022-4013 0474
Monday-Friday: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Attention Journalists: What is Truly A MARTYR?

by Gp Capt AG Bewoor (Retd) (from June 2019 issue)

Basically the families who wish to have the brand ‘Martyr’, are ill informed about the word. It has been so widely misused that families of those Killed in Action (KIA), have found solace in a terminology that does not correctly describe the sacrifice of the man who is KIA. Everyone who dies cannot be a Martyr. How do you define a Martyr? Here are some for reference:

  • ‘Martyr’ is one who undergoes penalty of death for persistence in a religious faith or obedience to the laws of that faith. Note, it is a penalty of death. It is not death in a battle or skirmish.
  • ‘Martyr’ undergoes death or suffering for any great cause. A constable/army soldier does not “undergo death” or “suffering” for a great cause, when he is KIA.
  • Normally a ‘Martyr’ is “put to death” for his beliefs, by his tormentors. A soldier/CRPF constable is not “put to death” or executed. He is KIA.
  • ‘Martyrise’ means make Martyr of oneself or another person. When a soldier or his buddy, is KIA, he is not making a Martyr of himself or his buddy.
  • ‘Martyry’ is any shrine, church, temple, tomb erected in honour of a Martyr. Can we make such Martyrs for each and every man KIA because he is branded a Martyr?

The word Martyr was created with the birth of Christianity because some citizens of that land persisted in adhering to this new faith against the rulers who practiced another faith. Thus those who were persecuted, tormented and finally put to death were Christians and thus became Martyrs. This idea was also taken up by Islam when it was born and there too the people of the old existing faith tormented and killed people who persisted in following this new faith. With spread of these two mighty faiths the word ‘Martyr’ also spread far and wide. The word Martyr has to do with being tormented and put to death for belief in one’s faith and persisting in following that faith, despite knowing that the persistence could lead to death.

In the case of our soldiers and policemen who are killed by either Pakistani firing, jihadi attacks, Naxal IEDs and so on, they are in no way put to death for persisting in adhering to any faith or cause. The jihadi and the soldier many times belong to the same faith. The CRPF constable and Naxal belong to the same faith. The battle that kills the Jawan is not a battle between two dissimilar faiths.  If the jihadi or Naxal is killed, then does he become a Martyr? He has not been persecuted for his faith and adherence to that faith. Taking up arms against the established rule of law is not a faith that bestows martyrdom on being killed. Take the case of policemen killed during the 26/11 attack. They were not Martyrs, what faith were they being persecuted and tormented for? They died in a battle against an invader or a terrorist, there was no dogged obedience by the policeman to the laws of any faith that got him killed. He died defending the citizens of his country and himself, as a part of ordinary daily duty.

There is no word in Hindi for Martyr, nor in any Indian language because this concept did not and does not exist in the Hindu faiths. The closest is “Shaheed” or “Balidaan”. Both are insufficient in explanation. A soldier who is killed in war, as many were killed in say 1962/1971/IPKF can be called a Shaheed, because the word denotes one who died in battle. We lost 1200 officers/men during IPKF, what faith were they persisting in following that caused the LTTE to kill them? Did the LTTE torment and persecute the Indian Army personnel and then put them to death by execution? Certainly not. On the other hand Joan of Arc was tormented and put to death by her persecutors. She was a Catholic, and was put to death by burning after being found guilty for many things including being a Catholic heretic by the pro-English people of France, and the English were Protestants.

The Veterans, officers and other ranks, have got used to the media/netas/and indeed military spokespersons calling anyone Killed In Action as a Martyr. This is incorrect. The soldier has made a supreme Balidaan of his life. But he has done it in line of duty for his unit, battalion, brigade, regiment, Army and India. There is no persistence in his following any faith or religious teachings, or exhortations of a religious teacher or master. He has not ‘undergone death penalty’ as did Joan of Arc. He died in battle, that’s it. Indeed difficult for his family to say it and accept it as such, the loss is so intense and permanent.

The next point in this Martyr branding is whether the word fetches anything more than what is normally due to the family of one KIA? The answer is nothing extra, now or later. What then is the gain by using such a disturbingly inappropriate word that suggests torture, torment, persecution and finally being put to death? Nothing of the kind happens to the man KIA. Does the branding of Martyr to one KIA automatically force the government to erect a ‘Martyry’ in memory of the fallen soldier? No. Does it force the government to give a piece of land to facilitate the family to erect a Martyr? No. Does it force the central or state governments to grant special concessions to the widow/children/parents of the soldier? No. They will get exactly what is due to the KIA individual. You can call all of them Martyrs, it gets the family nothing more than what is authorised. Then where lies the solution? Sometimes I think that TV reports during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1986, may be the cause for our TV journos and writers to use this terminology. I was in Iraq from 1980 to 1982, and Iraqi TV always pronounced their KIA as Martyrs, a word freely used in Islam. Never did see Iran TV in Baghdad.

In my view the solution lies in the media stopping the use of this term. It upsets me to hear the TV commentator saying that 6 Jawans were martyred in a fire-fight with Naxals. Shaheed is not a Martyr, Shaheed means one who has laid down his life for his country. He has NOT laid down his life for any faith/religion. Do not misuse the word, “faith” as faith in his land, faith in his country, faith in his unit etc. One does not become a Shaheed for Bengal or Godavari, or Tirupati, or Himalaya or Lucknow while serving in the CRPF/BSF/ITBP/Army.

You become Shaheed for India, because you are serving India. And India has no single faith that the KIA is defending/protecting/saving/shielding and so on. When you media guys stop using it, because you realise it is incorrect, then the rest of Indians will also stop. Media cannot be subjugated by emotions and temporary relief to make an event more powerful and important than it truly is. That is gross bias to gain undeserving accolades.

I do hope I have placed the misuse of the word Martyr in perspective for your perusal. How you decide and elect to use it must be your ability to discriminate, something journalists are expected to do, all the time, every day. That is what journalism is all about.

Gp Capt AG Bewoor was commissioned in the Indian Air Force in 1965 into the Transport Stream. He was one of the pioneer members to induct the IL-76 into the IAF. He flew the first IL-76 into Male during the abortive coup in Maldives in 1988. This, along with the other operations, earned him the Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry) in 1990. He took premature retirement in 1993 while serving as the COO of 3 Wing at AFS Palam. He is the son of former Army Chief, Gen GG Bewoor, and lives in Pune. He regularly contributes to military journals and magazines. He can be reached on Email: bewoor45@gmail.com