For whom the bell tolls rarely know the fine art of politicking. It does not, however, insulate them from being used as a pawn on others’ boards, in others’ games. The dead do not have defences. Capt Mandeep Singh, who died in a militant attack in Kashmir in 1999, is the newest pawn on this black and white chessboard.
Kargil Martyr, Not Gurmehar is Being Used As a Pawn
When 20-year-old Gurmehar Kaur held a placard stating that it was not Pakistan but war that killed her father, it rattled the sensibility of many. Predictably, mainstream and social media got to their trenches, assumed positions, and a battle began, that saw participation from union ministers, sportspersons, and even film actors. The dominant argument was that Kaur, apparently a young woman with an impressionable mind, was being used as a pawn.
It is her father who’s being used as a pawn.
To begin with, being a martyr’s daughter does not imbue Kaur with any special powers of socio-political discernment. Her bereavement, however, certainly gives her a unique perspective. If she chooses to deal with her loss through forgiveness and reconciliation, it is nobody else’s business. If she chooses to make a distinction between a nation and the activities it indulges in – war in this case – this, too, is nobody else’s business.
She may come across as an impressionable young adult during this exercise; it does not make her a traitor. Her invocation of her father’s memory is a right that cannot be taken away from her.
Hyper Nationalism Reigns Supreme!
Similarly, Kaur’s right to freedom of speech and expression, guaranteed by India’s constitution, protecting which her father died, ought not to threaten anybody. It beats a sane mind to see this rigmarole of attacks and counter attacks. And this is where her father emerges as a pawn.
Those attacking Kaur for her allegedly wilful obfuscation of a geo-political reality, want to shame her for tainting her father’s supreme sacrifice.
Hyper nationalism is in the habit of permeating minds, TV and mobile screens, and political rallies in no time. Without exception, all parties use it indiscriminately to suit their respective purposes. Only the tone and tenor differ.
Therefore, those celebrating Kaur’s courage in speaking her mind, are also guilty of the same crime of manipulation. Suddenly, there is an emergence of those expressing profuse admiration, respect, and love for the soldiers. Those questioning the very existence of an army in a country like India till yesterday, now bleed for the tribulations of “Kargil martyr’s daughter.”
Facts in Post-Truth World
German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously stated that without death, there can be no philosophising. We have gone a step ahead, and for us, there can be no politicking without death. In defending and attacking Kaur, a spectacle of shraddhanjali is being put together very carefully. The cannon fodder soldiers are now being devoured by discourse.
Kaur has the right to freely express her views; others have a right to disagree with her. But civility in debate has already become a tall order.
Being a martyr’s daughter does not fetch Kaur any special privileges or responsibilities. In this post-truth society, her truth is her own and not representative. Even defenders of free speech want to focus on her status as a martyr’s daughter.
And then there is this contestation over her father’s martyrdom. Does it really matter whether Capt Mandeep Singh breathed his last fighting the uniformed regulars of the Pakistan army or their shadow brothers, the jihadis? At the end of the day, the army lost a fine soldier, and Kaur, her father. The army has its way of dealing with loss of their men and women, the families have their own. They may not necessarily corroborate.
In the Name of Nationalism
Jingoism is bad, opportunism even worse. If a young girl’s views threaten a society’s nationalistic sensibilities, there’s something conceptually wrong with it. Similarly, if defending her comes with crocodile tears and adaptable scruples, there is no redemption in sight.
Martyr’s daughter or not, nationalistic or not, politically affiliated or not, Gurmehar Kaur did not deserve abuse, harassment, and threats of violence and rape. Nobody does. Not even the ones that disagreed with her. It was equally disgusting to read parochial slurs flung at the likes of Virender Sehwag, Randeep Hooda, Yogeshwar Dutt and Babita Phogat.
(The writer is Associate Fellow (Gender) at Observer Research Foundation. She can be reached @TedhiLakeer. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)