We live in dangerous times, when every word and action will be twisted and maligned to perpetuate segregation, separation and superiority.
I write in self-doubt, uncertain about how I feel or should feel. I am being told by all kinds of voices – tender, husky, silken, sturdy, dominant, angry, in silent whispers and booming assertiveness – that I have to be proud, feel vindicated and fill my heart with vengeful happiness. Finally, we are flexing our muscles. The voices scream out loud, “They deserved to die, we have shown those Pakis who we are.”
Yet, I am unable to celebrate or rejoice. Respect, though, is something else and that I have in abundance. The armed forces continue to stand by our borders, giving up everything to safeguard people, common everyday people. The jawan’s sacrifice, we cannot but admire.
Today, more than ever before, patriots constantly threaten us whenever questions are raised about the armed forces. There needs to be a separation in our understanding of the soldier on the one hand and of the institution of war on the other. The armed forces are constructed structures that consciously diminish, even erase the individuals who make up the force. The force has a life of its own, duty bound and without any doubt in the service of the nation. But it is also proud, unquestioning, tough and belligerent in character, where loyalty and unthinking adherence are the norm. Once a person enters its precincts and wears the uniform, the force takes over and that they say is necessary to maintain order and discipline.
Even as I write this piece, I read a news report about Operation Ginger, where members of the Pakistani and Indian Army chopped off each other’s heads, and from the reactions I see on social media, there are more conversations on whether these operations were anywhere of the scale of the recent strikes, rather than questioning the actions of our forces. Is this par for the course in a humane democracy? These ghastly acts are not exclusive to our armies. From time immemorial, armies have saved, protected and abused and terrorised in equal measure.
There is a very fine line between defence and offence and an even finer one between killing to protect and killing for revenge. Violence evokes the same emotion in everyone, irrespective of the moral or ethical compass that drives these actions. I do hope we also recognise that the institution of terror uses the very same mechanisms to perpetuate evil. And hence, we have to think deep and hard before we proclaim any kind of victory, because commitment to that force is as deep-rooted as it is for the life-saving soldier; both minds being subjugated and subsumed by causes.