Motherland, above everything else

The Indian Army’s interfaith harmony is the antidote to their country’s problems of division

It was in 2006 when I was attending the national defence college with the Indian military in New Delhi. The one-year tour gave me an opportunity to mix with a blend of civil and military officers, both formally and informally. I was deeply touched with their professionalism, maturity, unflinching patriotism, and human qualities above everything. 

Out of a good number of participants from around the world, we were 12 Muslims from KSA, UAE, Malaysia, Nigeria, and some other countries, including me, representing Bangladesh. As the course started, we had an apprehension about whether we shall be able to offer our Friday prayers, as the lunch break would not suffice to make a trip to the masjid at quite a distance.

I approached the Commandant, Air Marshal PP Rajkumar, who was exceedingly kind. He said: “No big deal, you definitely can visit the masjid, offer your prayers, come back, and have your lunch. By then, if you find the class is on, simply walk in at the quiet.”

That was really very magnanimous, and we all became so grateful for this gesture where the Air Marshal went out of his way to help us. Some of us, being practicing Muslims, chose to eat only vegetarian dishes during lunch, which didn’t escape the eyes of the Air Marshal. He called the Messing Officer and ordered to serve us halal meat. The next day onwards, there used to be meat served, labelled “halal.”

We were deeply touched. 

On another occasion back in 2000, when attending a training course with the Indian Army at a garrison named Ahmed Nagar in Madhya Pradesh, during an official tour on a Friday, a few foreign Muslim officers approached the Chief Instructor Brigadier RPS Bhanndary for permission to offer Jumma prayer. He not only allowed us to visit the masjid, but detailed an armed escort of soldiers in a pick-up truck to accompany us.

As we prayed, it started raining all of a sudden, and the soldiers got drenched. We felt sorry for them and had no words to thank them for the sacrifice they made. Another anecdote I am very much tempted to share is one where, during the month of Ramadan, while I was visiting a military installation in Ladakh, a mess havildar was waiting with my meal dot at 4 o’clock at dawn to make sure I had no difficulty in fasting. This I state only to exemplify the kind of empathy Indian armed forces nurture towards people of other faiths. 

The Indian Army has a concept they call MMG: Mandir, Masjid, Guru Duara. In many army units, I have seen these three installations at the same complex. Soldiers belonging to their specific faith worship in their own way, without any inhibitions.

The Indian Army employs religious teachers of all major religions for the soldiers. The beauty of the system is as such that you may find a Muslim moulavi and a Hindu purohit serving in the same outfit. The authorization of such religious teachers depends on the number of soldiers of that particular religion in that outfit. Say, if the number of Muslim soldiers in a unit touches the threshold of 180, then that particular unit can have a moulavi posted there.

For a commanding officer, it is said that his religion is the one of the soldiers, implying that the commanding officer has to participate in the ceremonies of the soldiers, even if that’s not his own religion. This is how, in spite of a multi-religious, multicultural entity, there is always strong bonding among the men in uniform, irrespective of their individual faiths. There had been difficult times in India, but its armed forces did not cave into any provocations in the past because of the traditions they maintain.

But now, the recent ominous call by some Sandhus from their conclaves from Haridwar in late December 21 seems to be deliberately provoking the armed forces and police by inviting them to join marauding activists. 

In this connection, two recent interviews by the prominent Indian news presenter and TV interviewer Karan Thapar is making rounds on Youtube, where he had incisive exchange of opinion with Gregory Stanton, the founder, President, and Chairman of Genocide Watch, Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd), the former Chief of Indian Navy, and also Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Committee. 

Gregory Stanton claims to have made unerring predictions of genocide ever since the inception of his organization. Regarding the infamous genocide in Rwanda in 1993, he recalls to have met the president of Rwanda and expressed his deep concerns, which unfortunately were not heeded to.

Exactly after five years of his forewarning, the massacre took place where more than 10,000 people were being killed in the Hutu Tutsi conflict every day. Regarding the situation in India, his observations are that early signs such as classification, distinction between "us" and "them," symbolization, the false propaganda of love jihad, laws against conversion, persecution, lynching, attacks on churches and mosques, arrests of Muslims in Assam and Kashmir, and dehumanization all are already present in India.

He also appreciates India’s democracy and independence of judiciary. He, of course, said that the indications do not say that the final stage of extermination has started yet. But he cautioned that democracy was no guarantee to avert genocide, stating that even in American society, they had carried out genocide against Native Americans and African Americans during slave trade.

He opines that the Indian leadership owes badly to denounce such a blood cuddling call by Hindu Sandus from their conclave in Haridwar. He further added that, in the face of such a call being made in public, silence also tantamounts to supporting such evil design.

The admiral, on the other hand, reiterated that Indian armed forces were a great symbol of harmony, where they never discriminate in the religious lines. Their priority, above everything else, was the duty towards their motherland, which they unflinchingly carried out whenever called upon. He mentioned a good number of Muslim heroes who had laid down their lives for the nation where religion had never been any consideration. At the recent development, he expressed his concerns on how it might tell upon service personnel.    

I strongly believe that good sense would prevail and that the Indian Military will stand rock solid to face such evil incitement as the last bastion of the nation. 

Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (Retd) is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]