Replicating scenes usually seen only during Republic Day, the might of India’s armed forces was on display at Rajpath this Sunday. Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi-30s and Dhruv helicopters enthralled the audience with various manoeuvres and formations while the Army had a parade, motorcycle acrobatics display and even a dog show. These were all a part of Shauryanjali, an exhibition commemorating the golden jubilee of the 1965 Indo-Pak war that is currently being held on the Rajpath. The exhibition also includes documentary screenings, pavilions dedicated to various battles of the 1965 war and displays of military equipment, both Indian as well as captured Pakistani trophies.

Apart from commemorating the 1965 war, one of the objectives of this spectacle was also to bridge the gap between the armed forces and civilians. The prime minister expressly urged members of the public to attend the event in his Mann Ki Baat address to the nation.

The rationale behind the celebrations seems to be that while the military’s unequivocal success in East Pakistan in 1971 and the more recent 1999 Kargil conflict find a prominent place in the public discourse today, the 1965 conflict seems to be largely forgotten.

Though opinions differ on whether it was a military success or a mere stalemate from India’s poinby t of view, the attempt to commemorate the valour of the armed forces in the 1965 war is laudable as it honours the sacrifices made by our men in uniform.

However, another important moment in modern Indian history, the humiliation suffered at the hands of the Chinese in 1962, remains completely out of the spotlight. While marking defeat may not be as easy as celebrating a victory, it is necessary to remember the dead and learn from the past.

Lesson from Singapore

Every year on February 15, Singapore celebrates Total Defence Day to mark the date on which 80,000 British troops surrendered the island to the Japanese in 1942. The day is marked not only by public events by the armed forces to demonstrate Singapore’s military preparedness but also by emphasising the role citizens play in civil defence, in times of war and peace.

In schools, colleges and at prominent public locations, demonstrations are held to educate the public about basic civil defence. This can range from routine skills like how to operate fire extinguishers and how to wear gas masks to how to take shelter during a bomb raid. These exercises cover situations of military conflict as well as skills and techniques useful during natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

Singapore’s "Total Defence" ideology consists of five catchphrases – military defence, civil defence, social defence, economic defence and psychological defence. The social and psychological aspects refer to the need for the citizens to stay united during crisis situations. On  February 15, events that encourage national unity and promote racial and religious harmony are held across the island. These emphasise that it is not the duty of the armed forces alone to protect the nation.

At 6.20 pm, the exact time when British forces surrendered on February 15, 1942, Singapore’s public warning system is used to sound a demonstration siren in order to educate residents about the sirens and the public warning system.

A disconnect

Despite efforts of the Defence Ministry in India, the 1965 war commemoration has largely remained a military event.

If the prime minister is serious about not just commemorating the armed forces but also creating a bridge between the military and the common man, India would do well to take a page out of Singapore’s book and celebrate a Defence Day of its own that involves not just the armed forces but also imparts knowledge and skills to the country's young people.

Sagar Godbole is a student at the Gujarat National Law University.