Symbolism cannot be undermined. It has its place and relevance.
In the past week we have had plenty of the kind which brings most Indians together because of a shared sense of an allegiance to the country.
Patriotism has found expression in different ways. Coming together at public places for flag hoisting and associated celebrations; flash mobs dancing to patriotic numbers in distant lands; the tricolour plastered all over Social Media, people wishing each other and even dressing appropriately for the occasion, it has been a patriotic joy ride like every year, for most of us.
We have reiterated as we know best, vigorous support for our Nation and promised to stand in preparation to defend it from enemies and detractors, both internal and external.
As the Country celebrated, uneasy were the heads that wear the jewelled crown of India, the residents of Jammu Kashmir.
The people of Jammu Kashmir learnt a new “normal” many years ago.
While the rest of the Country is secure in its current status of being a Nation not at war, J&K residents live in a state which is clearly very complicated.
War is defined as armed conflict between two countries and that is the reality residents of villages near the border outposts are living.
The fact that the battle which plays out in their backyards manifests in novel, devious ways makes it even more psychologically taxing while being physically dangerous too. J&K-ians have been enduring this since for four generations now.
It is only a blessing if no one from Poonch, Arnia or RS Pura Sector which come under constant fire, is watching these latest ceasefire violations being analysed in the National media.
The 45 ceasefire violations in August 2015 alone and the total 240 this year being termed ‘chicken feed’ by a senior diplomat as he compared them to the violations in the years 2001 to 2003, will be hard to justify to Bachhan Singh from Hamirpur Kona in the Pargwal belt of Jammu district who lost his 22-year-old son Sanjay Kumar – a civilian – early one morning this month.
It is hard to defend these cold, sanitized debates and opinions to someone from Village Sabjiyan and Balakote that saw mortar fire which left behind in its wake deaths including that of a 10-year-old’s, caused grievous injuries, and showered live shells which lay all across their maize fields, amidst standing crops.
As we prepared to wear our patriotism on our sleeves on 15 August, Poonch and earlier that month the villages along the International Border in RS Pura and Arnia, all in Jammu Province, stood between 82 mm and 120 mm mortar fire and the rest of the Country.
Just a few weeks ago two village youth in Udhumpur District of Jammu Province, Rakesh Kumar and Vikramjeet Singh, within a space of a short time turned the tables and went from abducted to captors of a militant pinning them down as he turned to fire at the police party who was coming to apprehend him.
The ease with which Rakesh Kumar in his initial interviews to the Media said that though he is jobless, at least in this instance he wanted to be of use to Bharat Mata is the kind of stuff epic tales are made of.
In 1947 a sweeper in a beleaguered picket in Nowshera fought with the enemy, and somewhere the same year another local villager rescued a military commander from sure death and refused monetary reward for it.
On 18 August of this year, a 38-year-old old civilian, Subhash Chander from Sai Khurdin in Arnia Sector, took a bullet in his foot when his Village came under fire, while on 18 December 1947 Ram Chander, a dhobi by profession, showed exceptional bravery unmatched by any of the combat personnel in the Convoy he was travelling with.
Ram Chander during an ambush and under fire helped replace the decking of a bridge at Bharambla which had been removed by the enemy.
Ram Chander took a severely wounded army officer’s rifle and kept the enemy engaged while the Lieutenant’s vehicle moved away.
Even when the officer and Ram Chander had to abandon the vehicle and found themselves alone, Ram Chander did not leave the Lieutenant who was near collapse and got him to the closest Army Outpost some 12 kilometres away.
The contribution of the Gujjars and Bakarwals of the region in keeping our boundaries impenetrable in 1965 and 1971 has been legendary.
Their efforts have been documented in different wartime narratives including instances where they have even provided food and water to the troops. On 3 May 1999 it was the Bakarwals yet again who alerted the Indian Army to the Pakistani intrusion in the Batalik Sector.
From Poonch in Jammu Region to Baramulla in Kashmir many locals supported the Indian Army against the invaders in these wars.
This indomitable spirit has always been prevalent in the culturally diverse people of Jammu Region – the Dogras, Sikhs, Gujjars, and Bakarwals who were also responsible for the creation of this Kingdom with far reaching frontiers under the able leadership of its rulers.
Jammu Kashmir, extravagant in its beauty of both people and landscape, has a unique National spirit, which is always underplayed by the media. Patriotism is not just a badge to be dusted and worn on special occasions for the people but a trait that is entrenched in their psyche.
What comes habitually and as a sense of duty to the people near these Border Outposts and in other sensitive areas under constant threat of militancy is a credit to them but also reflects poorly on the Government and the Nation.
These people wish for peace more than anyone else because they have seen war too closely to want it, but they do have a right to be as secure as someone in Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai when they retire to their beds at night.
The Nation must be able to look squarely in the eyes of 75-year-old Noor Mohammed from Poonch District, who had to flee his Village along with hundreds of others.
What is the answer to his questions as he seeks shelter having had to abandon his home: “Yeh Hindustan hai; hum Hindustan ke nagrik hain, kuchh bandobast kyun nahi hai?”
Chaudhury Mohammad Hafiz Ahmedi, a resident of Poonch District spoke of shells on rooftops and the fact that children are unable to go to school, adding that government officials, teachers and the police are unable to do their duties since tension escalated along the Line of Control.
Wakar Younus, a Poonch resident, blames Pakistani troops for the panic that has gripped the area.
The people stoically push through poor infrastructure and road connectivity, rooted to their land; made homeless due to fear and conflict but unfailing in their desire to live in their homes despite these odds.
The great Indian philosopher Chanakya said the security of the citizens at peacetime is very important because the State is the only saviour of men and women and they get affected solely because of the negligence of the State.
The Deputy Chief Minister of J&K, Dr. Nirmal Singh praised the courage and patriotism of the people and promised security and welfare to the residents of these border villages.
One hopes that action will speedily follow these words.
As the Nation celebrated freedom, a state of not being imprisoned or enslaved, people all along the International Border, who are but a blip in the National consciousness, are still waiting to exhale and throw back the shroud of fear and uncertainty which cloaks them.
– The views expressed here are those of the author.