With a long history rooted in the export of pepper and rubber, the State of Kerala is located in southwest India on the Malabar Coast. Noted for its high rate of literacy, house boats, and tourist attractions, it is a region of India that is ranked high on the Human Development Index (HDI), which is “a new way of measuring development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a composite” ranking of geographic areas and countries. Consisting of a population that is 56.2% Hindu, 24.7% Muslim, and 19% Christian, Kerala is a region of India in which very little sectarian violence takes place – making it a relatively serene example of religious tolerance in a country that has experienced intense hostilities with neighboring Pakistan. One of the more bloody conflicts involving Pakistan and India occurred in 1971, when India invaded East Pakistan to end the persecution of Hindus living in that area as a significant minority of the population. A decisive victory for the Indian military, the war involved nearly 1 million troops – with about 12,843 killed in battle, another 14,201 wounded, close to a 100,000 prisoners of war, and approximately 10 million refugees that fled East Pakistan into India.
One of those serving in the victorious Indian Navy was Akb Kumar, who would retire in 1985 as a Chief Petty Officer with 18 years of military experience. Now age 62, Kumar has recently spent his life savings in the erection of a memorial to war heroes and terror victims, as an effort “to tell the world to discard weapons and embrace peace.” A resident of Alappuzha, a city located in the State of Kerala, Kumar chose a location nearby at Thumpolly Junction along National Highway 47 for the construction of his memorial, which is purposefully designed to resemble the Taj Mahal, the famous mausoleum constructed in Agra, India by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1648. Comprising an area of 7,000 square feet, the monument is about 42 feet high and includes four minarets that represent the Indian Army, Navy, Air Force and Paramilitary Forces. Along the walls are engraved the names of war heroes and terror victims, including those who lost their lives in the infamous Mumbai Attacks, which took place from November 26 to November 29, 2008 – claiming the lives of 166 Indian citizens and seriously injuring at least another 308. Coordinated by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), these attacks were the work of Islamic extremists that targeted the Taj Majal, movie theaters, hospitals, cafes, bus terminals, a Jewish community center, and St. Xavier’s Catholic University in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay).
Kumar presently lives with his family in living accommodations that are attached to the back side of the Global Peace Palace, which received its official inauguration on December 27, 2011. The website proudly includes a list of “martyrs,” as well as an application process through which individuals and families can volunteer to help or suggest other names to be honored by the memorial. In describing his motivation for using his life savings to honor
those that have fallen in battle and as victims of terror, Kumar is fervent about the propagation of peace:
“Why should we spend millions of rupees in the name of war? The poor continue to remain poor and underprivileged. The rich countries have started an arms race, creating a sense of insecurity all around, forcing the third world countries to also jump into the arms race that causes a major dent to their exchequer. Acts like this have caused countries like India to slide into poverty. This thinking led me to construct the ‘Global Peace Palace’ to spread the message against war.”
Kumar spent approximately $450,000 on the construction of his unique monument, a sum he raised mostly from the sale of family property, including a coconut plantation his wife had inherited. Since the architect who designed the building is a personal friend, the total cost is considerably discounted from normal expectations. Since October of 2012, he has been in the process of placing all the flags of the world around the palace. The admission to the Global Peace Palace is free, so his intentions must be viewed in terms of altruism.
While considering the story of Akb Kumar and his dream of peace, one is reminded of the role religious intolerance has played in terrorism – which is very evident in the Mumbai Attacks. As David Gibson of the Huffington Post has noted, absolutist religious beliefs and radical political narrow mindedness often combine to “act as an accelerant to terrorism.” Cultural concerns, economic factors, and psychology also play a prominent role, but religion becomes the rallying point around which fanatics express their discontent with the powerful elite by killing and maiming the innocent. Psychology Today has labeled this phenomenon “Sacred Terror,” involving engagements that “take on an over-powering, transcendental necessity” for the person committing the violence. Kumar should be lauded for his realization that a monument can become a valuable instrument in combating this horrific pattern, for a memorial dedicated to the victims of terrorism is the most meaningful in the hope, tolerance, and peace it offers to the world – while also recognizing those that have died innocently. In a deep sense, such a testimonial honors and speaks to the future of the world far more than it does the past.
You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.