Enough of forced patriotism: Mandatory silence for soldiers' bodies on flights could be a recipe for disaster
The Union Ministry of Civil Aviation has reportedly nudged all airlines to make a mandatory 30-seconds of silence to be observed abroad all aircrafts carrying the remains of soldiers who have died in combat.
Given the prevalent wave of forced patriotism, one can understand where this is coming from. However, the exercise has full potential for generating widespread controversy.
The ministry has reportedly only forwarded this proposal, which originally came from the armed forces themselves.
Interestingly, this has come close on the heels of reports of dead bodies of seven soldiers arriving in plastic sacks and cardboard boxes.
While how soldiers' bodies are packed is not likely to be in the remit of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), it is not clear how tributes for the dead is within its purview either.
As the regulator for the sector, DGCA's role is to govern the “safety aspects of civil aviation” in India. To force airlines to, in turn, force passengers to wear patriotism on their sleeves has nothing to with aircraft safety.
Proponents of this move might argue in its favour comparing it to the Supreme Court's order forcing people to stand up for the national anthems in cinema halls.
Sadly, that argument will be hard to beat, such are the times we live in. However, the real recipe for disaster inherent in this move is in the various movements against the State that exist in various parts of India – from Kashmir to Chhattisgarh to Manipur.
Those Kashmiris, for example, who look at the Indian state as an oppressor, do not have sympathetic feelings for soldiers of the Indian Army or paramilitary forces or even policemen.
Manipur is host to among the most intense movements against the Indian Army. How would a Manipuri, who supports this movement, feel when forced to offer tributes this way? It is not illegal for a Kashmiri or a Manipuri to protest against the Army and demand removal of its presence from civilian areas. It's a political demand and that's how it is dealt with.
This new requirement, if it is made mandatory, will pit such people against others, those who might harbour unquestioned love for the Army, on-board the aircraft. This is quite likely to result in conflicts, just as there have been several reports of scuffles inside cinema halls between enthusiasts who want everyone to stand for the national anthem and those who don't like this forced patriotism.
While in cinema halls you can deal with brawls by simply ushering the fighting parties out, that is not a luxury available to airlines. Any such ruckus will have the potential to seriously jeopardise flight safety.
A year ago, the DGCA issued an advisory asking airlines to carry Hindi newspapers and magazines because not providing reading material in Hindi was “against Indian government’s policy for official language”.
It appears that the regulator is misusing its authority by getting into issues that are in no way connected to flight safety. It will be doing greater justice to its role by paying heed to real issues that impact the sector. A mandatory display of patriotism is not one of those.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen