Martyrs and Martyrdom

1 Mar

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A word that has almost become part of the Indian English vocabulary with a new meaning is “Martyr”.

The usage includes, “He was martyred” meaning he was killed, usually a soldier in battle or defending a post. When a CRPF policeman is killed by a Naxalite, that is also described as “Martyrdom”.

“When an individual joins the armed forces, he, almost by definition, puts his life at risk. A soldier or an army officer can actually die while doing his duty. But do all army personnel who die while doing their duty deserve to be treated like martyrs?” (The Telegraph, Thursday, January 7, 2016:

“Martyr is not the traditional or official term for professional soldiers killed in uniform or civilian victims of terrorist attacks. Yet recently, most notably after the Uri attack, the media, government and even ordinary people have increasingly begun to use the locution for deceased soldiers and, at times, even civilian victims of terror. The misuse of a word as powerful as that is not merely a semantic error — it is also a kind of moral sleight-of-hand that allows the powers that be to obfuscate the complexity of the world we live in and their own negligence in the tragedy of innocent lives lost.” (The Indian Express, Aakash Joshi | Updated: September 24, 2016 12:09 pm:

“The government does not declare any of the security forces personnel who die in action as ‘martyr’, the Lok Sabha was informed on Tuesday…[Minister of State for Home, Kiren] Rijiju was responding to a question “whether the government has codified the term ‘martyrs’ for placing the posthumous soldiers in the category of martyrs? If so, the details and if not, whether the government proposes to make such a codification?” (The Times of India, PTI | Dec 6, 2016, 05.07 PM IST:

The word “Martyr” describes a person who chose death rather than renounce his religion. The word “Martyr” is of Greek origin meaning “Witness”.

The facile and unthinking use of the word appears to be from the Hindi or Urdu usage, “Shaheed hui”.

According to Mufti Taqi Usmani, ‘Shaheed’ in the real sense is a Muslim who has been killed during “Jihad” or has been killed by any person unjustly…the word “Shaheed” can only be used for a Muslim and cannot be applied to a non-Muslim at all.” (

The expression, വീര മ്രുത്യു “Veera Mruthyu” is heard in Malayalam news and is probably closer to the intended meaning of “Martyrdom”. Additionally, the expression is derived from Sanskrit.

The Tamil usage is: சமயத்திற்காக உயிர் துறக்கும் தியாகி “Samayattiṟkāka uyir tuṟakkum tiyāki” (One who sacrifices his life before his time). Another expression is, “போர் தியாகியாக or Pōr tiyākiyāka (One who has sacrificed his life in battle). The central idea appears to be “tiyagam” or “Thyagam” which means sacrifice.

In the meantime, bash on regardless!

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