As We Celebrate The Brave
The duty laid upon one who cares for truth is different from the duty laid upon a politician. Politicians expect spiritual people to conform, while they remain free to set the agenda. This intimidates and stifles me.
It is a matter of joy that our captured pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, is home. Every life is incomparably precious to me. The untimely loss of a human life is unbearably tragic and, if seen objectively, indefensible. For that very reason, efforts are made to drape war in heroism and patriotism.
Deaths through war are not accidental. These “martyrdoms” are a result of decisions taken, not by fate or some enemies, but by one’s own leaders. This could generate a corrosive sense of guilt, which cannot be wished away. There is only one way it can be dealt with — by glorifying the victims. Glorification of the victims of one’s own decisions is a palliative and a compensation for the injustice of sending them into the jaws of death.
Consider this. It is, mostly, old men who create war. But the young fight and die in them. The sons of those who launch wars, with the fanfare of patriotism, don’t perish fighting. Politicians are extraordinarily brave with the lives of other people’s children.
This unromantic reality is camouflaged by creating a national hysteria aimed at compelling others to fall in line and sing the same chorus. As a rule, nationalist, patriotic hysteria is created by those who want to keep the rights of citizens to think rationally in suspended animation. By doing so, they seize the initiative and gag the rest of the people. The strange thing is while they claim absolute freedom to do so, they deny even a modicum of leeway to anyone who has independent views and opinions. So, an undeclared war on freedom of thought rages by the side. Wars come and go, but the integrity and dignity of life must endure. Abhinandan is hailed as a hero. Those who risk their life for the country deserve appreciation and recognition. But there is a problem in creating the impression that only military action involves bravery.
To me, our farmers are at least as brave as our soldiers. For every soldier who dies for the country, at least a thousand farmers perish. In 2014, for example, 12,360 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide. During the same period, 64 army personnel died in action. So, the proportion is 2,000:1. That is, for every jawan killed, 2,000 farmers perished. So, it takes far greater bravery to be a farmer in India than to be a soldier. Farmers perish in their struggle to feed us. They die in the line of duty to sustain life. By what logic is sustaining life less valuable or laudable than defending life?
We don’t do this injustice to our farmers deliberately. We do it by habit. We have got used to a system, a social and national outlook, that devalues farmers as well as workers in the unorganised sector, who are largely responsible for keeping our lives going. This should alert us to the extent to which our perceptions and inclinations are manipulated.
This problem of blinkered priorities is embedded in religions as well. Our religious texts glorify kings and warriors. They are silent and blind about those who sustain life. Take the case of women. How come a woman who voluntarily and joyfully undergoes the near-death agony of giving birth to a new life is doing less of a service than a soldier? Men don’t have to undergo it; so, out of ignorance, they fail to value it. Consider, the plight of doctors and nurses. Or fire-fighters and rescue operators, even ordinary men and women who risk their life to save others in disaster. We take all these for granted.
Over centuries, we have created a system that values the bravery involved in killing over the courage to foster life. We are no longer even aware that courage is involved in these commitments and undertakings. This explains why we do not see many in the public sphere brave enough to stand by the truth they know. Our public life is, increasingly, being configured in fear. The extravagance with which certain types of bravery are celebrated will be complemented by the brutality with which other forms of bravery will be criminalised and crushed.
If courage is a value in battles, it cannot be an anti-value in day-to-day life. If courage is laudable in uniform, it should be legitimate in civilian attire too.
(The writer is a Vedic scholar and social activist)