Questioning The Tradition

Call for ‘Martyrdom’ of Others

Subhas Chandra Ganguly

One explicit and so, rare and loud arguing for courting death by others for some 'cause' or other is a piece of writing—very well known and popular among the followers to the extent of song (in Bengali) being composed on the same—by the supreme leader of a 'successful revolution' in a neighbouring country, wherein death for the 'cause of the people' has been depicted as heavy as some mountain (named explicitly) of that country, in contrast to the death on behalf of 'enemies of the people' being as light as the feather of a bird.

But it must be noted that this advance panegyric to death, assuring future utterance of 'hallelujah' to those to be killed with further assurance of posthumous honorific of being 'martyrs', in the name one 'cause' or the other is not confined to any particular camp of 'cause'.

This is evident from the widespread and ongoing use of the term 'martyrdom' cutting across all camp and also from many other instances of calling others for 'sacrificing life" . One such known instance from a different camp is a widely quoted call by a leader of the freedom struggle in India : " Give me blood, I shall give you freedom".

No kind of comment is being sought to be made here on the phenomenon of someone or more deciding on one's or their own to take the risk of one's or their own life/lives and losing the same at the end. It is all about acceptability or otherwise of inspiring/instigating others to death, in the name of any 'cause' whatsoever. If activities having its origin in inspiration/suggestion/hints from some or other person(s) or groups, even when for some agreeably lofty 'cause(s)', lead to death of the participants, whether on the spot of action (innumerable in numbers) or later through execution under judicial order (e.g hanged Kshudiram Bose in Bengal during British colonial period, Kishta Goud, Bhoomaiah from Telengana in 'independent India etc.) through the agents of those opposing that 'cause' (i.e. state), it is a moot question whether the human sources of 'inspiration' (if not instigation) should be held as much responsible for that death as the direct inflict or of death, in case, possibility of death was clear from the beginning.

It also needs to be taken note of that deaths during a spontaneous upheaval and the same of the participants during organized activities, with clearly known potentiality of injury or death stand qualitatively on different planes. First is somewhat comparable to all-shaking natural event like cyclone, earthquake and the like, which are beyond control of anybody. But the second is equivalent to knowingly pushing others to possibility of injury and death, certain or uncertain.

One crudest and particularly repulsive example of ongoing use of this term is the well-known practice, where flaunting of last number of 'martyrs' on the side of respective political parties (cutting across political divide), engaged in electoral battle becomes an important capital for capturing power by those who are very much alive and salivating for the pomp and grandeur that go with power. For example, the 'martyrs' in food movement across the West Bengal in mid 6o's, used by the self-claimed so-called 'left' parties in their campaign to come to power, which they achieved in late 70's of last century and 'martyrs' of later periods in Nandigram in Medinipur district of West Bengal which paved the way for coming to power, three years (from now, i.e., 2017) ago, of the political camp, which had started its life as a breakaway faction of Indian Congress and is a sworn enemy of the 'left' . Number of 'martyrs' in such political 'Call For Martyrdom' of Others context almost being treated as a kind of gift, it is likely to be felt not as a total surprise if sometimes in future it comes to light that one or more such contending rivals for power saw to it that some among their present or possible future camp followers are turned 'martyrs'.

This whole business of virtual celebration (seeming sometimes almost like clapping) of, in the name of paying homage to, 'martyrdom' on the premises of accepting it as an inevitable price to be paid by some for fruits to be enjoyed by others (i.e. those, celebrating the martyrdom) looks almost like one of the privileges of remaining alive, for it is simply a truism that a dead person cannot celebrate others' death! It would have been different if it were remembered as an unmitigated tragedy deserving mourning and mourning only and wishing it were not so with whole heart, for, any death is an unmitigated tragedy. Such an orientation would have encouraged those, pre-occupied with advancement of any 'cause', of finding out some ways, however tortuous, which will exclude the possibility of death/injury of the participants, except by way of mere accident.

The tradition of considering death of some others as inevitable for some 'cause' or other seems to go against the very spirit of life. It is a moot question whether any supposed 'cause' can be valuable than loss of a single life. Also the very noble sounding aphorism like 'death is preferable to slavery/oppression/exploitation', if meant not only for oneself but for others as well, is a questionable one. It bears repetition that such like questions are not relevant if death occurs due to any spontaneous uprising under any unbearable situation.

Also the tradition of considering 'number' of death as a kind of quantitative measure of the depth of any tragedy is a questionable one, representing either an unbelievable naivety or a supreme indifference to the death of others not related to oneself. One is very unlikely to think in such term if the single dead person happened to be related to oneself with any bond of love or affection. Even one single death, seems to be as tragic as death of a million. Each death, like each birth, is individual even when occurring simultaneously.

To the present writer it seems the following somewhat out of the way aphorism, once heard from some non-expert sources may have some grain of validity in it.

Celebration of and incitation to martyrdom (as reflected, in 'martyr days' and in exhortation to 'sacrifice life' for some 'cause' or other) appear to be one side of the same coin, the other side of which consists in celebration of and incitation to greed (as is evident e.g., in corporate advertisement and so many other ways.)—both are against celebration of life, with all its agony and ecstasy.

In this context, it perhaps is worth mentioning that by tradition, in all the hair-splitting analysis, contained in countless tomes of written works, scholarly or not, thick or thin, related to social movements and upheavals, spontaneous or organized under the umbrella of one or the other ideology or without any well-pronounced ideology, the reality of death of the participants is touched mentioned/discussed, if at all, just as if, like the various related social/cultural/political issues it is an abstract theoretical problem but, unlike other issues, is of incidental-cum-marginal or no importance.

Autumn Number
Vol. 50, No.12-15, Sep 24 - Oct 21, 2017