September 6thor Defence Day is one of the most important occasions in Pakistan. It is a day, celebrated every year, to commemorate the successful defence of the country by Pakistani army during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. Not onlythe 1965 Indo-Pakistan Waris commemorated but also the Indo-Pakistan War of 1948, Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and 1999 Kargil Waris commemorated along with it. Therefore, one might consider September 6th commemoration as equivalent to Veterans’ Day in US.
Although, Pakistan celebrated the Defence Day to honour the successful defence army during the 1965 war. However, becausethe 1971 War and the Kargil War were being frequented along with the recipient of Nishan-e-Haiders of all of Pakistan’s wars and battle on state television, radio and newspaper, the general populace and eventually the government and military would observe all wars and battles of Pakistan with the 1965 War to celebrate Defence Day in Pakistan. It is not bad to observe all the wars of Pakistan on Defence Day nor is it bad to remember the ten recipients of Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest military gallantry award and the others who are the recipients of Hilal-e-Kashmir, Hilal-i-Jur’at, Sitara-i-Jur’at and Tamgha-i-Jur’at etc. We, Pakistanis, should also remember the Non-Muslims who are martyrs and veterans of all the Pakistan’s wars and battles as well.
When it comes to the defence of a country, it does not matter of which religion, creed or ethnicity should a person in military belong to, though, when it comes to defence of the country, a person in the military should be equal in patriotism. A retired Christian Pakistani Colonel, Kenneth M. Roy, whom I met for an interview for a documentary project, gaveintriguing insight of his army career during the 1965 War and 1971 War.He described about the role of religions in the Pakistan army, on which he said, “The Muslims had to fight and die under Senior Christian Officer’s command and the Christians had to fight and die under the Senior Muslim Officer’s command. Therefore, we followed order, fought and were prepared to die… for a common cause… for patriotism and defence of the country.”
We can never define any of Pakistan’s wars as wars between Hindus, Sikhs and Christians of India, and Muslims of Pakistan. There were not only Pakistani Muslim soldiers fighting for Pakistan but there were also Hindus, Sikhs and Christian soldiers in Pakistani army that fought for Pakistan as well,similarly, therewere not only Hindu, Sikh or Christian soldiersfighting for India only but there were also Muslim soldiers fighting for India as well. Therefore, it implies that thewars were fought for national interest and defence rather than for religion strife.
Just goggle “Indian Muslim soldiers in Indian army”, you will find many websites and articles detailing about Indian Muslims in Indian Army and their ranking and awards, no matter how high or low their number maybe. Similarly, if you Google “minorities in Pakistani army”, you will find many websites and articles detailing about Non-Muslims in Pakistan army and their ranking and awards, no matter how high or low their number maybe. You might even buy yourself a book ‘Sabz-O-Safaid Halali Parcham Kay Muhafiz-O-Sh’uda’ by Azam Mirage (picture below) for 295 rupees, which gives details of Non-Muslim soldiers role in wars of Pakistan.
In Pakistan, primarily because of Zia-Ul-Haq’s regime and policies, the Non-Muslims are victims of harassment, prejudice and terrorism. The reasons for religious intolerance are lack of proper education and not accepting the Non-Muslims presence in Pakistan, and their contribution in development of the country. There are many examples of Non-Muslim Pakistanis who have made huge differences for their country and its people: in education, politics, and judiciary, and in the army.
However, Pakistani people, media and the government have never considered to recognize the achievements of the Non-Muslims,tried to become aware of the achievements of the Non-Muslims, or even tried to spread the awareness of their achievements.The ignorance of Non-Muslims in Pakistan and their predicaments have resulted in religious intolerance, which further aggravated terrorist ideologies and religious extremism in the country and haveresulted in never-ending violence and killings. The Pakistani government, media and people have done little or nothing to subvert the problem. The deadly terrorist attack on the Gulshan-E-Iqbal Park on March 27th, 2016 during Easter Holidays was theresult of religious intolerance having presence in country. Even the recent attack on the Christian colony in Peshawar on September 1st, 2016 is a prime example of religious intolerance as well. Because of intolerance of Non-Muslims in the country, intolerance within Muslimshas also increased where one sect or school of thought would not tolerate another even if they both adhere to the same religion.
As religious intolerance is increasing by the minute, we should make it ascertain, especially for September 6th, Defence Day, the younger generation as well as the general populace should be aware about not only the Pakistani Muslim soldiers’ sacrifices and valour in Pakistan’s wars but also the sacrifices and valour of the Non-Muslims soldiers of Pakistan.
What good it is to remember the sacrifices of Non-Muslims of Pakistani army during the Indo-Pakistani wars?If the Pakistani people and youth understand the sacrifices of the Non-Muslims during the wars of Pakistan, it will teach them tolerance, as they will accept the fact that Pakistan is home to not only Muslims but also to Non-Muslims as well. Religious extremists by using the Defence Day celebration incontext as celebration of a war between Muslims and infidelscan never easily manipulate the people or the youths into committing terrorist act or violence against Non-Muslims and others, if the people and youth will be well aware of the facts of Non-Muslims contribution in the wars and about equality.By understanding the sacrifices of the Non-Muslims in Pakistani army, people within society and communities will become closer to one another and understand the basis of humanity.Alas, even if we consider remembering the Non-Muslims who are martyrs and veterans of Pakistan’s wars, it willbind to have backlashes by orthodox Muslims and extremists.Furthermore, it would not instantly bring an optimistic change in the attitude of the society if the achievements and courage of the Non-Muslim Pakistani soldiers were to be lauded and rememberedonly once during the year by the media, government and the people. Nevertheless, by remembering and lauding them every year on Defence Day, it will bind to bring progressive change in the attitude of the society.
There have been many Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Christians, and Sikhs who have served in the army and some Pakistanis do remember them and the media sometimes do highlight them but not to an extent. There are Non-Muslims still present in the army and are currently fighting battles in the Northern Frontier against the terrorists.One Non-Muslim, Ashok Kumar, gave his life in 2013, whilst fighting the battle in the Northern Frontierandwas awardedTamgha-i-Shujaat.
Yet, the Pakistani people and society have becomes so intolerable that they would not call him and even those who have died butnot known to the media and the people, as ‘shaheed’, or those who have survived and have been honourably discharged as ‘ghazi’, citing religious reasons that the words belong to Muslim only.Even the English term for the words ‘Shaheed’ and ‘Ghazi’, which is ‘Martyred’ and ‘Veteran’, conferred to a Non-Muslim soldier are too unbearable for most Pakistanis. Still, if there is for certain that the Non-Muslims have served in the army and did vigorously to protect a country where they are not even the majority; why is it that they should not be considered being called ‘shaheed’ ‘martyred’, ‘ghazi’, ‘veteran’ or even ‘Pakistani’ for that matter?After all, they died and fought for a Muslim country so that their community and the majority, the Muslims, can live in serenity.
Ashok Kumar, after being killed in the Northern Frontiers by the terrorists was not conferred the title ‘Shaheed’ or ‘Martyred’ but was given the prefix ‘late’ and was bestowed a medal which is a lower ranking civilian medal in lieu of military medal. There are stories of numerous others who were discriminated just because of their faith in most of the institutes.
Religious intolerance and extremism have clouded the logical reasoning,hence, most people cannot bring themselves to think of Non-Muslims as equal or recognize them as part of their country or their achievements as part of country’s progression. Prior 1973, there was a time, when Pakistan had a tolerable society but when Zia-Ul-Haq took control of Pakistan in bloodless military coup, his policies gave rise to intolerance in Pakistan. A legacy that is still concrete to this day.
Air Commodore Balwant Kumar Das was the first and only Senior Hindu Officer of Pakistan Air Force, who have fought in 1948 War and 1965 War but his legacy havelong been forgotten. KaizadSoparivala, first Parsi and Non-Muslim Pakistani general, was known for his dynamism during 1965 War and 1971 War, yet media, people or government never mentioned him ever again. Group Captain Cecil Chaudhary, one of the well-renowned army personnel of Christian faith and the only Non-Muslim recipient of Sitara-e-Jurat (1965), Tamgha-i-Jurat (1971) and President’s Pride of Pride of Performance (2013) combined, has a memorable legacy but slowly the people are forgetting him. They have done a lot of their part for the country’s peace and tranquillity; furthermore, they have fought for the existence of the country where the majority, their fellow compatriots, are now persecuting their communities.
Pakistani people, media and government should recognize the Non-Muslim war heroes along with Muslim war heroes of Pakistan on celebration of September 6th, Defence Day, therefore, to create harmony among the communities across Pakistan and to circumvent the prevailing religious intolerance and extremism in the country in order to mitigate terrorism in the country.