|A Soldier's Diary||
Sunday, November 1, 1998
By K.S. Bajwa
MY generation grew up during the years of the gathering momentum of our struggle for freedom. Many of us, very proudly and with great devotion, wore the uniform of this beloved nation, through the run-up to Independence and the critical period of consolidation and defense of its integrity that followed. While pride endures, belied hopes and disappointments are sufficiently disturbing to ponder and appraise what Independence has meant to us.
World War I initiated the awareness which eventually loosened the colonial grip over a large part of the world. It, however, took nearly four decades and a cataclysmic World War II for the ideas of Independence to blossom into freedom struggles of sufficient strength that succeeded in overthrowing the yokes of slavery. My generation born after World War I was fully exposed to the penetration of liberal ideas. The concept of freedom as a human birthright seeped in and became a part of the theme of our thinking. For me personally this outlook presented a major change from the feudal ethos into which I was born. My prominent land-owning family was a pillar of the prevailing order and naturally inclined to the continuity of the status quo. However, by the early thirties, we, the younger generation, had reached an age of awareness that readily absorbed the flow of liberal thought. At about the same time, the atrocity of Jallianwala bagh, the martyrdom of Lala Lajpat Rai, the hanging of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, the Akali morcha, the Kuka agitation, the Non-cooperation Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi and above all, the intensification of the freedom struggle under his moral influence in the age-old traditions of this ancient land had made a profound impact on our young minds. Many of my contemporaries studying at Lahore joined the mainstream of the freedom movement. In my case, though I was emotionally drawn to it, the constraints of family traditions and practices held me back. In May, 1945, while World War II, was still being fought, I joined the Army. This came about not so much due to any desire to subscribe to the British war effort but largely because there were no other career openings and soldiering was a time-honoured family tradition. For the first time coming in close contact with the often ugly side of hordes of British trainees at the officer cadet training schools, lent a clear focus to our Indian emotions and identity. The INA trials in the Red Fort at Delhi gave a sharp edge to our yearning for freedom. Came August 15, 1947, and we virtually shouted from house-tops, "We are free!"
The upsurge of pride and emotions was such that we were able to endure the pain of an upheaval of displacement from the very roots of my family enshrined for over 500 years in the rich soil of Kalaswala, Sialkot district, now in Pakistan. The loss of a feudal way of life, with which we had been comfortable for centuries, too, was taken in our stride. We rebuilt our families and lives with pride and rising hopes. I soldiered with eager devotion to defend the very concept of a secular India against the Pakistani invasion of Jammu and Kashmir. We triumphed to the thrust of Indian pride.
Today after nearly 50 years, I can still relive some of the deep patriotic stirrings of those momentous days. The soldiers, despite the heavy odds, fought to defend and consolidate the nation. The people took us to their hearts and we basked in their admiration and affection. We admired Nehru and so many of the heroes of the freedom struggle associated with him. Our faith and adulation was such that we did not look too closely into their failures to promote our long-term national interests in Kashmir and along our northern borders with Tibet. When I look back now, I can perceive the whisk of a shadow of disillusionment that slowly crept over our horizons with every passing year. We watched with passivity compounded out of our discipline and commitment to uphold the democratic legitimacy of our governance. While the country by and large held together, the soldier became the victim of a mounting neglect for which the nation and the soldier paid heavily in humiliation and blood in 1962.
Some of the national icons, especially Nehru, lost their shine for ever. The nation was shaken to its core. So were the men in uniform. But the nation rallied and we drew strength and fresh resolves. We realised that we must be prepared to face an even greater threat from Pakistan emboldened by massive US military and economic aid. We set to rebuild with a single minded purpose. In June, 1964, I was charged to raise a new artillery regiment by September 30, 1965. We knew that we would need it earlier. We worked hard and had a regiment fit for war by end of January, 1965. In April, 1965, Pakistan tested our preparedness and our resolves in Kutch. We did not come off too well. In May 1965, my regiment was airlifted to Kargil for operations. We won this round. In July-August, we cleaned up the Pakistan armed infiltration into Kashmir. In September Pakistan launched the expected war. Even though the expansion and reorganisation was not yet fully completed, we generally held the Pakistani attack in Chhamb, decimated the Pakistani armoured thrust in the Khemkaran sector of Punjab and carried the fight into Pakistan in both the Amritsar and Jammu sectors, where we made substantial territorial gains.
At the end, we had regained much of our elan lost in 1962, though the outcome was not decisive. We did surmise that another round would not be far off. We could not rest. Soon 1971 was upon us. In December, we won a decisive victory over Pakistan. East Pakistan was eliminated. Bangladesh is gradually coming round to build friendly relations. In the West, Pakistan was contained and we again made substantial territorial gains. Regrettable, as we did in 1947 and 1965, we threw away our advantages and did not wrest a sustainable security for Kashmir and the rest of the country. We continue to pay for our follies in blood and arrested development in Kashmir and many other parts of the country.
We were fully engaged with the aftermath of 1971 till almost 1974. This period from 1947 to 1974 had been critical for consolidation and defense of the country. The soldiers had little time to reflect upon the growth of the nation within. When we had time to look around and absorb what was happening to the nation, the disillusionment lying buried in layers of pride, faith and hopes started rising to the surface of consciousness. When we took stock of political, economic and social developments in the country, we realised that our hopes and expectations had been belied. We had a vast capital of an eager human resource to be channelled and led to find greatness for this beloved land with a heritage of culture and traditions of human excellence going back into ancient centuries. Down these centuries, a rigid caste system had held our society in a tight thrall. It did provide stability but created a social order resting on human bondage. Thousand years of rule by dynasties that brought Islam into the subcontinent weaned away people to the new religion largely from the lower castes. Though the caste rigidity was somewhat loosened, it failed to make a significant dent into its practices. Besides economic exploitation of the country during the Raj, it suited the British purpose to continue with a social status quo.
We had entered into an era
of our Independence with high expectations of progress to
a better deal for our people. Many of these hopes have
been overtaken by disappointment and despair.
Nevertheless, the faith in the inherent strength of our
people to overcome and to rise to our promised destiny
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