CHANDIGARH: I was born in a Rajput family and consequently brought up on the notions of ‘living up’ to being one.

My father was a commissioned officer in the British Army and his military travails took him to far-flung outposts, and I was brought up by my grandparents. My grandfather was a progressive educationist who believed that education was the only way out of society’s regressive tendencies and ‘cultures’. While a proud Rajput, he was unsparing of the communities’ retrograde rigidities and empty posturing that needed to shed and contemporise, without letting go of the ‘spirit’ (befittingly, he started a Rajput Student’s Aid Society to propagate the community’s educational needs). He would repeatedly say, “A Rajput is made by Karma and not just by Dharma or Janama”.

Education made perfect sense, independence had just taken place and we were ‘Indians’ before any other denomination, albeit, proud (not supremacist) of our family’s and community’s history.

My ode to my forefathers and my own dreams took me to the imposing steps of the Jodhpur-stone building of the NDA, at the age of fifteen. I then thought, soldering was the only way to answer the call to honour (am wiser today), and my grandfather gently acquiesced.

I joined the ‘Rajput Regiment’ at the age of nineteen and for the next forty one years, wore the Rajput lanyard with much aplomb and justifiable pride. We were baptized with the 1965 Indo-Pak war, and like any subaltern, hero-worshipped my Commanding Officer, a fatherly figure with an imposing personality, reckless bravado with a provincial heart that bled for his soldiers, Colonel ‘Baba’ Gill – a strapping Sikh, quintessentially ‘Rajput’.

Irrespective of the casteist nomenclature, it is a ‘mixed’ Regiment with India’s myriad diversities that proudly call themselves, ‘Rajput soldiers’. So, Kamal Ram our Regiments’ Victoria Cross winner is a Gujjar by caste and my own unit’s pride, Field Marshall Cariappa, a Coorgi – for us, they are as much ‘Rajputs’, as our PVC winner, Yadunath Singh.

Being a ‘Rajput’ is an idea, and not a caste – part historical, part mythical and the exact veracity of our stories, irrelevant. The Indian Army has an inexplicable ‘Indian’ formulation that belies the obvious – the current Chief of Indian Army, ostensibly a Rajput by caste, a Garhwali by regional definition, is neither a ‘Rajput Officer’ nor a ‘Garhwali Officer’ – He is a very proud ‘Gorkha Officer’!

Our regiment stoically insists, “Victory or death in battle has been the religion of the Rajput from time immemorial. It is his character that he knows no fear”, this ingrained ‘spirit’ drove a fearless ‘Rajput’ in Major B.K. Pant to exhort his men, with his last dying words to defending the indefensible in 1962 Indo-Chinese war, “Men of the Rajput Regiment, you were born to die for your country.

God has selected this small river for which you must die. Stand up and fight like true Rajputs”. 282 gallant soldiers of 2nd Rajput were massacred in the attack, our ‘spirit’ and resolve, wasn’t – the roll of honour of the martyrs included all castes, regional, ethnic and religious divisions – we are proud of them as ‘Rajput soldiers’.

I therefore struggle to comprehend the absurdity that surrounds the Jaipur ‘Rajput’ drama. Like all communities, Rajputs are a reality, who like others have evolved their own narratives, values and mythologies that they choose to remain invested in – faith is illogical and not necessarily factual, and that is fine. But ‘values’, and not the antiquated rituals and grandstanding, should matter.

Maharana Pratap is lesser known for his territorial conquests, and more for his nobility of ‘never accepting defeat’. He was aided in that by the indomitable tribals of the region i.e. Bhils, who shared the sense of honour of their beloved Mewar.

Beyond fearlessness, the other two equally definitive Rajput ‘values’ are chivalry and civility. This ‘spirit’ supposedly made Prithiviraj Chauhan release Muhammad Ghori after capturing him – it is the spirit of magnanimity that we celebrate. What the mob did in Jaipur does not qualify as gallant, civil or chivalrous.

Likewise it is true, like many stereotypicalised impressions, Bollywood is guilty of perpetuating the ‘Thakur’, as a villainous character. In a 90’s potboiler, “Joh Jeeta Who Sikander”, the two competing colleges were named ‘Modern’ and ‘Rajput’ – shockingly, the goons and villains belong to the ‘Rajput’ college, with the underlying supposition of the exact opposite of ‘Rajput’ to be the hero’s college, ‘Modern’. Bollywood personifies some communities to bring comic relief, some nationalism and yet some, villainy.

I unequivocally disagree with this oversimplifications, but I do not express dissent with violence. Often I squirm at the screen allusions that run contrary to my belief-systems and I try to put my contrarian point across, as much as I can, in as civil a manner, as I can. My violent streak is reserved for my country’s enemies on the LOC, not within (like it did for of the braveheart from Rajasthan, Major Shaitan Singh PVC). There too, the mandate is to conduct oneself in a manner befitting the nobility of a soldier and not the ignobility of a terrorist or a mercenary.

Therefore, I reserve my equal displeasure at some young talented artistes who choose to express their justifiable anger at the condemnable act of a few in Jaipur, by either dropping ‘family names’ or expressing ‘shame’ on belonging to the community. By being ‘ashamed’ or dropping family names, you closet the entire community as the exclusive preserve of the retrogrades, that derides all.

To each his/her own, but am saddened to see the alacrity and selective sense of outrage, as the foolishness of some is given a sweeping and collective condemnation. Dropping name is an insult of unimaginable import and symbolism, this community and its modern rendition like the Regimental soldiers lay down their lives to uphold the ‘Rajput’ name. On the contrary, the successful amongst the community need to guide, inspire and enlighten and not surrender to shame on social media, that is easy to do – but, it is your choice and I can differ with you, in the same way as I do wholeheartedly, with the elements of the Jaipur mob.

My own unit, 17th Rajput has a suffix, ‘Barhe Chalo’ – militarily it connotes the unstoppable, however, societally it is decodable as a goad to continuously evolve and enlighten oneself to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Being a ‘Rajput’ is beyond casteism, it is a concept that my grandfather taught me to ‘live up’ to, wherein, the ‘State’ with all its elements was above all (from Mewar’s and Marwar’s then, to India now), and where ‘values’ mattered.

I remain a proud ‘Rajput’ without its narrow, ignorable or pejorative context, though very concerned about a few community members, who bring disrepute by uncivil acts or abject surrender, either ways, unbecoming of a ‘Rajput’.

(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd), PVSM, AVSM is former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)