Navy – Lest We Forget by Cdr Raja Narayanaswami Retd (Armed forces)
Circa April 1991. 33 SSB Bhopal. At the personal interview round of the Services Selection Board for entry into the Naval Academy, a young school boy, still in Class XII is asked to name any three Indian Navy warships.
I considered myself, till that moment, with my flawless English and metro city upbringing, “cool and aware”. The rest of the interview opened my eyes wider to my ignorance and brought me to terra firma. I was “all at sea”, to borrow a phrase from a career I was to choose for the rest of my youth.
Looking back, I realize I was not alone – an entire generation of youngsters has grown up without an iota of awareness about our Army, Navy and Air Force. It would not be presumptuous to say that our Armed Forces do not figure in the realm of consciousness of our common populace, except when the Pakis decide to send in a few jihadis to kill some more of our men, or the floods of Uttarakhand play some havoc on our poor civilian populace, or one of the numerous open borewells in the country decide to prey on some kid playing somewhere!
Think about it – How many of us can tell a Subedar Major apart from a Major? Do we know what a Destroyer or a Corvette is? Why is it that our patriotic fervor appears to peak only on 26th of January, or Vijay Diwas or such other occasions, when we are grudgingly forced to allocate some mind space from our busy schedules to our soldiers.
Given that all of us in some way or the other look up to the Armed Forces and the leadership and value education they offer – loyalty, bravery, selflessness, honour, integrity and discipline -this is surprising. For a young generation growing up in a world largely depleted of these values, isn’t it rather ironical that we are somewhat insensitive and mostly indifferent to our military services, beyond a few politically correct utterings.
How many of us are familiar with the narratives of the Battles of Saragarhi, Assal Uttar, Longewala (immortalized on celluloid by the movie Border), Nathu La, Meghna Heli Bridge, and more recently Battles of Tololing and Tiger Hill, or for that matter, the historical Operation Trident launched by the Indian Navy in 1971?
To tell you the truth, all of these have all been confined to libraries in Armed Forces institutions. It is not a part of any school curriculum anywhere in the country, and therefore hardly shocking that the civilian population of this country invariably draws a blank when quizzed on these.
One cannot but help wonder if this is deliberate. After all, isn’t this the same populace that rattles out details of headquarters of Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, and looks upon the business leadership of these organizations as role models, notwithstanding the fact that Seattle, San Jose and Mountain View California are thousands of miles away.
Ignorance may be bliss when it comes to lack of knowledge – but when it comes to matters military and fauji, it is nothing short of criminal. A soldier fights for Naam, Namak and Nishaan – all of which is about acknowledgement, recognition and loyalty. So what can be more humiliating than a nation that does not even know where and how their Forces fought for them.
It’s not about taking sides or having an opinion – it is more about being clueless. It is about being blissfully unaware about an issue which the guardians of our frontiers consider very important to their morale, motivation and performance.
Sample this. A few months back, when our veterans, demanding a relook into OROP in Jantar Mantar, were lathi-charged by the Delhi Police, how many of us stood up and took notice?
Haven’t we, the larger working class of this country, been largely ambivalent and disinterested in the repeated cries from the Armed Forces regarding the dilution of their authority vis-à-vis their bureaucrats and paramilitary services?
Would it then, be a travesty to state that we as a nation have abandoned the men and women who protect our borders and give up their today for our tomorrow.
If not, why is it that the glorious tales of our Armed Forces / military services and their achievements never made it to school textbooks?
Given the precarious nature of affairs in our oh-so-friendly neighborhood and the overwhelming power that their men in uniform command, we must take steps to ensure that we teach our youngsters about the Fauji’s role in nation building and continued well-being. For it is on account of unfounded apprehensions and misplaced fears, that we are where we are.
Tales of valour like those of a Major Som Nath Sharma, a Captain Manoj Pandey, a Subedar Yogendra Yadav and the likes of them are sure to inspire generations of youth. Teaching our students about these bravehearts and their selfless sacrifices may move some of them enough to join the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces needs the best among us.
At the very least, it will kindle a nationalistic fervor that is something we owe to this great motherland as her children.
Now is the time to reverse the complete annihilation of the Armed Forces / military services from our educational curriculums. Now is the time to make sure all Indian citizens get familiar with the hitherto ignored goldmine of our military history. Now is the time to say Thank You to the soldier the next time you see him at a railway station with his black trunk waiting for joining duty at some forlorn nook and corner of this nation.
Let us – Now – plead for a different hue to our curriculum
Olive Greens are a good start.
Cdr Raja Narayanaswami Retd – A Vet from the Indian Navy