In all the remembrance services of the 9/11 attack in New York, the heroes have never been the politicians but mostly the firemen who rose magnificently to the challenge of dousing the fires and rescuing those trapped in the burning building.
Their stellar role has never been forgotten by a grateful America to the extent that even today when a fireman walks into a bar, the drinks are on the house.
The same goes for America’s soldiers. There is tremendous pride in them among the public and their efforts are recognised by the government. Quite a contrast to the way things are in India.
Of course, there is pride in our soldiers among the general public but this usually comes out in moments of crisis when they literally save the day. But public and official memory seems very short when it comes to honouring our soldiers and their sacrifices.
After the Kargil war, much was made of the soldiers who lost their lives, but soon enough the promises made to their families were all but forgotten.
Similarly, after the Mumbai attacks, the commandos who lost their lives were honoured very briefly only to be consigned to the collective amnesia that seems to grip us after such crises.
Now we have a situation in which the armed forces have literally saved thousands of lives in flood-hit Uttarakhand even as politicians have come to blows on whose plane should be used for survivors.
This about as low as anyone can sink. In India, the armed forces live with the daily threat of terror and insurgency. Yet, at most times, the government and the public choose to forget their role.
Our war veterans are left to their own devices, a far cry from America where retired soldiers are accorded the highest respect. There is a Veterans’ Day and a war record is seen as a huge qualification when the person returns to civilian life.
Here we have had the dismal spectacle of disillusioned families actually returning medals of army personnel, disgusted with the lack of interest and support from the State. At best a medal or citation is given to a dead soldier’s next of kin on Republic Day and then he is quickly forgotten.
Despite this cavalier attitude, the armed forces work with a professionalism rarely seen in other security organisations. We have to put this down to their training and motivation rather than the expectation of any accolades.
Perhaps, it is time for officialdom to take the lead in expressing a renewed faith and respect for the armed forces. Whenever the civilian administration is not up to the task, the army steps in.
And unlike in our neighbouring country, it does not expect a share of the power pie. The armed forces may consider risking life and limb to rescue people, quelling riots and fighting terror and insurgencies part of their duty.
Part of our duty and that of the government should be to see that they do not remain unsung heroes.