Many Wars of 1965

We, the citizens of the Indian Union, cannot afford to forget the year 1965. The world we live in was shaped in no small way by events of that year, though not necessarily by the events that the Government of the Indian Union would want us to remember but by those events that it wants us to forget. The Government of the Indian Union is celebrating the 1965 war with pomp and grandeur. While celebrating a war that no one claims was fought for national liberation, human rights or any positive human value, funds have already been pumped in for commemoration.

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the war of 1965, where the primary combatants were the Indian Union’s Army and Pakistan’s Army. According to sources that don’t owe explicit affiliation to the propaganda machines of Pakistan or the Indian Union, about 7800 army men were killed in the war. Of this number, about 3000 were from the Indian Union’s Army and the rest from Pakistan Army. Given that there was no ‘crowning’ event like surrender and that both groups of combatants inflicted somewhat similar amount of damage to each other and also gained large swathes of each other’s territories, the answer to the question ‘who won?’ was up for grabs. That opportunity was grabbed with a lot of zeal by the respective governments to tutor their citizens and especially the yet-to-be-born citizen about their version of who were the good guys, who were the bad guys, who won, who lost and how in all of this, we must never ask questions like the difference in caste-class composition of the army, how lives of these poor regions could have been protected from death by disease and malnutrition with the money spent on the war and most importantly, about the likelihood of being killed, tortured, assaulted, mistreated or raped by one’s ‘own’ army personnel as opposed to ‘alien’ army personnel. It remains an undeniable truth that a citizen of Pakistan is much more likely to be killed, tortured, assaulted, mistreated, subjected to forced labour, kidnapped, ‘disappeared’, looted or raped in his or her lifetime by the Pakistan Army than the Indian Union Army. This was true then and this is true now. Whether the reverse holds true for a citizen of the Indian Union is something I don’t have the courage to comment upon. I am not a very courageous man. I am a fat, short, rice-eating Bengali after all.

Another spate of killings also happened in 1965. And it was one-sided murder of unarmed people. Hundreds of young Tamil men were killed brutally by armed ‘khaki’ forces in what is now called Tamil Nadu. This was no minor affair and was reported extensively for many days across the world, in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Time magazine and elsewhere. The Indian Union government rushed in its ‘khaki’ forces to suppress the unprecedented mass movement of Tamil youths against the planned imposition of Hindi as the Indian Union’s sole official language. The martyred youth of 1965 represent another narrative of glory and bravery, that is drowned by tricolour drumbeats. But those who remember can never forget. While the Indian Union government today is making the push for Hindi as a UN language, it dare not mention these language martyrs on the 50th anniversary of their martyrdom. Their cause lingers through the recent Chennai Declaration of Language Rights that asks for linguistic equality for all our mother-tongues – a call that is slowly gathering steam. At a solemn event held in Chennai, representatives from Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Orissa, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala paid homage to these martyrs as their own, to the 1965 Tamil cause as their own. The 1965 language movement of the Tamils stopped the advancing battle-tank of Hindi imposition. The momentum of Hindi imposition was broken by the Tamil speed-breaker, if only temporarily. The tank that was stopped in its tracks is restarting its engine with renewed vigour. After the 1965 language movement, the Congress, which had ruled Tamil Nadu till then, was defeated for good – never to return again. That should give us an idea what those events and killings meant and their continued reverberations in people’s memory. Its due to these events that complete Hindi imposition on non-Hindi speaking people remains only a partially successful project. Whether that can be compared to the relevance of the 1965 war in people’s lives is something I leave to the readers to judge.

50 years after 1965, we must probe why Delhi wants us to celebrate one 1965 and forget another? All nation-state narratives, curated by the government, to create ‘truth’ and ‘common-sense’, remember and celebrate certain things while forgetting others. It underlines certain things and deletes others. A comparison of the highlighted with the deleted gives us an idea of who the nation-state is for and who it is not for, who is boss and who is servant. This government narrative gains currency through dominant film-industry, media academia and textbooks and can be be called the autobiography of a nation-state. But no nation-state in the world is one people. All people must write their own autobiographies. They owe it to their martyrs and their children. They owe it to the smoke rising from the burned wigwams of native Americans, the smoke that seen by people made alien in their own homeland by other people through superiority of arms and numbers, the smoke that rises above disinformation and indoctrination onto the wide canvas of the unconquered starry sky, that spreads out into words that can be seen from far-far-away, words that solemnly whisper in every mother-tongue of this earth: ‘We shall not forget’. We cannot forget 1965.









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Garga Chatterjee Written by:

Brain scientist. Columnist. Bengali. He received his PhD from Harvard and is a faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.


  1. theo
    November 5, 2015

    Thanks for this, Garga,


    • November 7, 2015

      I am glad you liked it. The space is receding. We must shout.

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