The use of the word 'martyr' in the Army has been a bone of contention for decades and there still seems to be no concrete clarification on it. While soldiers who become casualties in battle have often been referred to as martyrs, armed forces and paramilitary forces have denied the status.
No word such as 'martyr' is used in the three armed forces and 'no such order/notification has been issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD)' to refer to those killed in duty/ action as martyrs, the government has clarified.
The Ministry of Home Affairs in December 2016 had informed the Lok Sabha that the word 'martyr' should not be used in connection to any casualties during a battle in the Indian Armed Forces.
"Similarly, no such term is used in reference to the Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles personnel who get killed in action or on any operation," Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had said in response to a written question.
The government in December 2017 had again informed the Central Information Commission that there was no term as 'martyr' or 'shaheed' in the army or the police. Instead, a soldier or policeman killed in action is called 'battle casualty' or 'operations casualty', respectively.
People often associate the term 'martyr' or 'shaheed' with respect for those who sacrifice their lives for the nation. However, the term "martyr" has a religious connotation, it is used to refer to someone killed for their religious beliefs.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, (Retd) Lt General Sanjay Kulkarni said, "The word Martyr is generally associated with those who have died defending their religious faith. Soldiers are 'killed in action' defending their motherland or in line of duty. Jesus could be called a martyr. In Islam, the word 'Shaheed' is used for those who die, while conducting 'Jihad', defending their faith. In Sikhism, they use the word 'Shahadat' for those who have attained martyrdom defending their Faith."
"In view of the above understanding of terms, it would be more appropriate to call a soldier who has died in the Line of Duty as Killed In Action. However, today it has become a norm to call a soldier who has died fighting a martyr, otherwise to those who are not really familiar with the nuances of the language would think that a soldier is being disrespected and that his sacrifice is not being acknowledged by this ungrateful nation," Gen Kulkarni added.
The Arabic-origin word "shaheed" is related to the Greek word "martyrios" which means "both a witness and a martyr, i.e., a person who suffers or dies deliberately for the sake of affirming the truth of a belief system," according to the definition penned down by David Cook, associate professor of religion specialising in Islam at the United States-based Rice University.
While both the terms 'martyr' and 'shaheed' share a similar meaning, there are important differences in how they have been used and referred to in the past.
As per modern English, the term 'martyr' has two meanings: one religious, and the other secular.
People have often used the two terms to refer to both: those who died for a cause, as well as for bravehearts of the armed forces.
"In this charged environment today, it is best to call a terrorist or a militant an 'anti-national' or a 'Gaddar', and by no other metaphor and the soldier who unfortunately laid down his life fighting for his nation, a true patriot who hails his 'Janani Janam Bhoomi Swarg se Mahan Hai'. Unfortunately to some people in India, their faith or religion is more sacred and they do not hesitate to fight with those soldiers who are defending their Janambhoomi." Gen Kulkarni said.
A soldier, irrespective of his religion should be referred to as a patriot who lives and sacrifices his life for his motherland.
"The use of the word 'martyr' is a recent addition. It is not the correct word and is used very loosely these days, even by the media. Martyr is somebody dying for a cause which is confused with serving the nation." (Retd) Maj Gen Moovera C Nanjappa said.
Prime Minister himself too has often used the term 'shaheed' to pay his respects to those who laid their lives during a battle. However, the Indian Armed Forces have often resorted to using the terms "battle casualty" or "operations casualty" for anyone who loses their life in the line of duty.