Stop using the word 'martyrs' for soldiers killed in action

Stop using the word 'martyrs' for soldiers killed in action

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D P RAMACHANDRAN signed this petition

It has become common practice by the media nowadays to describe soldiers who are killed in action as martyrs. The dictionary meaning of the word ‘martyr’ is someone who is killed because of his or her religious or other beliefs. The word, which originates from the Greek word ‘martys’ meaning ‘witness’ is universally attributed to someone who suffers persecution and death for advocating or renouncing a religious or political belief or cause. A soldier who is killed in battle does not fit this description, for the primary reason that it conveys a sense of passivity. Mahatma Gandhi was a martyr, so was Martin Luther King; but not a soldier in battle who fights till his last gasp in the service of his country, before being killed.

A soldier who goes into battle does not do so to offer himself to be persecuted or killed. He goes in there to kill the enemy. He is a professional trained and dedicated to defend his country against its external enemies. The possibility of being killed during the performance of his duty is an occupational hazard he willingly accepts. Also, in such an instance, he goes down fighting; not tantamount in any way to submitting himself to be killed without offering resistance. It is this paradigm that prompted the famous words of the World War II American General, George S Patton, that no one ever won a war by dying for his country, but he did it by killing others who wanted to die for their country.

KIA, for Killed in Action, is a term used by the armed forces, and the armed forces alone, the world over and it carries with it all the solemnity and dignity the sacrificial act of a soldier who falls in battle deserves. In fact, India and Pakistan are the only two countries in the world that have resorted to using the strange term of martyrdom for soldierly death (Pakistanis use the word ‘shahid’ for martyr). It is an affliction touted by the media (with TV channels in forefront) in recent times, probably under the misconception that they are honouring the fallen soldiers with a stronger terminology. Unfortunately, what it demonstrates is a lack of linguistic finesse on their part. In all probability, the Indian media took up this practice as a counter to their Pakistani counterparts harping with the use of ‘shahid’ and ‘shahidi’; little realizing that these words are part of their infamous ‘jihadi’ parlance. In recent times, their Prime Minister even went on to declare Osama Bin Laden as a ‘shahid!’. An Indian soldier is a proud adherent of the country’s democratic values and he does not fight ‘Holy Wars’ like the jihadis. In that respect, describing our soldiers killed in action as martyrs amounts to insulting the memory of their valour and sacrifice in the service of the nation.

One of the most appealing epitaphs a visitor to the famous war cemetery at Kohima would find is on the tombstone of a 19-year old second lieutenant, wherein it is inscribed ‘Killed in Action’ followed by the young officer’s dates of birth and death, with the name of his father, a lieutenant colonel, underneath. The old soldier could find no better words to express his grief at the loss of his son mingled with the pride at his gallant end. The ultimate thought that propels a soldier forward in battle, risking his life, is that he would be remembered to have been killed in action, that he would be leaving a legacy of honour.

Calling KIA martyrdom amounts to undermining the bravery of the soldier while courting death in battle. English language does not really have another phrase that is synonymous with KIA and can convey the true sense of gravity and honour it carries. We do however have an Indian word, ‘Veer Gati’, which accurately manifests the sense. Originating from Hindu mythology, the word translates to ‘brave death’ or ‘death of the brave’. Perhaps those who rate KIA as lacking in intensity to convey the death of a soldier in battle could adopt this Indian word, if they wish to have an alternate expression. After all, with the armed forces themselves having adopted the term ‘Veer Naris’ for war widows, it might even be most appropriate to popularize this word.

It is strange that this anomaly has gone unnoticed so far, permitting the media to have its way with such a clumsy usage that the whole country is lapping up. It is imperative that the government steps in to forbid with immediate effect the use of the word ‘martyr’ for a soldier killed in action.

We therefore request Shri Prakash Javadekar, Hon’ble Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India to intervene in the matter the soonest and issue necessary orders to undo the damage.