Know the unknown soldier

24 04 2008

Know the unknown soldier

April 18, 2008 Courtesy : Hindustan Times

Ask us increasingly cynical and notoriously fickle Indians to name something or someone we still have deep and abiding respect for and chances are we will all have the same answer: the Indian Solider. We may have lazy scorn for our politicians, historic resentment of our bureaucrats and deep-seated envy of our industrialists. But show us those landscaped images of a lone jawan stoically standing guard on an icy, barren, mountaintop, throw in a few strains of AR Rahman’s Vande Mataram and watch our tears turn into a flood of empathy.

We push our military into duties that were never really part of its job description. So, apart from and in addition to fighting wars and terrorism, we count on our soldiers to play roles as varied as building bridges when the tsunami hits, keeping the peace during religious riots and even managing the now-epidemic condition of saving children who mysteriously end up at the bottom of borewells.

But if we are a country that really cares so deeply for its military, why is it that a monster called apathy is in serious danger of devouring the future of the Armed Forces?

This week, while we were all consumed by whether the Olympic torch would make its way safely past India Gate (built by Edwin Lutyens to honour the 84,000 Indian soldiers who died in World War I), the Army Chief was making a trip down the same road. He was on his way to meet the Urban Development Minister, probably wondering — as many of his predecessors had before him— whether he would have any luck convincing this government to do, what the British had already done as far back as 1921. He was carrying a file that has now travelled through multiple ministries for seven years: the plans and architectural designs for a National War Memorial.

For the last two years, different government bodies including the Delhi Urban Arts Commission, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and the Heritage Conservation Committee have squabbled like recalcitrant children over whether the designs for the memorial are tenable. Could anything be a more shocking illustration of the stranglehold of red-tape around what should have been a flagship project for any government?

The designs for the memorial (the proposal is to build the structure around the canopy at India Gate) have been created by Charles Correa, easily one of India’s most venerable architects. Yet ask officials what has held up the green signal, and they will tell you it is a “lack of consensus” over how high the walls of the memorial should be. Have you heard of anything more ludicrous?

Admittedly, India Gate is a heritage building, and any new construction within its circumference would have to be aesthetically sensitive. But that is not even the point. Surely the question to ask instead is why military chiefs should have to implore different mantrijis to sign on the dotted line for something that should be a matter of intuitive national pride. We like to think of ourselves as self-confident nation, a global powerhouse that is hard to beat. And yet, a file to create a national memorial for soldiers who die in conflict has gathered cobwebs and dust for seven long years, and we aren’t even angry enough to ask why.

Perhaps it’s time to admit that cocooned in the embrace of the new economy and the surging sensex, we may like to be believe that we care about the ordinary Indian soldier, but at best, our solidarity is notional and feeble. We have passionate opinions on whether India is a ‘soft state’ or whether our governments are ‘tough on terror’. But beyond the sound and fury of drawing room debate, soldiering is something that happens to other people. We respond to stories of valour and tragedy with applause and tears but as the moment passes, so does our interest and engagement. It’s almost like watching a movie — for those three hours we are transported enough for celluloid emotion to tug at our hearts, but as the popcorn winds down and the lights beam up again — we know that our lives are elsewhere. Our engagement with the plight of the Indian Soldier is similar — ephemeral and maudlin, but essentially indifferent.

The PLU (People like us) brigade would no longer consider the military as a career option and many of those who did are now lining up and pleading for the freedom to leave. Ask the Generals and Admirals unofficially, and they will concede that they have to reject resignations, because the shortfall would be too dire to deal with. In Kashmir, there are already reports of ordinance and artillery units doubling up for infantry duty, because of the numbers crunch. And for the first time in years, the Army is actually considering a one-time emergency, short-service commissioning of officers to fill the ever widening gap. That’s how serious and morale weakening the situation is.

Like any other wing of the government, the military knows it can’t compete with the big bucks of the private sector. But, no matter, what your view is on the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, can you think of a single reason why the military has never had a representative on any pay board? Or why the military shouldn’t just have its own wage board?

The carpers will ask where it will all end. Tomorrow, the police and the paramilitary, they say, will ask for the same. The liberals will hurl phrases like ‘jingoism’ at you and say far too much fuss is made about soldiers. But chances are that they have never had to stand upright and tearless to salute a coffin draped in a flag. And the rest will say we are on the side of the soldier and forget all about it with the turn of this page.

In the meantime, the old school soldier will try and tell a generation that doesn’t care that everything is not about money. He will say that there are such things as romance and respect for which there is no other substitute. He will then open the newspaper and read about a country that has been debating whether we need a war memorial since the 1960s. And he will be silent.

Barkha Dutt is Managing Editor, NDTV 24×7

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Art exhibition on Aurangzeb cancelled

7 03 2008

Aurangzeb exhibition controversy

Chennai: An art exhibition on the life of Mughal emperor Aurangazeb has run into rough weather following objections from some Muslim individuals to two pictures showing demolition of the Somnath Temple in Gujarat on the ground that they would disturb peace in Tamil Nadu.

A Hindu group threatened to stage a demonstration if the exhibition was cancelled. The Lalit Kala Academy, where the exhibition is on till March 9, is considering cancelling the show.

R M Palaniappan, regional secretary, Lalit Kala Academy said that two persons had submitted written complaints saying a portrait, depicting the demolition of the temple in Gujarat, following the order of Aurangazeb, could lead to communal hatred.

He said, “I have informed the headquarters at Delhi and are waiting further orders .” Hindu Munnani founder leader Rama Gopalan said, “Visitors have the right to know the truth. If the exhibition is cancelled, we will stage a demonstration,” he said. — Agencies

Chennai cops shut down Lalit Kala Akademi show on Aurangzeb

An art show at the prestigious Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) here curated by journalist Francois Gautier was at the receiving end of moral policing when an exhibition on Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was shut down.

Stating that it had received three complaints that the show would disturb communal harmony, police Thursday night burst into the exhibition, shut it down forcibly, took into custody three women associated with the hosting of the exhibition and seized some of the works on display.

The exhibition of 40 paintings, including exceptional miniatures by noted Indian artists, gathered together by Gautier’s Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism (FACT) were on show at the LKA from March 3.

The show included farhans (edicts issued by Aurangzeb) from the Bikaner museum and other material on Aurangzeb. It also contained two pictures depicting Aurangzeb’s army destroying the Somnath temple in Gujarat and the Kesava Rai temple in Mathura.

The organisers said they had the right to freedom of expression and the right to exhibit a show that had travelled all over India.

LKA regional secretary R.M. Palaniappan told the media he “should have screened the exhibits more carefully”.

Joint Commissioner of Police P. Balasubramanian later told the media: “We feared it might create a law and order problem.”

The three women from FACT, Saraswathi (65), Vijayalakshmi (62) and Malathi (47), were picked up from the show at about 7.30 p.m. and taken to the police station, where they were held for nearly an hour without being allowed to contact their families or any lawyer.

“The police were rude to us, they asked us whether we were terrorists”, Saraswathi told the media. The women were later released.

Gautier too told the media police refused to protect the exhibition. “The idea was to show how different the history of India would have been if Dara Shikho, emperor Shajahan’s elder son and preferred heir, had become ruler of India,” he said as he went to the police and explained that his intentions were not to spread any social disharmony, “only to bring history to the people”.

The exhibition had come to after showing in Delhi and Pune and was to go on till March 9.

Aurangzeb expo abruptly closed
Friday March 7 2008 08:42 IST

G Babu Jayakumar (NEW Indian Express)

CHENNAI: An ‘artistic exhibition on Aurangzeb’ at the Lalit Kala Akademi was closed on Thursday, four days after it opened, reportedly after it assumed political overtones.

The Akademi asked the show’s organisers to vacate the hall though it was booked till March 9. On Thursday morning, Assistant Commissioner of Police K N Murali and the regional secretary of Lalit Kala Akademi, R M Palaniappan, who wanted to seal the doors to the show, were forced to retreat as a phalanx of politicians from Hindu groups and Janata Party leader V S Chandralekha arrived.

The police and Akademi official feared that two paintings on display could incite communal passions. Prince of Arcot Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali, who visited the exhibition, called it ‘a bunkum’. He said it was ‘cooked up history’ and he could challenge the authenticity of documents on display.

He confronted Chandraleka and the other volunteers of Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism (FACT), who had put together a series of documents and paintings under the title ‘Aurangzeb as he was according to Moghul records’, questioning them on the necessity of organising the show.

Ramagopalan and his followers refused to remove the two ‘potentially controversial’ paintings – one on the demolition of the Saranath temple in Gujarat in 1669 and the other having vignettes of the destruction of Keshava Rai temple at Mathura (1669) and the building of a mosque – but offered to put a veil over them.

Palaniappan said he received a written complaint from an advocate Jainauddin, who described the exhibits as ‘objectionable’. He said several people had also called him to express their displeasure.

Admitting that he had failed to screen the exhibits before the display, Palaniappan said he had the powers to call off an exhibition any time. Francois Gautier, a Delhi-based French journalist who had planned the show, told this website’s newspaper that police refused to provide protection.

Aurangzeb exhibits at Lalit Kala Academy kick up row
Chennai | Thursday, Mar 6 2008 IST (Net India 123)

An art exhibition at the Lalit Kala Akademi here, depicting the life history of Mughal emperor Aurangazeb has run into a controversy following opposition by some Muslim outfits to some of the portraits and Hindu organisations coming to its defence by opposing the cancellation demand. Tight police security had been deployed at the premises after Muslim organisations took up cudgels against some of the portraits claiming that it would disturb peace in the State and demanded that the expo should be cancelled. Justifying the portraits, a Hindu outfit opposed any move for cancelling the show contending that “only Historical facts” were on display. The Akademy’s Regional Secretary R M Palaniappan told reporters that three people, including two Muslims had raised objections to a photo that showed demolition of the Somnath Temple in Gujarat by Muslim forces, following an order by Aurangazeb. They also submitted a written complaint that this picture could hurt the sentiments of Hindus and would result in communal hatred. The issue has been referred to the Akademi headquarters at New Delhi, he added. To a question, he said though he had enough powers to cancel the show, he was awaiting orders from the headquarters. “I cannot allow such controversies in a government building,” he added. Meanwhile, ‘Hindu Munnani’ leader Rama Gopalan visited the Akademi and said there was no distortion of facts in the pictures. He also threatened to launch an agitation if the exhibition was cancelled.

— (UNI) — 06MS42.xml