Over time, Articles 14 to 25 of the Constitution have been brazenly mauled by political and religious outfits and interpreted to suit their myopic charters

Well young man, always remember, here on, your religion is that of your troops”; this was one of the quatrain initiatory directives I had from my Commanding Officer on joining the Battalion in January 1969 and since then it got resonantly etched in my memory neurons. That is how an officer is baptised into the armed forces and exposed to the military traditions and its values. Though it sounds simple, it implies that an officer is obliged to follow the secular legacy of the forces and respect the sentiments of his command which incidentally plays an important role in execution of his duties. I was fortunate as my unit, being a “Mixed Class composition” having troops from all religious/territorial denominations, made it incumbent to partake in all ceremonies. Incidentally, having done my academics in Khalsa education institutes, it further ingrained my spiritual heirloom of respect for

other faiths.

It is due to these proven factors that make our armed forcesa reflection of secularism. Where else one would see a Muslim officer performing havan, a Hindu offering namaz, a Sikh doing church service and the Christian officers and jawans reciting Gurubani. I agree that these practices would surely sound odd to others, but these are the hard realities of Military Secular Culture. Further, we have the live practice which is still continuing, wherein the officers commanding Muslim troops observe ‘roza’ during Ramadan. It takes me back to 1991-92 while commanding my battalion in the Valley, I too had the privilege of observing three days’fast during the Holy Month as a mark of solidarity to our local civilian support staff. Going further back, my unit was deployed along the Line of Control (LOC) in Poonch, in October 1984 we conducted a presentation on “1971 Operations in Punch Sector” at the Forward Post. Being a major event, in addition to attendees from various Army Units, we had also invited a few journalists and correspondents to cover the proceedings. They were happily surprised beyond belief when they saw that “all faiths” were being housed and worshiped together in one bunker. Branding as a paragon of true secularism, in a questionable exclamation they said:  “Yeh dekh kar yakeen nahin hota, bahar to log in Bhagwanon ko alagkarne pe ladai kar rahe hain aur yahaan sab ikath the! “These feelings mattered a lot, and more so, coming close on the heels of the 1984 riots.

In J&K, the grave sites of Muslim saints (Pir Baba Mazaar in local lexicon) are symbols of multi-religious faith and worshiped with great reverence by all particularly the armed forces. In line with the local customs, the Army ensures proper respect is paid by all ranks. In deference with the religious sentiments, they ensure proper upkeep and maintenance of these sites. Thursdays are observed as unofficial dry days by the troops deployed along the International Border and the LOC. To further buttress the military secular traditions,

there are two gurudwaras fully managed, administered and maintained in all respects by

the Army.           

Having been brought up in such a harmonious and sine qua non environs of secularism, a soldier, when exposed to the ongoing politico-communal scenario, finds himself lost in a whirlpool of ambivalent secular practices prevailing in our country. Before proceeding further, let me dig out a few historical facts. Starting with the basics, the word secular means; “an action not concerned or connected with any religion”. Whereas the term secularism implies that religion and the religious considerations should be ignored or excluded from social and political fora. Going further deep into the historical annals, one finds that the word secularism was first coined by a British, George Holyoake in 1851 to promote social order free from religion, subsequently it laid the foundation of separating the State from the Church, thus insulating the Government, political, social functionaries and the religious institutions from one another.

Over time, Articles 14 to 25 of the Constitution have been brazenly mauled by political and religious outfits and interpreted to suit their myopic charters. The end result is in front of us. Marred by the ongoing disturbances, we look more divided than being united and face the worst kind of “socio-communal” polarisation. In other words, the prevailing scenario is the cumulative manifestation of various socio-politically sponsored practices such as bigotry, exploitation, vote-bank tactics, appeasement, migrations,lynching and radicalisation. This has not only spiralled into inter-faith acrimony but is also indirectly endangering our internal

security. 

As a soldier, I find myself at the cross-roads between the true secularism I was taught by the Army and the other — whatever we name it — being currently patronised in

our country.

(The writer is a retired Colonel and an infantry officer. The views expressed are personal.)

By AKDSEO