It was an emotional farewell for Lieutenant Colonel Elambulassery Kalarikkal Niranjan, who laid down his life in the terrorist attack at the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot. He was laid to rest with full military honours at his ancestral home at Elambulasserry village in the Palakkad district of Kerala state.
The Kerala Government was represented at the cremation by Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala. The Kerala Government give a solatium of Rs 50 lakh to the family of the martyr. The State Government also decided to give a government job to the martyr’s wife and to take care of the educational expenses of their daughter.
The State Government decided to name the Industrial Training Institute at Elambilassery, the martyr’s village, after him. The stadium being built on the Palakkad Medical College campus will also be named in his honour.
The State Government also directed that at 11 AM, the time of the funeral, all the schools in the state to observe a minute’s silence in memory of the martyr. Surely, the teachers at the schools would have explained as to why a minute’s silence is being observed. It was indeed a great step to create awareness among children about the sacrifices of Lieutenant Colonel Niranjan and other soldiers defending the country. These children would indeed grow up as patriotic citizens of the nation, with respect for the soldiers in their minds.
These steps by the Kerala state need to be commended. There was hardly any mention of the event in the national print and electronic media. One hopes that other states too would take a cue from this.
As seen during all the martyrs’ funerals, the public had turned up in large numbers here too. The last rites were delayed as there was a heavy rush of people to pay their respects to the martyr. Serpentine queues were visible outside the School where the body was placed before family members conducted the final rites.
It is felt that the Central and State Governments should have ordered flying the national flag at half-mast in honour of all the martyrs of the Pathankot terror attack. Some may opine that there is no need to go into mourning every time for a fallen soldier. Please remember what French Nobel laureate Albert Camus said “Martyrs, my friend, have to choose between being forgotten, mocked or used. As for being understood: never”. The least we can all do is to pay our respect to the fallen soldier and what better way than flying the national flag at half-mast. It does not cost anything, but will surely enhance our national esteem and pride.
The image above showing flags flying at half-mast as a sign of respect for the fallen soldier, was taken in front of the McDonald’s outlet across the street from our home on 23 October 2014. Both the Canadian national flag and the McDonald’s flags are at half-mast. This was done to honour Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who fell to the bullets of a terrorist, at the National War Memorial. This brings out the real national character of the Canadians and exemplifies their regard for their soldiers.
The veterans need to be better organised, have to be present in large numbers and facilitate smooth conduct of the funeral proceedings. They were hardly visible during the live telecasts, or in case were present, they were not wearing their medals and cap and were not in any group or formation to be noticed. The only veteran I could make out was Major AK Ravindran of NSG (Sivarasan hunt fame and movie director).
The Malayalam print and electronic media gave ample coverage of the funeral with almost all the channels telecasting it live. Many a time, the camera crew were jostling for space to get the best angle. There is an immediate need for the Information Ministry to coordinate the efforts for such occasions. The national broadcaster is best equipped for the job and also have better commentators on their rolls, compared to the vernacular media. A single feed can be provided to all the channels, thereby ensuring better quality transmission across the globe.
After the funeral, Kerala Police arrested Anwar Sadhik, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, for his Facebook post, seen as promoting enmity among people, insulting a martyr and undermining the Indian democracy. Claiming to be a journalist, Sadhik had posted derogatory comments about Lt Col Niranjan on Facebook. His post in Malayalam translated as “Good- there goes one more trouble. Now his wife will be given a job and financial aid. Ordinary folks get nothing. Stinking democracy!”
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code stipulates that “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
In the light of the above, one needs to consider the editorial by the Indian Newspaper Telegraph, raising a question whether Martyr Niranjan’s last rites deserved state honours and thousands paying their respects to him. The writer dares to ask, “does he deserve to be honoured?” He even says “An officer like Niranjan should be taken to task even after his death, so that an example is set for others not to break discipline and risk lives.”
Now, shouldn’t the Government of India invoke Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code against The Telegraph?
When will the Government of India issue a policy guideline to the journalists, newspapers and media houses about their roles in similar situations?
Will the Government of India issue a policy regarding flying of the national flags at half-mast in honour of a fallen soldier as existing in most countries?
Will the Veteran community organise and turn up in strength to grace similar occasions in future?