Monday, March 24, 2008

SUKHPREET, SCARLETT , MEDIA AND US

From the land of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, a lady has spoken, like a real hero, like the the many forgotten Indians the whole nation should be proud of and draw inspiration from.

Sukhpreet Kaur, the wife of Sarabjit Singh who is slated to be hanged to death in Pakistan, recently uttered these bravest of words: “Myself and my daughters would never like Sarabjit freed in exchange for any hardcore Pakistani terrorist lodged in Indian jails.” For the family, she said, “nothing is above the nation and we can’t go against the interests of our motherland.” For the nation, she is willing to let her mate die.

Sukhpreet, whose husband has been in a Pakistani jail for 17 long years, is not an “educated” and informed Indian who has formally learnt the meaning of patriotism or heard the famous quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That sense of understanding of her role and responsibility as a citizen of this country and the placing of the interest of the nation above the life of her own husband and the father of her children is reflective of a character that is rarely seen in today’s “me only” materialistic world.

Go back to December 1989. Rubia Syed, daughter of the then Home Minister of India, Mufti Mohammad Syed, a Kashmiri politician, was abducted by militants who wanted some captured militants to be freed from prisons to let Rubia off. What happened to the minister and the Indian state? Both capitulated and released five militants to secure Rubia’s release. The Home Minister of the country placed the life of his daughter above the interest of the very nation he was meant to internally protect.

Move forward exactly 10 years. Indian Airlines Flight IC 814, Kathmandu-Delhi, was hijacked on December 24, 1999 and taken to Kandahar in the then Taliban and Al Qaida controlled Afghanistan. The hijack drama lasted till December 31, 1999, when the then Indian Foreign Minister flew to Kandahar with three of the most dreaded and dangerous terrorists who had been captured by Indian security forces. Maulana Azhar Masood, Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar, responsible for carrying out numerous terrorist attacks and killing many innocent Indians were freed, to save the lives of the passengers who were on that flight. Promptly on release, the trio went to Pakistan and has since been involved in a number of fresh terrorist attacks in India which have taken many more innocent lives.

Look at the role of India’s media during the hijacking and now.

Then, there was non-stop, mostly live coverage of the hijacking, not from Kandahar but from Delhi. What was covered? The cries, anguish, frustration and anger of the relatives of the unfortunate passengers of IC 814 were flooded into Indian homes for nearly five days. They were all shown asking the government to get their near and dear ones back safely. When the negotiations with the hijackers seemed interminable, immense pressure was put by them, through the over eager media, on the government to capitulate to the demands of the hijackers and release the wanted terrorists.

There was then not one soul shown on television willing to place the interest of the nation above the lives of his relatives. Not one. No politician was also shown advising emotionally charged relatives to view the hijacking from a larger, national perspective. On the contrary, those from the opposition were happy to rub salt into the nation’s wound by turning it into a petty political drama for scoring political points. Some of them were in fact shown egging the relatives to ask the government to release the terrorists. Finally, the government, already weakened by the earlier release of terrorists in exchange for the Home Minister’s daughter, and under intense media generated pressure, capitulated to secure the release of the ordinary citizens who were on the hijacked plane.

This time too, the media has been extensively covering the case of Sarabjit to generate enough pressure on the government to stop his hanging and secure his release, no matter what it may have pay back in return to Pakistan. Again, there has been no voice cautioning the government against releasing terrorists in exchange. All that the media is focused on is getting Sarabjit back, whatever it takes.

Sukhpreet Kaur has, in many ways, shamed not only the media luminaries ostensibly fighting on her behalf but also our politicians by publicly placing national interest above her own. What is the result? But for a brief mention in the press about her statement, she has been completely ignored by all. For them Sukhpreet and and her husband are not persons. Sarabjit is little more than a name to be conveniently used for pursuing their own agenda and then forgotten.

Maulana Azhar Masood and company have got many Indians killed since they were released eight years ago, perhaps more than those on that plane. They are still at large and dangerous. Some of the blood of their killings is on the hands of the relatives of the passengers of IC 814; a lot of it is on the hands of the media which relentlessly kept airing and printing their demands to the exclusion of everything else. A great deal of it is also on the hands of politicians led by Mufti Mohammad Syed who placed themselves above the nation.

On the hands of all these people is also the forgotten blood of the thousands who were relatives of other Indians; the policemen and para military and army personnel, who for decades have been laying down their lives to capture or kill the likes of these terrorists, so that the safety and security of these very people who are blind to them can be ensured.

Sukhpreet, the simple woman with a head clearer and stronger than all these others combined, does not want that blood on her hand. To her, the lives of other Indians are no less important than the life of her husband.

Thousands of years ago, might be just a story, a certain king called Ram left his wife, whom he loved dearly, in an exemplary display of “Raj Dharma”. His personal needs, beliefs and undying love were subordinated and set aside to fulfill his duty to the state. Sukhpreet’s statement comes perhaps from that sub-conscious lesson, forgotten almost totally by many of us.

As the media’s ignoring of Sukhpreet and its continuing obsession with Scarlett Keeling and Fiona MacKeown shows, most of us do not want to be even reminded that we have a duty, a responsibility which may call for making a small personal sacrifice for the nation. Be thankful to the few Sukhpreets who keep surfacing now and then from places where India’s soul resides. They are the Indians who do for the nation what they conscience asks them to, whether you and I notice or not.