Marking the spot: A new website lists, remembers soldiers who died on duty
“Akshay was the ultimate jack of all trades — a good painter, tennis and basketball player, singer, dancer, writer, poet and cook! Family time was very important to him. He used to drag us out for coffee after dinner, for heartfelt conversations.”
Major Akshay Girish Kumar died in the line of duty in November 2016, aged 31, fighting terrorists at Nagrota in Jammu & Kashmir. His life, his lovely nature and his sacrifice have been immortalised on a new website called Honourpoint.in. The note above was contributed by his mother, Meghna Girish, 57.
It’s an online memorial that features names, bios and brief memorial notes on Indian armed forces personnel who have died on duty. The eventual aim is to document every such death since August 15, 1947. It has put together 12,628 profiles so far, including those in a section for ex-serviceman who died after retirement.
“Honourpoint is a personalised shrine to every military family who has lost a loved one, in harness or otherwise. Here, they can contribute, preserve, express and share memorabilia, thoughts, pictures, anecdotes and stories to spread awareness and inspire current as well as future generations,” says Wing Commander (Retd) MA Afraz, who co-founded the website nine months ago.
Three former wing commanders — Afraz, Rajendra Prasad and LK Chaubey — started working on the website in 2015, when they realised there was no one place where every martyred member of the armed forces was remembered.
“I had a friend, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, who lost his life in May 1999, during the Kargil War. Over the years, I have thought of him and our friendship and wanted to write a tribute to him. I went online and found that there was very little information on him. So when Wing Commander Afraz came up with the idea, I, along with LK Chaubey, joined him to create this website,” says Prasad, 52.
With an 11-member research team, they spent two-and-a-half years collecting information available in the public domain. Their primary resources were the websites of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, newspapers, books and journals.
“It was difficult to contact the soldiers’ families, since they are scattered all over the world,” says Afraz. “But after we launched our website and Facebook page, people began to come forward and contribute to the archive.” Their Facebook page has accumulated 128,000 likes since April 2017.
It was through Facebook that Meghna Girish realised her son had been immortalised online. “A friend sent me the link and I was touched and intrigued by the effort,” she says. “I found my son’s profile, but saw that it was very sketchy. I wanted people who came to this website to know what an amazing person he had been.” So she contacted Afraz and they suggested she contribute to the profile and monitor the comments too.
Jasleen Sarna, wife of Col Gurbir Singh Sarna KC, 40, who died in December 2006, also recently shared details on the website about her husband — who continued to lead his men in a gunfight against militants despite having been shot six times in the stomach. “He taught me courage in everyday life,” she says.
In all, over 400 families have contributed personal accounts and memories.
The website is a boostrapped effort that they fund themselves, says Afraz. But in association with local NGOs, Honourpoint is also raising funds for the families of martyrs. “Our first event was in Bangalore in September. We gave 35 families blankets and other gifts in collaboration with Vasantharatna Foundation for Arts,” says Afraz.
There have also been events in Mumbai and Surat, in collaboration with Ample Mission and the Maruti Veer Jawan Trust. In Surat, 18 martyrs’ families received Rs 2.5 lakh each.
Subedar (Retd) Satbir Singh Yadav was among those felicitated in Surat, on behalf of his son, Flight Lieutenant Akash Yadav, who died in November 2010, aged 24.
“We are from Kosli village in Rajasthan where almost all the families have served in the forces, so I felt really proud when I found my son’s profile on the website,” says Satbir, 60.
Families moved by the effort are now collaborating with others. “I found out about the website when they contacted me for felicitation on behalf of my daughter,” says Vijender Shekhawat, 57, a former Navy Honorary Sub Lieutenant who lives in Delhi. Shekhawat’s daughter was in the Navy too. Lt Kiran Shekhawat died in March 2015, aged 26. “I have now asked for a list of martyrs from the Indian Navy and I will help them get data about those who were from the Delhi area.”
The idea for such a website is long overdue, says Navy Commodore (Retd) C Uday Bhaskar, now director of the Delhi-based thinktank, Society for Policy Studies. “Maybe the people behind Honourpoint could consider translating the site into other languages too, for greater awareness. The website also needs to be more interactive, and include video clips.”
In a task that often feels heartbreaking, it is the emotional response that makes it all “totally worth the effort”, says Afraz.
He cites the example of Flying Officer Farokh Dara Bunsha, who died in 1965, during the Indo-Pak war. “A woman named Dolly Kanwal Jit mailed us in 2017, thanking us for our tribute to Bunsha. She was engaged to him 52 years ago,” Afraz says.
“Farokh Bunsha was my fiancé we got engaged in August ’65. He was a Parsi and I, a Hindu. Needless to say there was family opposition...” she says. “He loved flying, he loved his Hunter, he loved his mother and he loved me…”
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