Sunday, April 24, 2005

Standing With Our Soldiers

We just read a Dilip D'Souza blogpost, Rashomon on the border, where he makes the following offensive argument:

So I know Indians, outraged by this incident, who are calling for a strong military response against Bangladesh. They rail against the pusillanimity of a country that would be pushed around by a minnow like Bangladesh. Even if there was provocation, they say, Bangladesh cannot do this to an Indian soldier. That country seems to think it is India's equal, and our response should be so overwhelming as to rid them of such grandiose pretensions.

And I'm left to wonder, why is it that the way we consider incidents like this must be coloured by our national loyalties? Why must we believe our own country's version of events, even if it has holes, over the other's? (Then again, the other country's version also has holes).

Is it so hard to accept that when you have a tense border, you're going to have incidents like this one, and that's really why it happened? That if we want no more futile deaths like these, the real answer is for both countries to learn to live like neighbours, which they never have managed?

As our readers know, this blog has taken precisely the position Mr. D'Souza condemns. The following is our response to his argument.

The reason for Indians to stand with our soldiers -- and their version of what happened -- is that they stand vigil on the border, placing their lives at stake, so that we can live the free lives (a rarity in our hemisphere) that we lead.

Liberals seemingly revel in taking potshots at our boys -- just to make abstract points. It's all well & good to talk about the nature of truth, ala Rashomon, in smoke-filled parties and consequence-less blogs, but we're talking here about real Indians who've been tortured and killed -- so we can have these parties and blogs.

Mr. D'Souza is free to make an equivalence between the soldier who died protecting us, and the foreigners who care little about our interests; he should go right ahead. Afterall, he lives in a free country where such obscenity too is protected speech.

As for this blog, that takes the unabashedly hardline Indian view but, like others with similar views, mourns even the Bangladeshi dead -- a point Mr. D'Souza conveniently omitted in his post, the life of an Indian soldier matters a heck of a lot more than the lives of those who he has died protecting our freedoms from. If we do not stand with our boys when they're under fire, in the trenches, who will? Arundhati Roy? Noam Chomsky? Khaleda Zia?

Any other attitude insults the memory of our amar jawans. That we cannot let happen.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Primary Red, I came here after I read your comment on my post, and I read your line about mourning the Bangladeshi dead. The rest of this is essentially the response to your comment on my post.

My belief is this: the greatest tribute to our "boys in the trenches" is to go see them on the job, get a sense of what they do and in what conditions. This has been my (admittedly limited) attempt in the last several months. It opened my eyes, not least because of what they had to say about "standing for freedom" and the "glory of the country" and the "enemy", and the like.

It's one reason I wrote the Tehelka article I linked to in my more recent post, and some other pieces I've done. (My Outlook/Picador winning essay is another, which Outlook will publish one of these weeks I'm told).

The last thing I intend to do is take "potshots" at these men. Instead, I want to understand them and their work. I believe I owe them that much. I believe the ones I've met have appreciated my visits and efforts and writings.

If to you, all that's "obscenity", or "insulting their memory", fine: I will keep doing it because I feel I must.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Primary Red, I forgot that copying and pasting would not preserve the link I mentioned to my more recent post.

Primary Red said...


Thanks for your response, which we appreciate very much.

This might surprise you, but we are co-travelers on the road of secularism and tolerance in India. We've long read and agreed with your many essays on communalism in India.

This is why, on this matter of our strong disagreement, we were very frustrated with your views -- this explains our rather harsh response, the tone of which we regret.

Sure, our soldiers find themselves in terrible places, sometimes with inadequate living conditions and terrible leadership, but this makes it ever more important to support them when their veracity is being questioned. We'll join you if you call for India to devote more national resources for enhancing the quality of our soldiers' lives.

While individual soldiers, frustrated with the misery of their posts, might not feel much connection to notions like "protecting liberty" -- they are indeed doing so. Afterall, there is no country besides India (in our region) that has the kind of liberty we do. Part of the credit for this must go to our soldiers, or do you not think that's true?

Our soldiers guard our freedom; their foe in this incident, the BDR, suppreses that of the Bangladeshi people. Surely, this places the two on completely different moral planes. In a moment of crisis, whose version then should we trust -- that of the sentries of freedom, or of the serpents to it?

Thats our point.

Best regards.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Primary Red, again this is a response off my blog.

Let's put it this way. I know of incidents inside this country where such forces as the BSF have done atrocious things and lied about it. Their veracity was questioned then too. Should I support them -- meaning the liars and thus whose veracity was being questioned -- then as well?

My belief is that the best way to support our soldiers is to understand what they do, in what conditions -- and, importantly, to punish those among them who give them a bad name by their misdeeds. This is a general statement that has nothing to do with the border skirmish of some days ago. I believe we do a disservice to our men by supporting them blindly.

This is why I think it is important to go out and meet them. I don't see the point in attributing these notions like "protecting liberty" to them when they rarely see it that way themselves. Few of them ask for more resources; in my experience, they ask for a clearer national understanding of what they are doing and why.

As for being the only country that offers liberty, and the serpents vs sentries, etc: put it down to cynicism if you like, but I don't see our countries that way. These are two countries trying to further and protect what they see as their national interests, that's all. Seeing it in terms of superiority and snakes only obfuscates that. In what sense, for example, are you able to assert that the BDR suppresses its people? What if I produced before you people who say similar things about the BSF?

And finally, our liberty is guaranteed by each of us who stands to defend it when it is threatened. Soldiers as well as us all. There can be no other way for a country to exist.

I realize you get frustrated with my views. That's the nature of differing views. Ever given a thought to how I might feel about your views on this incident? "Frustrated" is not a bad description. But let's try to consider each other's views -- merely because there is a degree of respect in both directions, I presume -- and not simply condemn them. Me too.


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