Monday, 23 February 2009

A Death valiant as any other ?

The death of “ men in uniform”, in the face of the enemy or otherwise have stirred different emotions amongst different people .The loss, manner of death, cause of it and the rewards thereof have engaged our mind and passions for some time. The inadequacies of/and pension-related debate surrounding theSeventh Pay Commission the One Rank One Pay (OROP) debate, the indecent haste , callousness and politicisation of the Republic Day Gallantry Awards ,the Mumbai Terror Drama,Floods and Disaster Management in Aid to Civil Power by the Armed Forces have all in little or great measure rekindled these” never-say-die” issues.

Mostly, all the better and larger minds(emphasis mine) have sung paeans to the heroism, courage, valour, pride and sacrifice, patriotism and sterling values et all displayed by these great sons of the soil. This so called “ martyrdom” has albeit, come with its rewards - pecuniary benefits, gallantry awards, decorations, ,accolades of all kinds ,naming of streets, parks ,immortalising through stories , novels, songs, films etc.Notwithstanding,there is a widespread dissatisfaction with the ubiquitous manner the recognition stands provided at the end of it all. It is supposedly, little and often, too late.
However, that Soldiers or men in uniform by their very definition derived from an Old French word, itself a derivation of Solidarius, Latin for someone who served in the armed forces for pay, as opposed to warriors in tribal society where every grown man is automatically a member of his clan's fighting force. Solidare in Latin means "to pay". This etymological antecedent has been sourced primarily to support my argument that soldiering is, yet, another job with a specific job description. In the line of duty, you may, well die.Possible, but not probable!!!Notwithstanding,viewed against the general degeneration seen in all other walks of life in terms of values,commitment and selflessness and an utter surrender to success as the central virtue has further highlighted the singular worth of the institution of the Armed Forces.Particularly, when one loses life in the line of duty !

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a line from the Roman lyrical poet Horace's Odes (iii 2.13). The line can be rendered in English as: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.", Historically, thus ,legends, folklore literature etc have provided the groundwork, for a larger than life image or meaning to the profession being synonymous with heroism, sacrifice and martyrdom. Simply because, the security, health and safety of men and material of a country are best served by them!! It is honorary (despite being paid for the services rendered) hence, honourable. Similar sentiments prevail about teaching, nursing and medicine, too. All this is quite contrary to a secularisation/temporal process wherein the jobs in question have become as attractive and popular, competitive, remunerative and secure as any other.

In fact, a rough count of the number of dead/wounded/maimed in the wars since Independence would confirm that a large percentage of the Armed Forces have actually met this terrible fate i.e. die. Specifically, the Indian Air Force or the Indian Navy may have very little to show on this count. It is this last attribute of “security and safety “of the military profession that mystifies the (misplaced) fear and awe of Death to be concurrent with the profession of soldiering and hence the “nobility”. A similar statistical survey around the world would I ‘m afraid reveal the universality of the fact and that in present days of ‘Stand –off ‘operations body bags have been encouragingly few. The loss of number of lives of ordinary civilians against combatants, however, has been frightfully high and unprecedented yet, uncompensated or considered fait accompli during wars. That the value and number of ordinary lives lost due to accidents or otherwise during similar time frames is quite another matter They are, in a manner of speaking , be argued, to be no mothers sons or daughters really.Cynically speaking, post the Great Wars the overall rate and trend of deaths of the “men in uniform” have become definitely lesser.

Hero (male) and heroine (female) or Heroism came to refer to characters (fictional or historical) that, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice – that is, heroism – for some greater good, originally of martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence. It is my understanding, that contrary to the general belief, this virtue is not unique to the Armed Forces. In the common and existential state many, if not all, from different walks of life get to show it, is true, but sadly, does not get the attention or fanfare that it deserves Ergo, heroism in the line of duty is no longer or ever the exclusive preserve of the “uniform.

Death, in or without uniform, is and was of equal value and honour .To put, therefore a premium on death of a particular kind would be a travesty. Blasphemous, to say the least!! And in parting, I would much rather say, "It is sweet to die for the homeland, but it is sweeter to live for the homeland, and the sweetest to drink for it. Therefore, let us drink to the health of the homeland."

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