Urban legend: An online tribute to our fallen war heroes
Wars are fought by nations but who spares a thought for the men on the battleground, the jawans, who sacrificed their lives so that we may continue to live and thrive? After the Bangladesh war in 1971, the last full fledged war India fought was in Kargil in 1999 in which we scored a resounding victory sending the Pakistanis packing across the border. With Vijay Diwas being celebrated today (December 16) to commemorate the victory in Bangladesh, is there a place where we can convey our emotions over the supreme sacrifice of our soldiers? This thought made Wing Commander M.A. Afraz come up with ‘HonourPoint’, an online tribute to soldiers, who had laid down their lives in the line of duty since 1947, writes Aksheev Thakur
At a boulevard on MG Road, Wing Commander M.A. Afraz welcomes us with a smile. A war veteran, and a missile expert, who served in the Kargil war, he has moved on with his life since he hung up his boots in 2008. But the memories of the Kargil conflict, where he did his bit as part of a technical team of the Indian Air Force (IAF), checking and loading missiles, are as stark as ever.
As Indo-Pak relations became strained more than usual in 1999 and the two nations faced each other in Kargil, the IAF launched Operation Safed Sagar to support the Indian Army, which was tasked with flushing out the Pakistani intruders.
Arriving in Kargil was quite an experience, Wing Commander Afraz recalls. “While entering the officers’ mess, we were asked to enter our personal details along with the contact numbers of our relatives, who could be informed if something happened to us. It was then we realized that we were in a war zone,” he smiles.
While he went about his job, it was difficult for him not to be affected by the sight of the mutilated bodies of the soldiers of the army his squadron was supporting and this set him thinking about the families, who would receive the bodies of these martyred men.
“1999 was the last war India fought, but we lost nearly 5,000 soldiers in it. But who cares about this? Nobody remembers the men who sacrificed their lives after the news of their death. Their families don’t get any emotional support,” he laments.
Not only that, no national war memorial has been built to honour the memory of all the martyrs since 1947, he points out. “Even if a war memorial comes up, not everyone goes there,” he notes sadly. The niggling thought remained with him after he retired and ventured into a private business. Finally, he arrived at the solution: HonourPoint, an online tribute to the soldiers, who have laid down their lives in the line of duty since 1947.
After spending a year gathering information about all the dead soldiers he launched the website on April 3, 2015, which happened to be his father’s birthday.
And now of the 23,000 soldiers, who have sacrificed their lives since Independence, the portal has honoured 12,500. “Today families of martyrs are updating the information we have on the website,” he says with satisfaction.
In future he hopes to be able to get the martyrs’ families any financial help they may need too. “All the armed forces families should be connected. I am regularly in touch with them,” he reveals.
Come December 16, the eve of Vijay Diwas, and Governor Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala will release a booklet on the martyrs based on information compiled by the Wing Commander.
The booklets will later be distributed in schools. The years have rolled by and looking back the war veteran is clearly satisfied at having achieved what he set out to do all those years ago when seeing his father dressed in his army uniform adorned with decorations as a child he made up his mind to join the armed forces. At a leadership programme some years later he was asked where he saw himself 20 years ahead and he replied without hesitation, “I see myself as a retired Wing Commander!”
But he went through the initial grind, doing his engineering, before joining the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1983.“During my final year of engineering, of the 100 candidates who applied for the technical entry scheme of the IAF only six were selected. But I was the only one who joined,” the Wing Commander recalls.
In 1987 he married and later his wife too joined the IAF. “My brother-in-law is a Brigadier and so after marriage it was like a complete armed forces family,” he smiles.
Ask him about the current mood of patriotism and jingoism that has engulfed the nation and he says, “Patriotism is a way of life. It should not be thrust upon anyone. I want to appeal to the people that one should be honest in whatever field one is working in.”