In conversation with war veteran Wing Commander M A Afraz, one of the heroes of the Kargil War of 1999 who after his service built an online memorial for the Martyred heroes of the nation called ‘Honourpoint’.
Tell us a bit about you and your family? What was your childhood like?
I worked in the Air Force for 25 years. I hail from a family of Armed forces, my Father was in the Army. Even my wife served in IAF and my brother in law is still serving in the army. I have had the childhood of a typical Army kid – studied and lived at different places all my life.
You have been a veteran of the Kargil War, tell us about your experience from the battleground.
At any war, all the forces are on high alert. Although the Kargil War was primarily fought by the Infantry of the army, the Navy and Air Force had their separate operations running. Every soldier takes part in the war, they have their roles and they dutifully do it. Kargil War was very media monitored, perhaps it was the first time stories from the Indian Army got to the drawing rooms and dinner tables. A sense of patriotism pervaded the entire country that instilled a lot of unity in the citizens. There were photos of martyrs, the news was talking of these brave hearts but the buzz eventually came to a halt. And there was no repository of these stories. Maybe, this was the first time I was convinced to do something about it.
When did you begin to think that there should be an online memorial for the Martyrs? Did you take inspirations from any other platform?
I always used to imagine where do these stories of these brave hearts eventually go. There are more than 200 memorials in India for soldiers. But they majorly only have the names and the year of martyrdom. I think it is these stories that inspire people, and we should care about them. I researched online to see how other countries acknowledge their martyrs and came across an online memorial site run by a few US veterans. That is how the idea came to me and that was the inception of Honourpoint. The mission of Honourpoint is to become the Wikipedia of the Martyrs. The idea is to bring the story of every fallen hero in the public domain. Become a one-stop platform for all the stories, anecdotes and memorabilia of the real heroes.
When did you start Honourpoint and how did you meet your co-founders.
I retired in the year 2008 and started Honourpoint in 2015. It was a little difficult to find like-minded co-founders for this platform. I reached out to the son of another army officer to develop this platform for me, his father later became the co-founder for Honourpoint. We had three co-founders when we started- me, Wing Commander Rajendra Prasad and Wing Commander L.K Choubey. Although Wing Commander Choubey could not continue for a very long due to some other prior commitments, the rest have since then stayed as trustees for the same.
Tell us a little more about the Organization and the team behind this amazing work.
Currently, we have registered the organisation as a Trust by the name Honourpoint Foundation. Me and Wing Commander Rajendra Prasad are the trustees. We are also keen to get more people from different walks of life on board. Our work canvas is so large, we need a lot of volunteers. We have associated with a few organizations that help us connect with them. We currently have 8 full-time employees in addition to the two co-founders. 4 of these are for the content and 4 are for developing the platform. As of now, most of the expense is managed by my savings. This includes our office space, operations salaries etc.
What is the bigger vision you seek to achieve through your platform?
Broadly we have 3 main objectives – One, to aggregate stories of our martyrs that can speak of their sacrifices and value the sacrifices of their families. Our platform even has stories written or curated by the family members of the martyrs and these stories continuously get added up. Two, to create awareness about this platform so that it eventually becomes a citizen-driven project. We use both physical and digital outreach programs for the same. Three, to work for the benefit of the families of the martyrs in collaboration with different organizations. We don’t do fundraisers, but yes we have done a lot of programs in many cities to build a community. Our objective is to connect the Civilian society to the cause.
How exactly does this support system for the family of martyrs work and how is it different from fundraisers?
The support that these families need from society is beyond money. More of half of them aren’t even looking for it. They want society to respect and remember their sacrifices. They want people to care for them when their family member is gone. These families should never feel alienated. This is something that the Government cannot do, it has to come from the people. We try to build such spaces for interactions through our outreach where people from different walks of life can have conversations with the family and share their burden. It makes them stronger when they know that their family’s hero is never forgotten by the nation.
What are the challenges you are currently facing in continuing with your mission?
Our work requires a lot of funds, and I think it’s only possible if we can involve corporates into the picture and make use of the CSR it would make things a lot easier. As per Schedule 7 of the New Companies Act 2013, Corporates can work for the benefit of the families of the martyrs as a CSR activity but not many are aware of it. Also, CSR policies for companies don’t change overnight, it requires a lot of deliberation from the top management team. Hence, companies often take time to process our requests. Although we have finally collaborated with Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase as their CSR partners for non-monetary activities.
I’m sure you have had truckloads of heartwarming moments in this process of building something for our martyrs. Can you share some memories?
There are countless such examples. Recently, we published the story by Wg Cdr Jaswant Singh about his martyred brother. The story of this 1971 hero was shared widely and eventually his comrades and regiment colleagues got in touch with the family almost 49 years later to pay their tribute. The best part of our platform is that every tribute written by the readers can be read by the family members. The family feels respected and honoured, it makes them feel that they are not alone. I feel happy that we could facilitate this via our platform – to be honest, I never imagined we could do it. Also, a lot of doctors, lawyers, etc have reached our platform saying that they would want to render their services for free to the families of the martyrs as their tribute. These gestures mean everything to these families.
What are your plans with the platform? How are you planning to diversify or expand?
We want to develop our platform in regional languages for ease of access of every citizen. We also need good quality content writers and employees for this gigantic task. We’ll go with it whenever get the necessary funds. We want to reach out to as many families of the martyrs as possible. Since most of them are from remote areas, hence the access is a little difficult.