An open letter, signed by 114 veterans of the Indian Army, has severely criticised the atmosphere of hate, violence and divisiveness reigning over India for the last several months.
Addressed to the Prime Minister, chief ministers of the states and lieutenant-governors of the Union Territories, the document, circulated among major media outlets, expresses sadness at the "current climate of fear, intimidation, hate and suspicion".
With the rise of ultra-nationalism among self-styled vigilante groups, right-wing nationalists have taken it upon themselves to defend every action by the army and hold them up as the exemplars of patriotism. The series of hate crimes continues unabated, in spite of repeated public rebukes from the PM himself.
From abusing people for not showing respect to the national anthem to assaulting (or worse, still, killing) them on the suspicion of eating beef, the atrocities cover a wide range of perceived offences, including expressing the slightest disagreement on social media or on mainstream media.
The writers of the letter clearly state "no affiliation with any single political party". Their "only common commitment", as they point out, "being to the Constitution of India". Their stance, at a time of fractious politics, will hopefully send a strong message to those who are desperate to co-opt the army, seen as the epitome of patriotism, for their own petty political agenda.
Expressing solidarity with the citizens who went out on the streets to join the #NotInMyName protests against mob lynchings, the retired army personnel go on to condemn "the relentless vigilantism of self-appointed protectors of Hinduism".
In essence, they re-iterate what some of their colleagues have been saying in the recent few months -- in defence of peace activist Gurmehar Kaur, for instance. "Dissent is not treason," as the letter says, "in fact, it is the essence of democracy."
The full text below is required reading for every ultra-nationalist who wants to tell citizens of a democratic republic the 'right' way to live.
We are a group of Veterans of the Indian Armed Forces who have spent our careers working for the security of our country. Collectively, our group holds no affiliation with any single political party, our only common commitment being to the Constitution of India.
It saddens us to write this letter, but current events in India have compelled us to register our dismay at the divisiveness that is gripping our country. We stand with the 'Not in My Name' campaign that mobilised thousands of citizens across the country to protest against the current climate of fear, intimidation, hate and suspicion.
The Armed Forces stand for "Unity in Diversity". Differences in religion, language, caste, culture or any other marker of belonging have not mattered to the cohesion of the Armed Forces, and servicemen of different backgrounds have fought shoulder to shoulder in the defence of our nation, as they continue to do today. Throughout our service, a sense of openness, justice and fair play guided our actions. We are one family. Our heritage is like the multi-coloured quilt that is India, and we cherish this vibrant diversity.
However, what is happening in our country today strikes at all that the Armed Forces, and indeed our Constitution, stand for. We are witness to unprecedented attacks on society at large by the relentless vigilantism of self-appointed protectors of Hinduism. We condemn the targeting of Muslims and Dalits. We condemn the clampdowns on free speech by attacks on media outlets, civil society groups, universities, journalists and scholars, through a campaign of branding them anti-national and unleashing violence against them while the State looks away.
We can no longer look away. We would be doing a disservice to our country if we do not stand up and speak for the liberal and secular values that our Constitution espouses. Our diversity is our greatest strength. Dissent is not treason; in fact, it is the essence of democracy.
We urge the powers that be at the Centre and in the States to take note of our concerns and urgently act to uphold our Constitution, both in letter and in spirit.
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