Service Brat, Identity And Nationalism


Many recent posts of mine on Facebook – especially those dealing with the vexing issue of our respected Indian Army using a Kashmiri, and by all accounts a genuine citizen out to exercise his franchise, have been met with strange and often strong reactions – virtually telling me that as a daughter and wife of two former Navy Chiefs I should not post any comment or piece containing negative comments with regard to our Armed Forces.

I have no doubt that I will receive more comments and advice on how and why I , as the spouse of a former Navy Chief and daughter of another Navy Chief, should be more circumspect about the kind of posts I put out, as I post an outspoken and well argued plea from Ashok Swain.and this piece by Saikat Datta.

I have two points to make clear.

First that I have an identity and persona of my own, and one which is quite separate from being merely “daughter of and wife of ” two former heads of the Indian Navy – of both of whom I am duly and justifiably proud . Neither my late father, Admiral Ram Dass Katari, the first Indian to become Chief of India’s Navy post independence, nor my husband, Admiral L Ramdas, ever imposed their views on what I should think, say or write. They always held that it was they and not me, who had signed on to the respective Navy Acts which they continued to honour for as long as they served and wore the uniform.

Both are men of high integrity, professionally outstanding, but who never hesitated to lead from the front in upholding the highest values of ethical and moral conduct. At the same time both men believed that their guiding compass was their own conscience, and they never held back from profering honest advice to their political masters – even if it went against what seemed to be politically expedient. Each in their own unique ways chose to strike out on their own paths – off the beaten track – but always in accordance with the highest ideals of democracy.

Like them, I too deeply respect the Constitution of this land which assures me as a citizen of India, the right to freedom of thought and expression – and lays down no prescriptive code by which my nationalism, patriotism or loyalty can be measured or judged by others – whomsoever they might be.

That is the yardstick I follow.

As an educator, I firmly believe that the fundamental responsibility of a Citizen of this country should be to ensure the well being of the last woman, man or child – be she a dalit, adivasi, Kashmiri or North easterner, and to keep our elected governments and ALL arms of the government, including the Police, the Armed forces and other such organs of state power, under scrutiny and ensure that they are acting with integrity and accountablity.

And to this extent I am of the opinion that AFSPA is anti democratic, that human shields are against universal codes of Humanitarian behaviour, and that as a nation that has signed on to UN Human Rights Charter, we are obliged to respect and follow certain minimum codes of conduct.

This is why I would like our thinking public to be exposed to points of view that are not either sitting on the fence or are clearly echoing the government position.

I am always ready to discuss the reasons for the stands I hold – and will democratically chose to disagree where necessary. But I am not willing to be lectured to from some non existent high moral ground about who is more ,or less, loyal and patriotic in upholding the state and flag.

Lalita Ramdas is social activist and former Chair of Greenpeace International


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