We should ensure employment for the widows. Their children’s school fees must be paid by the MoD.

 

In the conduct of foreign policy, it often happens that the diplomatic traffic lights turn red. This happened earlier this week, when India and Pakistan nearly went to war.

The unseemly chauvinism, jingoism and irresponsible and overblown rhetoric on most TV channels on both sides, left me depressed. A national tragedy is being reduced to TV debating tamasha. The only sensible summing up was by Rajdeep Sardesai in his edit page article in the Hindustan Times on 1 March.

Today, I write about the heart breaking dimension of the brutal attack by terrorists at Pulwama on 14 February. As the coffins reached the hometowns and villages of those who lost their lives, I could hardly hold my tears, when I saw little boys and girls, young widows, sisters, brothers and aged parents throwing themselves on the wooden caskets, inside which was the body of their beloved one.

Large amounts of cash donations have been given to the bereaved families by the Central and state governments. Also, noble gestures by two former test cricketers, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. Each will pay for the education of one child.

Now, let us look at what will become of the lives of the children and widows. The children will grow up without a father. Their trauma, their grief will ever be with them.

What of the widows? Lives of widows in rural India become unbearable. They are called manhoos, the evil one. The 40 brave men, who died, were in their 20s. In several cases the only bread providers for their families. A long, unending widowhood ensures gnawing grief and the responsibility of bringing up the children. Soon, we shall forget the tragic plight of these families. They will live their terrible misfortune.

I have a suggestion to make to the Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman. She should set up a cell in the Ministry of Defence, headed by a colonel, to monitor all cases of war widows and keep her informed. She should herself visit each grieved family every six months, not only to console them, but to ensure that their children are being sent to school and fees paid by the ministry are not pocketed either by greedy relatives or unscrupulous teachers. Further, she and her successors should ensure employment for the widows. Some of them would be illiterate. Suitable jobs should be found for them. Remarriage of widows in rural India is almost unthinkable. A job would act as some sort of a diversion and provide much needed financial relief.

To achieve this, the Defence Ministers will have to sacrifice their socialising. Their wives and grown up daughters could do so much to relieve the searing misery of these widows.

A people who hang around the powerful and the rich and are indifferent to the plight of the poor, are to be despised. Does this happen? No. Will it happen? No. What then is the answer? Hope. A faith in the future and a re-reading of the writings of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. These will straighten our moral spines.

***

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj excelled herself at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organisation of Muslim Countries, OIC, at Abu Dhabi. No tenseness, clear and fluent delivery. She was, as usual, elegantly dressed. Her speech was word perfect, suited the occasion. It was substantive, statesmanlike; or should I say stateswoman-like? She did not name Pakistan, but condemned terrorism in our neighbourhood, reminded her colleagues of India’s composite culture and religious leaders like Guru Nanak using Islamic terminology.

It needed courage and vision to invite India, a non-member to this OIC meeting. We had been kept out for 50 years. Pakistan made a serious faux pas by boycotting the inaugural meeting. Poor diplomacy.

 

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