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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

An empty euphoria

The aftermath of war in our times has generally been an elusive peace. ``Low-intensity conflict'' is almost insidious now in much of the ...

Written by Ritu Menon |
July 23, 1999

The aftermath of war in our times has generally been an elusive peace. “Low-intensity conflict” is almost insidious now in much of the subcontinent and we have learnt to live with it, much as we live with the daily crime in our cities. This, too, is low-intensity, and persistent.

The last few weeks I have been seeing and reading the coverage of Kargil in our national Press and television, with a growing feeling of alarm and alienation. The high-pitched hosannas to our “brave boys” who “gave up their today so that we may enjoy our tomorrow”; the hundreds of hopefuls waiting to enlist; the glorification of guns, arms; the half-page ads extolling “us”, decrying “them”; the emotive coverage of heroes’ funerals, attended by lakhs of ordinary citizens; page after page of battle photographs and lists of those who have contributed money or raised funds for the war effort; the Kargil consensus shared by artists, dancers, writers, sportsmen, film stars. Even schoolchildren.

What are we glorifying? Have weforgotten what one chronicler has called “the private life of war”? That it doesn’t take long for brutality to get internalised and hideous violence to take place. That those millions of survivors who have lived through war are seldom able to understand or come to terms with the reasons for waging it. That war is one of those events that defies assimilation by its very nature. Yes, our soldiers have “recaptured” strategic heights, turned back the intruders and fought with valour. But they have also killed and that is the logic of war: kill or be killed.

And yet here we are actively promoting a culture of militarism. For all those who believe that this is a necessary, temporary phenomenon, there is reason to pause. Militarism has a way of seeping into the very dailiness of our lives. No longer are we surprised by military presence in our towns and cities — indeed, many of us go so far as to say “what we really need is the army” to ensure discipline, security, law and order. No longer are we dismayedby increasing levels of violence and the easy availability of firearms for use in peace-time against each other. Machine-gun, AK-47, revolver, pistol — all part of our urban landscape, all accessible. To each according to his means. And in our drawing rooms we watched reports from frozen heights, full of drama and spectacle. Truly, a theatre of war.

The cult of the warrior finds its nurturing in a culture of war. In a climate of insecurity. In a paroxysm of “patriotism” which acknowledges only one kind of allegiance – unconditional assent, unreserved support. Anything else is, at best “demoralising”, at worst, treasonous and anti-national.

Yet we know how readily the prejudices of war-time can become the enemies of peace. Militate against it. The totally uncalled for and unacceptable demand made on Dilip Kumar to return the Nishan-e-Imtiaz to Pakistan or leave India is part of this prejudice, as is Kapil Dev’s equally unacceptable equation of sports with patriotism. The fact that the Cricket Boardhas heeded his call to cancel the Sahara Cup series only goes to show how easily prejudice becomes a matter of national pride.

The equation of national security with increasing militarisation has bedevilled every country in South Asia for the last 50 years. Military “preparedness” continues to be the watchword, despite the fact that four wars and two partitions later (1947-1971) we are no closer to either peace or greater security. Everyone has taken up arms — the “extremists”, the “terrorists”, the “mujahideen”, the “freedom fighters”, the Tigers, the liberationists, the armed revolutionaries — and national governments. According to analysts, the Asian arms market is the second largest in the developing world and accounted for 30 per cent of all arms transfer agreements in the period 1991-94. The late economist, Mahbub-ul-Haq, who had conceived UNDP’s Human Development Reports, used to constantly point out that India and Pakistan spend around $20 billion a year on defence and bought twice asmany arms as Saudi Arabia from the global arms bazaar. Both countries have six times more soldiers than doctors, and spend one million dollars a day contesting the Siachen glacier. Pakistan spends $27 per person per year on defence, and only $3 per person per year on welfare.

India spends a paltry $9 per person for welfare and Bangladesh, only $2. Post-Kargil, India is seeking a substantial increase in its current defence expenditure of Rs 41,000 crore a year.

Two of the five countries in the region have had extended periods of military rule, one has had internecine war for over 15 years and all have suffered grievously as a result. This we know and, in a more sombre moment, recognise as a reality. We also know that the only enduring settlement we can hope for in the subcontinent is a politically negotiated one rather than a “decisive military victory”.

But militarism does not allow for negotiated settlements because battlelines have to be very clearly drawn. There is a real danger that these linesthen get drawn in peace time too, between all the “others” in our own countries. And these “others” can as easily be you or me. If we don’t donate our blood for Kargil or raise funds for it, we have failed in our “patriotic duty” to those who “laid down their lives” for us.

Contrary to current euphoria but true to our experience in the subcontinent, the greater the level of militarisation, the more vulnerable is our citizenry. Women within and outside the women’s movement, and peace groups everywhere, have for decades called for an end to violence of all kinds, and especially an end to the use of violence to resolve conflict. Women have fought against the presence of military bases in their countries and against Rest and Recreation facilities that make such an easy transition to sex tourism. They have learnt through painful and bitter experience that for women, the weapons of war are not very different from those of peace, violence and the abuse of superior power. And those who work among refugeesacross the battle lines, whether in Sri Lanka or Kosovo or Bosnia or Montenegro or anywhere else, have first-hand knowledge of how deep the wounds of war can be.

It is sad enough that at the close of a century that has seen so many disastrous wars we still seek military solutions to political problems, whether in Kosovo or Kargil. Let us try at least, not to make of them such a cause celebre.

The writer is co-founder, Kali for Women

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