April 20, 2006

Guardians of the Indian Fortress

India Nest, 23.04.2006

Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions - Why am I doing it, What the results might be and will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead. What is too heavy for the strong and what place is too distant for those who put forth effort?

– Chanakya Vishnugupta

A Dream Begins

We Indians celebrate the valor of a Shivaji, a Prithviraj Chauhan or Maharana Pratap – because they fought insurmountable odds to defend what they perceived to be the just cause. Well, time to look for some heroes present in today’s India! Ever heard of the battle of Rezang La, fought on the 18th of November 1962 ? I guess not – neither did I until a few years ago. On that day the ‘C’ company of the 13 Kumaon fought against the invading Chinese army to the last man and last bullet, literally! On another front during the ’62 war, a memorial in Chushul reads, “How can a man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his Fathers and the temples of his Gods”. This is at 14,230 feet among the icy passes of the Himalayas. We might know of the battle of Longewala through the J.P.Dutta film Border (1997), or the heroics of our jawans in Kargil, but how many of us specifically know of the conditions during the time and how our brave soldiers coped with them to defend our motherland, and the individuals who spearheaded such acts of bravery? A handful, if that.

It’s not as if the armed forces are terribly media shy. It reads on a war memorial erected in the 1940s – “When you go home, tell them of us and say; for your tomorrow, we gave our today.” We wipe tears off when we hear Amitabh Bachhan in Lakshya (2004) telling a new recruit (Hrittik Roshan)- “Is desh ke sau crore insaan…jo isi vishwas ke saath sote hain, ki tum aur mai jaag rahe hain” (the 1 billion people of India sleep with the belief that the army is awake). But is that the extent of our knowledge and interest about our armed forces?

Perhaps but not quite, thanks to a group of individuals who set up a website 8 years ago that has rapidly turned into a movement before turning into a virtual institution. Today it is a movement, an organization, a passion and a community in which any one of us can participate to varying degrees, and it calls itself Bharat Rakshak (www.bharat-rakshak.com), literally meaning Defenders of India.

India, a nation of over 1 billion inhabitants, needs protectors. And what protectors we have too! From the treacherous passes haunted by snow blizzards in the Himalayas to the sand storms in the Thar Desert to the marshy lowlands of Assam, the brave airmen, sailors and jawans of the Indian Armed Forces stand resolutely to defend our borders. When it comes to valor and sacrifice for the nation, they do not cringe – they never have. But what do we know about them? The only time when we hear and forget the names of certain soldiers is when they are awarded, often posthumously, the Param Veer Chakra at Republic Day. Most of us do not even know what equipment is used by our soldiers. If we do not know about the new developments in technology or new acquisitions made by the armed forces, how will we be assured that the guardians of our frontiers are well armed for any adversaries?

And who shall guard the guardians? Roll back the film to 1996 and even the official sites of the Indian Armed Forces were still nowhere in the horizon. We did not have a readily accessible information point for the story of the Indian soldier.

This is when certain individuals decided to set up their own separate websites to fill in this void. One of the first sites on Indian defence was that of Seetal Ramesh Patel, who is based in London, and his site on the Indian space programme. Others soon followed, including R Chattopadhyay’s site on Bharatiya Vayu Sena (Indian Air Force) and Nandan Dharwadkar’s site on Bharatiya Nau Sena (Indian Navy).

A fist is stronger to contend with vis-à-vis each finger taken separately. In January 1997, Seetal proposed a merger of all the scattered efforts to create a portal dedicated to all segments of the Indian defence programme – the Consortium of Indian Military Websites (still the introductory phrase used by the website). Harshvardhan Vedak and Rakesh Koshy came forth to help with the “Army” and “Missile” sections. Originally the group mulled over the name Hind Rakshak, but later chose Bharat Rakshak (Defenders of India). This was March 1997. They then zealously set to work, despite their busy professional schedules, to complete the sections.

On July 1, 1997 Bharat Rakshak (BR) was born. During the 50th anniversary of Indian independence, the site attracted 12,000 visitors. This called for expansion of the various sections, and rising costs entailed that all the webmasters had to contribute to the development of the site. With perseverance, they managed to find a sponsor in Lancer Publishers. Following India’s nuclear blast in 1998 and the Kargil conflict in 1999, the site saw a permanent increase in traffic. BR had arrived!

With increased traffic and more detailed sections, need for more administrators became paramount. New moderators and administrators joined BR like Shivshankar Sastry, Philip Fowler, S. Subramanian, Prasenjit Medhi, Shaji Manipurath, Jagan Pillarisetti, Sachin Keshavan, Mrityunjoy Mazumdar, Nikhil Shah, D. Subramanian, Kapil Chandni, Nakul Shah and Arun Sharma. It is surprising and inspiring to see a group of individuals with full-time professional commitments dedicating so much of their time towards a national cause.

In July 1999, the BR Monitor (now replaced by Security Research Review) was launched, and it became India’s first online journal dedicated towards Indian military and strategic affairs. Initially managed by R Chattopadhyay, D. Ramanna and Matt Thundyil, the editorial team was joined by Jaideep Menon and S. Saini in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

Expanding its wings, BR launched its sister site Amar Jawan (Immortal Soldier) on Independence Day, 2000. It was the first and only website dedicated towards the personnel of the Indian Armed Forces, and which paid tribute to the fallen soldiers by maintaining an online roll of honor. All this was done by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. Subsequently, the BR bookstore was launched in August 2000, and the video store was launched in July 2002. Meanwhile, several BR members had taken up additional responsibilities as correspondents, covering various parts of India to gain access to military personnel and news regarding the sector.

Bharat-Rakshak Today

Immediately upon a visit to the BR main page, we find a collection of regularly updated news items and latest discussions going on in the forum. The forum itself has developed into a useful board for active discussion on some of the most cutting edge developments in Indian military, technological and economic spectrums, and the vast majority of the users are extremely well informed. BR maintains separate sections with a wealth of information on the army, navy, coastguard, air force, missiles, police, para-military, Special Forces and the space programme. BR also contains some information on how to join the forces. Trips down the memory lane with past editions of BR Monitor or Security Research Review, along with spine chilling narratives about the past expeditions of the armed forces can be extremely illuminating.

How can you participate?

Apart from the rather obvious motivation that BR provides to other similarly enthusiastic people who want to spread the word about something they believe in, there are a number of ways in which you can contribute to the BR movement. The most obvious place to know the basics about the armed forces is the dedicated websites BR maintains about the different wings. To test your knowledge and bounce ideas off others, you can join the interactive discussions in the forum. If you feel confident that you are knowledgeable enough about a particular topic and would like to express your ideas more constructively, there could always be an opportunity to try and get your articles published by Security Research Review, which would provide you with a wide ranging audience.

BR in the Media

Ever since 1999, BR has been in the spotlight of the media, albeit occasionally. Times Computing branded BR an “amazing site”, and recommended the various sections in an article on 14th July. BR is also highly rated in the Encyclopaedia of Britannica website. India Times described BR as a site glorifying the “awesome bravery of those who’ve laid down their lives for the motherland” on 15th August 2000. Perhaps the most resounding endorsement came in 2001 when Huma Siddiqui, working for the Financial Express, wrote that the other websites about Indian military including the official sites, “fall short in one area or another” and when it comes to “relevance in the Indian content, updating, readability and scope of content”, BR indeed exemplifies them. Anita Bora for Rediff wrote an extended article titled “Fascinated by the Forces” on BR in 2003, where she cited a US navy officer recommending BR to his colleagues during the India Fleet review. As recently as 2004, Sangeeta Cavale conducted an extensive interview with Dr. Shivshankar Sastry and published its contents in an article titled “Online celebration of the nation” with the Times of India.

Epilogue: The Final Frontier

There are two ways to live your life - one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.

– Albert Einstein

While we grapple in the depth of academic abstraction, and pride ourselves on the same, the jawans of our armed forces remain vigilant always. They do not know what the next moment holds in store for them, let alone the next week or month. Death or injury has become a part of their lives, yet not for one moment do they question their decision to join the forces. Could there be a cause nobler than to bring their story out to the mainstream, and proudly flaunt our military hardware? I think not.

At the onset of the 21st century, India is grappling with the newly found tag of an aspiring global superpower. With Bharat Rakshak, we finally find an outlet with which to brush aside our traditional skepticism towards our own achievements, and shed some lights on how the common people of India are leading its march towards its destiny, and how the next person in your building can make a difference too.

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  1. This is an excellent blog entry, Aruni. I think you are right to say that awareness in India of the armed forces is often limited which is a pity, if not untypical, around the democracies of the world. The Indian Army has much to be proud of, and the individual soldiers/Jawans, sailors and airmen do a good job, although often, sadly, an unsung one.

    I'm sure you will be familiar with the text of Neville Maxwell's narrative of the India-China border war of 1962 which is reproduced in full, for free, at link . I have also tried to explain something about the conflict in my Region in Turmoil: South Asian Conflicts Since 1947 (Reaktion, 2005). The striking thing about the war, for me, was the courage of forward elements of the Indian Army which stood in contrast to a misguided strategic deployment. The dedication and devotion to duty of some of the isolated platoons, even when they knew they would be overrun and wiped out, is deeply moving.

    There is a subtext to your blog entry too though, isn't there? A call for Indians to be proud of their national achievements and to join in a 'march towards destiny'. It does feel that, at last, India is beginning to emerge as a regional power in fact, after years of a fictional claim to that title. If India can now find solutions to those long standing issues of rural poverty, social division and energy shortages, and establish a good working relationship with its regional neighbours, not least China and Pakistan, then it will, indeed, enjoy a more fruitful destiny.

    Incidentally, a question for you: why do you think it is, Aruni, that India, unlike Pakistan and Burma/Myanmar, has managed to avoid military interventions in its government?

    24 Apr 2006, 18:17

  2. Thanks for your post Robert. Since the question is unrelated to this post, I have sent you an answer via e-mail. Hope that suffices.

    24 Apr 2006, 19:18

  3. stone

    Maxwell's book "India's china war" is a joke. All the meterial he used in the book are based on Indian source,
    so inevitably adopt many Indian naive assertations. for example, It claims that Indian army in this war was outmanned and outgunned by Chinese. In fact, the two army of both sides are of roughly the same size. Since China got many more strong neighbours and enemies than India, She has to maintain large forces on the border of Soviet Russa, on the border of Korean in preparation for the possible invasion of US force, and on the southeast coast to watch Taiwan who always threat to recover the mainland. How can Chinese outmanned Indian on the desolate Tibetan plateau?

    another wrong Indian assertation in this book is that they believe Chinese army are better supplied in the war. If we simply have a look of a map we would easily know the Indian side of the border is mostly plain, while Chinese side is the vast mountainous Tibetan plateau.It's much more difficult to build roads on Chinese side, in fact there was no vehicle roads to the front line at that time, let alone railway (the first railway cuts into Tibet was built in 2005). Indian army could be supplied by air, the Chinese actually were supplied by men and mules.The author could have easily know this point if he got chance to read some Chinese documents about the war.
    Even so, such a pro–indian writer had to admit that "Militarily the Chinese victory was complete, the Indian defeat absolute". Indians were full of conceit, and they are and will be, never change. The problem of them is that they always over–estimate themself. The battle hardened Chinese people's liberation Army (PLA) at 1962 had just fought a 8 year war with Japanese, defeated Chiang Kai–Sheik in 1949 and had fought a war at par with the US army in Korea (1950–1953). some Indian troups fought in WWAR II for their colonial master, under the command of British officers. before the war with china, there was even no Indian general had the experience of commanding a war, and Nehru dared to conduct a "Forward Policy" in front of PLA!!!

    For a loser who does not learn from his mistakes and admit his own failure and shortcomings, a bigger disaster is waiting to happen.

    28 Apr 2006, 22:38

  4. I think there is a tendency for both parties to talk past each other on this issue. Yes, the PLA came out on top in the skirmish, but you cannot deny the grave strategic errors made on the Indian side, especially about the use of the airforce (which was not employed). There is also much to be said from the Indian perspective which you ignored in your narration of the pre–war events and who instigated the conflict. The Thagla Ridge was within the Indian side of the LoAC which was infiltrated by 600 PLA troops which prompted Nehru's orders for their removal.

    03 May 2006, 16:12

  5. pol

    india cannot beat pak

    26 May 2006, 13:37

  6. So 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999 were what? Walkovers?

    26 May 2006, 13:42

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