In the hype and inflamed passions of OROP, the Government’s announcement of the setting up of a National War Memorial and National War Museum at Princess Park, New Delhi, did not get the jubilation or the attention it so richly deserved. This is a bit sad, as the issue of a war memorial has been as emotive a long standing demand of the veterans as has been OROP. It would have been nice if this too had been fought for with as much righteous angst as has been the dogged struggle for OROP. Notwithstanding that, the announcement by the union cabinet to set right this anomaly is indeed welcome. The notification states that the memorial will honour all martyrs after independence in 1947.
A budgetary allocation of Rs 500 crore and a time period of 5 years has been planned for the construction of the memorial. The location finally chosen is significant as it is a very prime location on Rajpath and adjoining the iconic India Gate. As of last count, nearly 22,500 brave men had laid down their lives in the service of the nation. It is about time we not only honour and pay tribute to their sacrifice, but also have a monument where the nation can pay homage and be inspired by these selfless warriors who have protected our sovereignty and hard won freedom.
War memorials originated as symbols of victory, wherein victorious kings and warlords erected columns and symbols as self-gratification to commemorate their achievements over the enemy. No thought was given to the hapless warriors who were shovelled into graves or cremated without any ceremony or gratitude. War memorials in brick and mortar form, to give respect to the fallen soldiers, whether in victory or defeat, started coming across various continents in the 14th century.
The real trend of war memorials started after the first Great War, where the horrendously large casualties shook many nations to the core. Russia possibly lost the largest number of its men and women. It therefore has some of the most artistic, somber and well kept memorials.
Here, I would like to dwell on what Ms Sudha Murthy wrote in her blog, post her visit to the beautiful Peace Park in Russia, in the middle of which stands a large monument with a pillar. In the monument are inscribed the details of the various battles fought by Russia. She observed a newly married couple arrive there, the groom in military uniform and the beautiful bride in a white satin dress, with two young girls behind her, holding up the ends of her gown. The bride had a bouquet in her hands which she placed on the monument. The couple then bowed their heads in silence and slowly walked back.
Curious, Ms Murthy asked an old man standing there to explain to her why that young couple visited the war memorial on their wedding day. The reply, as written in the blog is placed below.
‘Oh, that is the custom in Russia. The wedding takes place normally on a Saturday or a Sunday. Irrespective of the season, after signing the register at the marriage office, the married couple must visit the important national monuments near by. Every boy in this country has to serve in the military for a couple of years at least. Regardless of his position, he must wear his service uniform for the wedding. This is a mark of gratitude. Our forefathers have given their lives in various wars Russia has fought. Some of them we won, and some we lost, but their sacrifice was always for the country. The newly married couple needs to remember they are living in a peaceful, independent Russia because of their ancestors’ sacrifices. They must ask for their blessings. Love for the country is more important than wedding celebrations. We elders insist on continuing with this tradition whether it be in Moscow, St.Petersburg or any other part of Russia. On the wedding day they have to visit the nearest war memorial.’
Ms Murthy concluded her blog with the following words:
“This set me wondering about what we teach our children. Do we Indians have the courtesy to remember our martyrs on the most important day of our lives? We are busy shopping for saris, buying jewellery and preparing elaborate menus and partying in discos. My eyes filled with tears at the thought and I wished we could learn a lesson from the Russians”.
The purpose of setting up a war memorial would not be served unless we as a nation genuinely and with deep reverence and humility visit the war memorial and pay obeisance to those who have made the supreme sacrifice. This spirit needs to be inculcated in every Indian if we truly love our country and its heroes!