Towards a world without wars

Instead of preparing for a world with no armies, we are almost inciting war within the country and outside.

Defence Minister Mano-har Parrikar tells us that “the army has lost some of its sheen because it hasn’t gone to war for the past 40-50 years; in spite of the softening rider, this should not be misinterpreted as a call for war.” Such statements reveal a mindset.

The 350th foundation day anniversary at Anandpur Sahib should have been a solemn occasion; it is a place where even the most diehard atheist would unwittingly bow his head in utter humility. And on this occasion you had the Punjab Chief Minister P S Badal saying: ‘Grabbing state power is necessary to promote religion’.

And this is not just the mindset of an individual or a Union minister or a state, it implicates humanity as the underlying message is one of appropriating power and misusing it for across the board dictatorship and homogenisation of education, culture, religion and language.

There is an utter disregard for democratic values, multiplicity of voices and heterogeneity of cultures and faiths. The essence of human existence is diversity, be it in nature, culture, religion or language.

Not many decades ago, the major issue that marked human discourse was that we cannot afford another war; it would mean complete annihilation of all life on the planet. Perhaps, visions of possible life under sea and on the moon have pushed that discourse into the background.

Even today, we are sitting on the top of a nuclear mountain which is increasing in size at a rapid speed. Not many people today quote Albert Einstein: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”  Nor do we remember him saying: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

What after all is the role of the army in our country? Is it to wage war alone? Is it not enough that our soldiers have protected our rather unfriendly massive borders on several sides and along the huge 7,000 km-long coastline for decades in such a way that we have not seen a major war in recent years, in spite of the ‘infinite stupidities’ of the powers that might be.

In spite of major external and internal threats, we stand united as a nation. Instead of preparing for a world that would not have any armies, we are almost instigating war within the country and from outside.

The Myanmar raid has sent alarming messages across the world; though there is pressure to tone down the rhetoric in Delhi, the simmering of an escalation is on the horizon.

And, what about the positive and constructive role that the army plays in peace times? That we all take for granted. Whenever there is a natural or man-made crisis, we run to the army as a saviour and they invariably do a remarkable job irrespective of whether it is saving a child stuck in a bore well or people hanging from a rope at some Timber Trail.

Ultimate saviour
Be it floods in Jammu and Kashmir or Bihar or Assam or earthquakes in Latur or Nepal or Tsunamis in Andaman and Nicobar Islands or Tamil Nadu, our ultimate saviour is the army. Isn’t that enough to enhance its sheen?

We are told that the Indian army loses more soldiers during peace times than during the wars. Is it the duty of the army to control local labour strikes or conduct all counter insurgency operations?

Since it was first deployed in the North East in the 1950s, the army has been fighting terrorist from inside the country and abroad almost across the country, from Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab to Siachen and Sri Lanka.

What do we give our soldiers in return? Not even a decent burial or a pension with dignity.  Ask anyone who has lifted the coffin of his brother, his comrade, how heavy is the load? It has the dreams of a young wife, it has the future of his children and hopes of his parents.

Late Lieutenant Saurabh Kalia, who was one of the earliest casualties of the Kargil war, did not die of a gun-shot wound. When his body was returned by Pakistan, his eyes had been gouged out, his ears and nose had been chopped, his entire body had cigarette and electric current burn marks…

Isn’t it time that we begin to dream of a world without armies and wars? Is there no other way of surviving than killing our own images just because they happen to live across an artificially drawn line?

We do need to ask why we have wars in the first place. We do need to reflect that people are not born Maoists. Brave, young and intelligent citizens of the new world can certainly be involved in more constructive and innovative activities.
(The writer is retired professor, Delhi University)

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