On the build up to the 26th, the media was full of the 10th anniversary of the 2004 tsunami and the many memorial events that were being held! BBC was broadcasting live, the events being held at Aceh (the worst affected place) and Thailand. The Indian channels that I see (few, English), also recounted the event but showed footage of events held at other places. There was no reference to any event held in India – although 11,000 persons lost their lives and many others went missing, never to be seen again.
This kind of struck me! And this is not the only large scale natural disaster we have had, the Gujarat earthquake, Odisha cyclone, Uttarakhand floods being recent ones that come to mind, that had huge loss of life. And then we have had innumerable numbers of civil disturbances (I am purposely avoiding the usual name f0r these episodes), none of which I wish had happened in my country! But these cannot be wished away.
So, why is it that a country that seems to have ‘Days’ to commemorate the death of innumerable ‘great men’ (few women, of course!), has no time to remember the collective loss of our fellow citizens, be it to nature or man-made disputes? The Prime Minister of the day, lays a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti 0n 26th January, and I suppose the Chiefs of the respective forces do so on Army, Navy and Air Force Day. But, unlike most countries which have lost personnel in wars, we have no National War Memorial – and the building of one has been in dispute for ever!!
Earlier this year, there was a lot of coverage of the centenary of the First World War – most magnificently captured by the red poppies installation at the Tower of London. 74,000 Indian soldiers died in this war and efforts were made as part of the remembrance events by UK based organizations to locate their families. I am not sure how far these efforts got, but the Indian veterans were represented in all the events. We in India, on the other hand, did little to remember those lives, albeit lost in a foreign cause.
Besides the political remembrance of death anniversaries (Oh those ads in the papers!!) , we Indians remember individual loss in every family in the form of ‘shradh’ for our departed forefathers. In some communities there is a specific annual day to remember the unwed and child-less women amongst the fore-fathers (or should I say for-mothers?) – since only the male line is alluded to in the shradh ceremonies.
But the failure to have any sort of formal remembrance of collective loss is something that I have been thinking about. Is it a cultural thing? Is our ‘Hindu’ ethos non-compatible with the idea of dwelling on death? Or is it considered a purely personal matter? Is public expression of sorrow un-macho?
The Hindu on 27th morning did carry an article on a poet who has written some verse on the aftermaths of the Tsunami and also carried the following images of groups of people pouring milk, throwing flowers into the sea. People do remember, and mourn – but the official involvement seems to end with the disbursement of ‘compensations’ (a political photo-op, if any!!). If these events, including the loss of life in civil unrest would be officially remembered with the appropriate non-religious events to just mourn the loss and celebrate the living, we may move towards becoming a more caring society.
(Of course, if we marked all these events, it may fill the celender!!)