April 1991. The personal interview round of the Services Selection Board for entry into the Naval Academy. One simple question: Name three Indian Navy warships. No response except an embarrassed silence.
Those few seconds were the longest I’ve ever endured.
Till that moment, with my flawless English and metro city upbringing, I had considered myself “cool and aware”. The rest of the SSB interview opened my eyes to my ignorance and I was all at sea – pun intended.
25 years later, nothing much has changed. To this day, our youngsters grow up without an iota of awareness about the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. Our Armed Forces do not figure in the country’s consciousness except when the Pakis decide to send in a few jihadis to kill some more of our men, or the rain gods play havoc in Uttarakhand, or one of the numerous open borewells 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 does our patriotic fervour peak only on 15th of August, 26th of January, or Vijay Diwas or such other occasions, when we finally allocate some mind space from our busy schedules to our soldiers?
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, MeghnaHeli 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?
These tales of valour, as indeed, many others, lie confined to libraries in Armed Forces institutions. They are NOT a part of any school curriculum anywhere in the country. No wonder then that the civilian population of this country invariably draws a blank on these.
Is this ignorance deliberate? After all, isn’t this the same populace that rattles out details of headquarters of Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon? Aren’t the business leaders of these organizations held up as role models, notwithstanding the fact that Seattle, San Jose and Mountain View California are thousands of miles away?
Despite the fact that the Indian Armed Forces are an embodiment of the values we extol – loyalty, bravery, selflessness, honour, integrity and discipline – why don’t we hold them up as role models for our beleaguered world?
The ancient and honorable profession of Arms arises from the direct and inescapable need to defend our nation’s territory, culture, ideals and people. Indeed, it isn’t an exaggeration to say it ventures beyond physical borders into what is ethically right and morally just. The men who go to war and sacrifice themselves, do so, not for the pay and perks, but for Naam, Namak and Nishaan– all of which is about acknowledgement, recognition and loyalty. Under the circumstances, isn’t it shocking that the glorious tales of our Armed Forces and their achievements never made it to school textbooks?
When our veterans, demanding a relook into OROP in JantarMantar, 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?
It’s not about taking sides or having an opinion – it is more about being blissfully unaware about an issue which the guardians of our frontiers consider very important to their morale, motivation and performance.
Why are we, the people, rather thankless to the men and women who protect our borders and give up their today for our tomorrow?
Given the precarious nature of affairs in our oh-so-friendly neighborhood, and the rather tentative internal security situation that prevails in our country, the Armed Forces need the best among us. As we increasingly look upon our men in uniform to sort out the mess created by politicians or by nature, it is high time we took steps to teach our youngsters a thing or two about the Fauji’s role in nation building and continued well-being.
Tales of valour like those of a Major SomNath Sharma, a Captain Manoj Pandey or a Subedar Yogendra Yadav 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. At the very least, it will kindle a nationalistic fervor that is the most basic sentiment we owe this great motherland.
Now is the time to reverse the complete annihilation of the Armed Forces 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 teach our children of those places on the map where the Forces fought for them and continue to stand guard.
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 to join duty at some forlorn corner of this nation.
Let us – Now – work to give a different hue to our curriculum – Olive Greens, Virgin Whites and the Sky Blues would be a good place to start.