#VinitasPune – Pune’s Periodic Infatuation With The Soldier

Pune Pays Homage to the Martyrs
Image for representation only.

After Kargil, which saw a surge of love and compassion for our brave martyrs, the nation is once again gripped with patriotic fervour post the horrendous Pulwama massacre which killed 40 men of CRPF. Some moments of Pune’s tryst with the love for the soldier

A few days back, I received a WhatsApp message from a friend who is the daughter of a retired Air Force officer. She writes, “As you are aware, tributes are flowing for our CRPF jawans all over the country in the wake of the Pulwama incident. I experienced this first hand during a visit yesterday to the interior of Pune’s Raviwar Peth, which has a wholesale as well as retail market. All that these shopkeepers care about is about customers and profits.

“However, yesterday when I bought some stationary, the shopkeeper asked me if I want to pay Shradhanjali (he had made a corner on the street side for people to pay homage to the CRPF jawans). He said they are planning to collect funds too. It slipped out from me that my brother is in the Army, my Uncle was in the Army and my father was in the Air Force. Instantly that dyed- in- the- wool shopkeeper looked at me with renewed respect and galvanized the other store owners.

I removed my shoes and paid my obeisance at this Shradhanjali place where patriotic songs of Bollywood were also being played. There were roses kept for paying homage. I placed a rose. He insisted on a picture. Similarly, there were gatherings at Shaniwar Wada and Rani Jhansi Chowk. It was indeed a heartwarming experience to see such patriotism.”

Pune, like other cities of the country, periodically shows such public display of love and compassion for our Armed Forces who are fighting in challenging environments like Siachen, so that we can sleep peacefully. I recollect that the silver jubilee celebrations of the 1975 Indo-Pak War triggered off in Pune and taking a cue from Pune, the Government of India was inspired to do the same. To celebrate this momentous occasion in 1996, The Express Citizens’ Forum (ECF) of The Indian Express which had several retired top notch officers from the Armed Forces as its members played a big role in this event, that won the hearts of Puneites.

Two of them, Lt Gen Y.D Sahasrabuddhe and Brig G.B. Grant took the lead, steered by Prakash Kardaley, the Convenor of the ECF and the then Resident Editor of The Indian Express, in holding a series of lectures on various dimensions of the Indo-Pak War of 1975, by several war veterans. The lectures, held in Camp area as well as in the auditorium of Fergusson College, drew large crowds and whipped up nostalgic fervour of the War that was convincingly won by India. The Indian Express had also come out with a special edition on remembrances of this War by war veterans in its fortnightly magazine, CITIZEN.

Subsequently, to establish civilian reverence for the martyrs who hailed from Maharashtra, the ECF floated the idea of building a war memorial solely through citizen contributions. Prakash Kardaley, Brig Grant and Shashikant Mehendale, along with several others, took the lead in making it a reality by amplifying it through The Indian Express newspaper and interacting with the Sub-Area Headquarters of the Southern Command. Lo and behold, within a year’s time, the National War Memorial stood gloriously and was dedicated to the Nation on August 15, 1998. This memorial has scripted in marble plaques, the names of each and every martyr from all the three wings of the Armed Forces from Maharashtra.

The members of the citizen committee formed for this war memorial worked tirelessly to collect funds. While leading corporates declined to donate for a war memorial, several celebrities and educationists loosened their purse strings. Also, hundreds of citizens across the country donated from Rs.10 onward. Today, it stands gracefully near the Sub-Area headquarters and has become a tourist site. However, a few years back, the Southern Command rechristened it to National War Memorial Southern Command and has restricted entry.

The National War Memorial Southern Command in Pune Cantonment
The National War Memorial Southern Command in Pune Cantonment

One feels sad that a magnanimous gesture by the public to the Armed Forces has been belittled. It is a sterling example of a common man’s respect for the soldier that has been cemented for posterity, but the Southern Command has been rather harsh in usurping it and demolishing the board which had names of donors who contributed large sums. The Pune Darshan bus that used to halt here, no more does.

 

 

The next surge of patriotism was seen in the Kargil War of 1999 which was fought with Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir and other areas of LoC. It was the first ever time when a War received extensive television coverage. There was patriotic frenzy all over the country and Pune was no exception. I remember that several Kargil widows hailing from villages in Western Maharashtra received bumper donations from the public.

Subsequently, there was resentment and rightfully so, after widows of other conflicts, whose husbands had sacrificed their lives for the nation, were ignored and lived in penury. Can a soldier’s life be measured in terms of which war he had fought? This highlights the periodic infatuation we have with our Armed Forces who toil 24×7 for all 365 days of the year, leaving their families behind. There is no harm in periodic infatuations with the soldier, but one wonders whether, since Kargil War, it much depends on how much hype the media creates.

Now, it is the brutal massacre of 40 CRPF jawans in Pulwama that has effused immense anger against Pakistan and fanned patriotism in the minds and hearts of the people all over the country. While public demonstrations are being held, tributes are flowing and donations are being given by people, it is time that we innately and at all times, respect the soldier. And that applies to politicians as well. Remember, how right down from President Pratibha Patil, also the supreme commander of the armed forces, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence minister A K Antony and the three Service chiefs, did not attend the “state funeral” of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw at Wellington? This is in stark contrast of how Lt Gen Jangoo Satarawalla, a Puneite, who fought the Battle of Crerere in North Italy in World War II has been remembered for posterity.

Lt Gen Jangoo Satarawalla was a resident of Pune and had fought the Battle of Crerere in North Italy in December 1944, during the World War II. He was one of the many Indian British soldiers, who had stopped the Nazis in their tracks, and helped win this Battle for the Allied Forces, on Italian soil. Here, one of the grimmest battles of World War II was fought from December 12 to 14, 1944, between the allied forces and the axis nations. For his distinguished valour, he was awarded the `U S silver Star’ but had declined to accept it, as he felt that all the soldiers of the 8th Indian Infantry Division who died in the battle should have been the recipient of this award.

Satarawalla’s widow lived in Pune and one fine day, in 1996, she received a letter from her husband’s then Commanding Officer, Bill Willcox, who resides in London. Wilcox stated that he happened to visit Monte Crerere that year and to his amazement he found that, 52 years after the Battle of Crerere, many Italian citizens had got together and unveiled a Stone in the memory of Indian and British soldiers who fought on their soil. Wilcox wrote that an etching on the stone read:

“On these mountains during the Italian Campaign on December 12, 1944 the troops of 1st BN the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 3rd BN, the 8th Punjab Regiment, 6th Royal BN (Scinde), Frontier Force Rifles of the 8th Indian Infantry Division repulsed several determined attacks by the German 1st Parachute Division and despite heavy casualties the ground was held.

SHABASH.” (Shabash is a Hindi word for `pat in the back’). Wilcox also sent two photographs from his personal collection showing young Jangoo in the battlefield.

Wilcox had described the role of Lt Gen Jangoo thus: “Jangoo was tying a vital message to the feet of a carrier pigeon to be sent to the 5th US Command of Lt Gen Mark Clerk. At the last moment, the pigeon with the message on its legs refused to fly and got perched on one of the bunkers of the sand bags. Although strict silence was imposed in the area, even at the expense of disobeying that order, Jangoo took the risk and fired his pistol, which made the pigeon fly with the vital message. A 500 mm German rail gun was raining mortar bombs from a tunnel directly on us but the pigeon delivered the message and the US AF silenced the gun by blocking the tunnel.”

Late Brig Grant had once told me that, “Unlike India, where soldiers are a neglected lot by the government and the people, citizens in the UK, Italy and probably in every other country, never forget the valour of their soldiers. And the memory stone laid by common citizens of Monte Crerere indeed brings tears to one’s eyes.”

We must appreciate the periodic love for the soldier but if every politician and every citizen respects him even in peacetime, not only will his morale get boosted but we will become a nation, sensitive to their challenging role in defending us.

As Abraham Lincoln has stated, “A nation that does not honour its heroes will not long endure.”

Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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Vinita Deshmukh

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