Published: 26th July 2017
#DaughtersOfWar: Gurmehar Kaur on Kargil Diwas: I understand nationalism and patriotism just as much as the loss and the pain it carries
A few months ago, Gurmehar Kaur was massively trolled and harassed online for her views on how war had killed her father in Kargil. On Kargil Diwas, she tells us what life was like without her dad
Gurmehar Kaur was only three years old when her father was martyred in Kargil. So the first time she really felt the absence of her father, Captain Mandeep Singh, was on her first day of school. While all the other children had two parents who came to drop them off, Gurmehar only had one.
Even though she was that young, Gurmehar says that she still some strong memories of him, "They are very few but they are pretty vivid in my head." One of the events she remembers after her father's death is the gun salute, "I remember getting very scared by the sound. It is a reason why I don't really look forward to Diwali like everybody else, the firecrackers remind me of the guns," she recalls. But understanding the concept of death was still a hard thing, "I didn't even understand or realise what life was, how would I know about death?" she queries.
Aren't you that martyr's kid?
What happened on the first day of school to Gurmehar did not stop with that first day, it was something that happened repeatedly over the years. "Annual days and sports days were all mirrors to what a normal life would look like. But besides that on the first day of every school year, we would have to introduce ourselves - our name and the names of our parents and what they did. So everyone would know that I was a martyr's daughter. So it didn't matter that my grades were good or my handwriting was good, my teachers always knew me first as the girl who didn't have a parent. That is something that upset me and made me feel very different from the others," Gurmehar said, reaching into the past.
Like other families of martyrs, Gurmehar also said she never liked it when people gave her sympathy.
Annual days and sports days were all mirrors to what a normal life would look like. But besides that on the first day of every school year, we would have to introduce ourselves - our name and the names of our parents and what they did. So everyone would know that I was a martyr's daughter. So it didn't matter that my grades were good or my handwriting was good, my teachers always knew me first as the girl who didn't have a parent. That is something that upset me and made me feel very different from the others
Gurmehar Kaur, Student, author and activist
A life less ordinary?
If her father would have lived, Gurmehar thinks that her life would have been completely different, "I think I would have been a very privileged child learning something like horse riding, going to the May Fair or Balls in the regiment. I would have probably done Science instead of Literature because my father likes Science and Math," she reflects. Gurmehar said that she sought solace in Literature and books became her shield, which was why she decided to pursue it instead of any other subject.
Clearly, there's no upside. Perhaps the one small takeaway from losing her father is that it has made her more empathetic, Gurmehar says, "Maybe I wouldn't have felt as much about gender partiality or other human rights issues otherwise. I wouldn't have felt so empathetic to a Syrian child or even taken the stands that I take today."
War, peace and the Pride question
People automatically assume that she feels a sense of deep pride over her martyred father. Gurmehar, for her part, said that she definitely does feel proud of him but she would never wish her life upon anyone. "I'm of course very proud of what he did and for the cause that he died for but there's also the pain of losing him. No one should have to go through that. Which is why I wish there are no wars in the future. As much as people would want me to feel some sort of sadistic pleasure out of being vindictive, I don't wish such a thing to ever happen again."
In fact, the whole 'glory in war' debate is something that she has pondered over. Gurmehar said, "Even in Homer's Iliad, Achilles lost his brother, Hector lost his life and Helen was left with no one. It is a great story but also highlights wreckage. It's a deeply philosophical question (about there being glory in war) and I haven't reached a stage yet where I fully understand it."
These "people" Gurmehar is probably referring to are the trolls who harassed her over her Indo-Pak peace campaign video about how she wishes that there are no more girls who live the life that she has lived. "These arm-chair war-mongers tried to teach me what patriotism is. But I understand patriotism and nationalism, and what I also understand that the trolls didn't (understand) is the price of war."
Haters gonna hate, hate, hate
The 19-year-old says that she finds such patriotism hollow, "The video that garnered so much controversy was made much before the trolls started hitting out. People had given me a lot of love when it came out first. But these trolls want me to harbour hate towards another country. I don't feel any hate towards anyone, I respect and love people all the same. I can't contain hate, there is simply no place for it in my life. I have enough negatively in my life - the loss and the pain it brings is massive, so no. No hate for me." Was she always this mature, especially when you grow up hearing about how Pakistanis are the enemy and they probably 'killed' her father?
As a young child, Gurmehar recalls saying mean things about Muslims but her mother taught her not to hate, "She was very proud of my statements and the stand I took. She taught me that hate was never worth it."
Despite the online harassment, Gurmehar is continuing to spread the message of peace. She recently signed a book deal with Penguin and her book 'Little Acts of Freedom' will be out in 2018. Currently, in her second year of college, she has great plans for the future, she wants to be able to harvest change in issues that are relevant to the times. "I hope to help as many people as I can. My father served the country, I want to continue his legacy by serving humanity," she says quietly.