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A Facebook friend’s post set me thinking the other day. Her son, while memorizing an essay on the Independence Day, and reading the names of Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, the Rani of Jhansi and Mahatma Gandhi listed as martyrs, raised the query – “Gandhi died after Independence. Why, then, has he been characterized as a martyr?” The essay being memorized was ostensibly introduced to the students by a teacher.

As is quite obvious from the context, the child had come to understand that only those who died fighting for the country’s independence are ‘martyrs’. Those like Gandhi who were killed post-1947, would not qualify to be called so. Quite possibly, through exposure to the media and the talk at home and around, the child would also have internalized that those who die fighting to defend the country at the borders or soldiers who die at the hands of terrorists and extremists, say, in Jammu and Kashmir or the North East, or at the hands of Naxalites, too are martyrs. One has to be a member of a military or para-military force to be a martyr. This is usually the popular narrative one comes across.

Going by this narrative, in the post-Independence scenario, the concept of martyrdom is linked to the idea of sacrificing your life for the country – the one who dies for the nation is a ‘martyr’. The soldier who lays down his life fighting the enemy, therefore, is a martyr. Period. But let us explore this a bit more.

If, indeed, this linkage be accepted, we then have to also define the ‘nation’. We have to pause and take a look at what constitutes our ‘nation’. The nation that is India, is populated by people of various religions, communities, castes, people of different persuasions and beliefs – and the people of this country have, by way of a Constitution, “resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic”. The Preamble of the Constitution goes on to state the resolve of securing for all its citizens Justice (social, economic and political), Liberty (of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship), Equality (of status and of opportunity) and Fraternity (assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation). These, then, are the characteristics and values worth inculcation that we have given to ourselves as a nation.

The child, if introduced to these aspects of the Nation, would not feel the necessity to ask the question that was asked about Gandhi being called a martyr. For, the moment he understands that Gandhi died for the cause of justice and communal harmony (and hence of secularism enshrined in our Constitution as an inalienable aspect of our nation), Gandhi would be visualized a martyr by him.

Creating awareness in children about the tenets and salient features of our Constitution, drawing their attention to the fact that multiplicity of religions, communities and religious beliefs is a hallmark of our country, that freedom to practice any religion and the freedom of expression are rights we have for ourselves, would lead to the understanding that anyone who dies in defence of these rights is a martyr. The person who dies defending these rights dies to uphold the values enshrined in our Constitution that embodies the very bases of our nationhood, and is therefore a martyr in the cause of the nation.

A fight against corruption is a fight for justice as well as equality and fraternity, a fight for a better society and country to live in, and so whistleblowers like Shanmugam Manjunath and Satyendra Dubey too are martyrs. Someone who dies for the cause of upholding the Fundamental Duties under Article 51A of the Constitution too would be deserving of being called a martyr. Thus an environmentalist killed while working “to protect and improve natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life” ; a rationalist put to death in the course of working “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform”; someone shot dead by communalists for working “to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities”, a trade-unionist like Shanker Guha Niyogi who died struggling to get the workers their rightful due, could surely be called martyrs in the cause of defending the spirit of the Constitution and hence, the nation.

This, then, is how through education the widening of the scope of martyrdom could be brought about and inculcated in a child of appropriate age. The larger task then is to gradually develop in the child an acute sense of socio-cultural issues, make her aware of what is happening around her in society, by small but sure steps imbue her with a spirit of the values of the Constitution as well as larger human values, and within this larger perspective, develop a new understanding of ‘martyrdom’.

The author is an Associate Professor (Retd.) based in Rohtak (Haryana) and has been actively engaged with organisations working in the fields of literacy, education, women’s issues and for progressive values over the last around 25 years. Has also been engaged in works of translation and documentation. Is one of the leading members of the local organisation by the name of SAPTRANG (Socially Active People’s Theatre, Art and Cultural Group). Contact : email – ramneek.mohan@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. Totally agreed. Thanks for making the concept of martyrdom cleared.

  2. K SHESHU BABU says:

    The present definition of ‘ martyr’ is a narrow view favouring rules. The soldiers and military or para- military forces are only qualified for the term because they die protecting the ‘ country ‘ – that is, the establishment, the government, the rulers, the industrialists or corporates who exploit people – and not the downtrodden or the sufferers.