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OPINION | Describing Jawans’ Deaths as Martyrdom is Not Just Careless, But Reeks of Poisonous Politics

Hyperbole isn’t just making the lives of security forces personnel trivial, it’s setting a dangerous precedent.

Revati Laul |

Updated:February 19, 2019, 12:50 PM IST
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OPINION | Describing Jawans’ Deaths as Martyrdom is Not Just Careless, But Reeks of Poisonous Politics
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Consider this. As the country chronicles the killing of over 40 CRPF men in Kashmir, it is inadvertently also insulting them by describing their deaths as heroic. The Central Reserve Police Force personnel may have spent their lives doing their jobs thoroughly and professionally. That is what they should be known for.

Instead, they are being remembered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hyperbole isn’t just making their lives trivial, it’s setting a dangerous precedent. It’s creating a pecking order of heroes where they get the most salutes and adjectives for getting killed. That is not what they signed up for. A security force person’s job is to prevent deaths. When they are caught in an ambush, it is the opposite of what they aim for or expect. It is tragic and unfortunate when they lose their lives. They are not martyrs.

In churning out these tired templates of ‘sacrifice’ and ‘dastardly acts’, what we are, in fact, doing is making the daily life of a solider or border police person less important. Their many demands — for one rank one pension, for bullet-proof vests and proper equipment, night-vision glasses, boots, guns that aren’t of World War II vintage — become irrelevant. We disrespect them when they live, only to valorise them when they’re dead.

If this were only a matter of badly phrased text and the insensitivity of us media-wallas, it could perhaps be overlooked. But the hyperbole comes from a place that is truly toxic. As someone who has inhabited this world of news-turned-into hyper-news for over two decades, I can trace this back to two distinct phenomena - the proliferation of TV news networks and 9/11.

The first drove us into a world of competitive headline making and the second made terrorism the new focus of global news. But with the mushrooming of new news spaces, headlines started to morph into part advertisements for what was to follow. And what followed needed more advertising perhaps because the content was getting thinner. Access to what was really going on with terror groups was of course almost nil and over time information on what governments were or were not doing about them become sub-zero.

Desi news stations also had to factor in one more additive. The need to appeal to a rising middle class in a brave new India. The biggest consumer group that vast sections of the media felt they must cater to even if it meant appealing to sections that consumed ideas of revenge, hate, sacrifice and martyrdom. A deadly cocktail was the result – hyper-nationalism. Catering to the fringe and delivering outrage in bite-sized packets.

This can never be the space for dialogue or consultation or even looking for solutions. Martyrdom is part of the same mix as revenge, hanging the demonic perpetrators and a hop skip and jump away from the politics of lynch mobs. We make and sell anger and that is the politics we have manufactured for ourselves. It has leeched into every possible place. Brutal rapes, not rapes. If it isn’t brutal is it even rape? This may sound ludicrous but the rot has gone deep enough to make people question the accounts of women describing their assault by former bosses being questioned because now there is a pecking order of believability and horror. The post-Nirbhaya horror scale. If it’s just a sticking of one body part into another for a few seconds, surely it doesn’t merit jail time for the offender? When we set ourselves up for competitive brutality, then this is what we get in return.

There’s another danger. Once we allow ourselves this grandstanding, our collective conscience is appeased and we move on quickly to the next big thing. The stories of what happened to secure the coast guards in Mumbai from a potential breach of the kind that actually led to a terror attack is too boring to follow up. It appears on page 3, then page 5 then not at all. The drama makes us lose sight of the real problem buried under the rubble of the CRPF soldiers.

How did the car laden with explosives get onto the highway unchecked? Were there any breaches of security from within their ranks or within the larger security forces present on the highway that we need to find out about? This requires boring, dogged follow-ups.

It is also much more expensive for news gathering stations to keep up with. Reporters need to be spared for this. So we strike that off. It’s much easier to put out blood red bumpers and stings on TV, on news websites, in the papers and on our social media. It’s cheaper for newsmakers and much cheaper for the government.

Describing the deaths as martyrdom is not just us being careless. It’s a sign of such poisonous politics that if we don’t change it, we are choosing a political climate of hate. What we can do instead is to say it like it is. Forty CRPF persons were killed when a suicide bomber rammed a car full of explosives into their convoy on the Srinagar-Jammu highway that was heavily guarded and until now believed to be completely secure. We intend to find out how this happened. And why.

(The author is an independent journalist, film-maker and author of `The Anatomy of Hate’, published by Context/Westland. She tweets @revatilaul. Views are personal)
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