Sign of Courage
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FROM INDIA TODAY 18TH NOVEMBER 2002

 OFFTRACK: MUMBAI, MAHARASHTRA

Sign of Courage
A family’s badge honours its son and soldiers killed in Kashmir
By Nidhi Taparia Rathi



When Sonam Kapadia steps out of his house in London, he can be sure that during the course of the day he will be asked, “What is that badge on your lapel?” It is a question Sonam waits eagerly for. Even if it comes minutes before a meeting he has or while in the tube or attending a party. It gives him the opening to talk about his younger brother
Nawang, a lieutenant in the Indian Army who died in an encounter with terrorists during a search-and-destroy mission in the forests of Rajwar in Kupwara, Jammu and Kashmir.

The Kapadias decided Nawang’s martyrdom in October 2000 should not be forgotten. In December 2000, they launched the Badge of Valour movement from their home on Carmichael Road in Mumbai. They began to give away a special badge-the Khukri of Honour-to whoever evinced an interest in it and what it stood for. “The medallion gets people thinking about Kashmir and our soldiers,” says Sonam.

Sonam, a London-based employee of ICICI Bank, says the idea struck him at Nawang’s state funeral: “Major-General Randhir Singh, the senior most officer of Nawang’s battalion, the 3rd Gorkha Rifles, sported the khukri insignia on his cap.” The khukri is the dreaded curved dagger carried by Gorkha soldiers, whom Nawang was so proud to serve with. The Kapadia’s badge has a superimposition of the 3rd Gorkha Rifles crest on a khukri.
”The crest is sported by all the officers and jawans of the regiment while the dagger’s martial prominence goes back to the Afghan campaigns and World War II,” says Sonam. “Victoria Crosses were won on the strength of this trusted blade.”

The badge is today a symbol for the Kapadias. “Of the valour of our son, of the army, of Kashmir and of creating an awareness of the terrorist problem,” says Harish Kapadia, Nawang’s father. “It also gave us a way to channellise our grief,” he adds. Along with his wife Geeta, Harish spends a few hours every day on the Nawang project. They have given away 2,000 badges till date-500 have been sent through mail, the rest handed out to interested people. The badges are not all that the Kapadias did to keep Nawang’s memory alive. Sonam put up a website, www.nawang.com, which has received more than 50,000 page views. Geeta took up planting trees, and Harish, a mountaineer, has gone on 15 expeditions in memory of his younger son.

Geeta and Harish wear the badge every time they leave their house; friends wear it on special occasions. Sonam took to wearing suits to work every day when he was in Mumbai so that he could display the badge more prominently. Many of his colleagues at the ICICI Bank, even non-Indians like country heads of the UK and the US, display it on the notice boards. Harish gave some to some Pakistani mountaineers during his peace expeditions. They, however, did not sport them, says Harish, ”because of the Indian state emblem on the badge”. He hastily adds that they have promised to wear it on special occasions. 

Ever since the Kapadias started giving away the badge, they have come across many who cherish the symbol. “But the most touching incident,” recalls Harish, “was when a son of a family friend took the badge to his school for a Show and Tell exercise and talked about “the insignia, Nawang kaka and the soldiers he served with”.

The respect transcends borders. Sonam says, “In London I am amazed at the love and affection the British have for the Gorkhas. People recognise the badge I sport and offer me a seat in the tube. Complete strangers have approached me and asked me about the Khukri of Honour.”

During a discussion on the badge in Oxford, the talk veered around to Kashmir and then India’s stand on the violence in the state. “It moved a friend of mine to start a passionate discussion with the NATO  defence secretary sitting next to him on why the US was turning a blind eye to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism,” recollects Sonam. “It is important for people to have an opinion on Kashmir. It might not be the view that concurs with mine, but having an opposing view is better than indifference.”

The Kapadias know that progress will be slow but they are willing to give their time, effort and money till the cause for which so many soldiers laid down their lives is etched in public memory. Says Harish: ”We don’t want the sacrifice of our soldiers forgotten. From here in Mumbai, I want to tell the soldiers fighting in Kashmir that they are not alone.” They honour the armed forces and thereby the memory of their son. “The army is too dignified to say what a fine set of men they have. They mourn the loss of life as much as we do. Only they are not so open about it,” says Sonam. “Someone has to tell the story.” The Kapadia’s badge tells a part of that story.

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