bettiah, in Bihar in the seventies- I began critically exploring the causes of continuing poverty,hunger and want. Decades after our independence, why were we still seeing such abject poverty side by side with such wealth and opulence? And it has only become worse with the neo liberal economic model we adopted.
I also began asking questions about the roles of militarism, the military, the weapons business, and the completely obscene expenditures on arms in a land with such abject large scale poverty. This takes you in a logical trajectory to also asking uncomfortable questions about the nature of our politics and political leadership. And I hold accountable today – both our major parties and others too. Increasingly it was clear that not only had we failed miserably to settle our border issues with our neighbours – but increasingly we were turning on our own people with a brutality and level of utter violence -be it in Kashmir, the North east, or against Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims .
And it was my deep involvement with what happened in the pogrom against the Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, that truly opened my eyes to the sheer cynicism and perfidy of the state -which has selectively targeted vulnerable populations to meet its own narrow and selfish ends. There is no real interest in the good of the `people’ – and after 1984, we saw it in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and with total impunity in Gujarat in 2002 where thousands died.
We have to learn to distance ourselves from the mainstream or governmental narrative – and increasingly of the shrill, venom and prejudice being spewed from so many of our so called national News Channels. And we have to learn to read, gather inputs from varied sources, and be able to make independent judgements and arrive at conclusions which might not find favour with the majoritarian views.
And this is why, I believe today, that our men in uniform – let’s face it for the bulk of poor boys from the villages the military – in the overall sense of that word – represents an employment opportunity, a security, which can only be marketed under the label of being the highest form of patriotism and service to the nation].
So if these boys are being killed – at one level it is an expected risk you take when you don uniform; and at another, it is the tragic ineptness and self interest of our politicians, and political parties – that sends them out to die – literally fighting their own people.
And finally – let us ask ourselves that most uncomfortable question – why should a fighting force who are supposed to be fighting at our borders – be deployed for over fifty years against our people in internal operations? And that too why do they need to do so under the blanket protection of a draconian law such as AFSPA – [the Armed Forces Special Powers Act] –
This is not necessarily the best platform for an in depth discussion – but hope that this will push some of us to delve deeper into many of these seeming contradictions and varying interpretations in our own recent history of what has gone wrong – what promises did we not keep – and have we seriously dealt with our people with an even hand and work to truly deliver on our promise of Justice without which these calls for “maintaining peace” are just meaningless. There may be many unpleasant surprises that we might have to face in the process.
Above all can we begin to listen before making up our minds that a 22 year old is a ‘terrorist and a murderer’ – just because Arnab Goswami and Zee News have rammed that into our heads?! Yes he was a militant – there is a tragic story of how he became a militant. But killing in an encounter is not the answer —–if there is an answer my friends it is blowing in the wind …..and we have stuffed our ears with concrete and our heads with baggage – and can’t hear what the wind is saying…..
Lalita Ramdas is fomer chair of Greenpeace International and one of the co-founders of Greenpeace India