It is one thing to read about faraway battles in a tiny inconspicuous newspaper column…It is another to live through one and know the people who have fought and died in them….My only regret is that the country would never know what fine men and women are lost in avoidable battles and often meaningless causes
Soldiers love to tell War stories. Soldiers in combat neither live in the past nor in the future, but in the moment. Some day even the toughest and most trying days would just be a memory and perhaps a cause for reunion and celebration, a reason for story telling.
My own experience has been moderate and pales to insignificance in comparison to some others. I am neither a hero nor an achiever. I am just like all other officers and men of our fine army.
What follows is not a story or an account of my encounter but an introspective examination of the effects of shouldering the responsibilities of lives of those under my command and the power over the lives of people we were sent to protect. The suffering and violence of a set of people I came to know against the backdrop of those you do not and of course of having faced death at close quarters in action. For years one trains and then waits for such moments- many fade away, never having had an opportunity. Having been through one I have realized what makes a soldier a different species – and how fickle and pointless human ambitions and concerns seem.
I and others like me are trained and commissioned to lead men into actions that our country demands of us. We lead men, tell them what should be done and how to do it. We have no obligation to listen to their point of view but WE HAVE TO LEAD BY EXAMPLE.
The quality of loyalty that a military leader enjoys depends directly on his own conduct. Loyalty is nothing but a conditional relationship dictated by the perception of a subordinate that the superior is acting honourably in his position of leadership. Once he loses that trust the relationship is dissolved and subordinates begin to question the leadership. It is important that we have faith in our men and more importantly live up to the faith the men have in us.
Military leadership is a privilege that does not come everyone’s way. It is prestigious in terms of not only the privileges it confers but also the responsibilities that come along with it; most important being that of upholding the values and traditions of our glorious army, whatever be the cost. In combat leadership location is everything. Leading from the front puts you in charge and gives you a first hand clear picture of what lies ahead. Moreover we would be exposed to the maximum risk and thus earn the respect of the men we lead. That is what is most important to us as officers and leaders.
The respect comes to an officer for bearing the burden and costs of his status and not by his position alone and that burden invariably shows on his chest. That perhaps explains why an award for gallantry is almost always accompanied by a wound medal.
Our men the JCOs (junior commissioned officer), NCOs (non commissioned officer) and ORs make up the bulk of our unit. They are not mere numbers, like a newspaper report that says “10 army personnel killed”. They are men responding to the call of our nation facing ruthless enemies of our country in the name of duty and honour. They are men who put their lives in the line of fire everyday, often abandoned and scorned by the very countrymen who adored them in times of conflict.
They are as human as anyone else. Each with an aspiration for their lives and a future they wish to enjoy with their loved ones.
Soldiers perform silently and uncomplainingly because loyalty to ones unit and towards ones duty counts more than individual beliefs. And everyday our men do their duty. Whatever be the price! They are young, at least not old enough to die.
Their qualities of physical and moral courage and their dedication to each other in some of the most trying times mark them out as the noblest of humans. Every regimental officer feels proud to be in their company and enjoy leading such men. They inspire us to try harder to live unto their expectations. They teach us what we cannot learn from all the management courses or manuals. And they also teach us not to take life too seriously and at the same time to enjoy ourselves.
I looked at the girl. She was as was old as my niece .Her body was trembling. Her eyes are reddened so are hands. It is her blood let out by bullets that pierced through her tender hands. Could it be from my carbine? The answer hits me like a shot. It could be. It hurts me more than my wounds.
I try to turn over to touch the girl to wipe her tears. Her terror increases. I try to give her a chocolate. She doesn’t take it. Perhaps she has never seen one or she doesn’t want it from me. I try a smile. She is confused; must be wondering who this madman is? I cannot believe how close we came to killing her. An innocent angel. Only chance spared her then. Yet she had no chance of survival if she didn’t reach a hospital soon enough. The nearest hospital was at Tamenglong district and that would be six hours away on foot. Perhaps that may be too late.
The chopper arrived to take me to Base Hospital. I requested that the girl be evacuated to Tamenglong, that was 5 minutes by chopper and where my Battalion was. The pilot refused, insisting I needed more medical attention than her. I said it is my dying wish, please fulfill it. The girl left for Tamenglong. A woman from the group of onlookers fell at my feet. She was the mother. I ask her to get up asking for forgiveness. She doesn’t understand my language but she knew she had reason to be grateful to the army. There is a language that doesn’t need words – that of basic human values. It was all I could do in that moment. It was all I could do.
I knew her death would not be illegal or immoral. It would have been reported as killed in crossfire. But could I carry the burden of guilt all my life, of the death of an innocent child who didn’t understand the meaning of region nor religion - in whose name we wage all our wars?
In an instant I realized the insanity of war. There was enough blood and killing and tears. And it would go on. The operations were over. I gathered my patrol congratulated them for a job well done and replayed the CO’s taped message. Now I needed to be alone with my thoughts. The wounds of this battle would give me a long time to myself. I had to understand the meaning of it all.
Self styled Commander SS Phumsang
We do not hate the people we fight against. The fact that some of them may kill us is not reason enough to hate them or abuse them. They resent our presence, which they feel threatens them. They are men and women with basic rights like any other human being with inherent need for social justice and security. At the same time we cannot sympathize with them….
HE LIVED AND DIED FOR WHAT HE BELIEVED WAS RIGHT
MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE
A lifeless corpse - a mockery of the valiant fight and the ideals he stood for. You are a hero for killing the bad guys. You are admired and honoured. The adulation is a celebration of being alive; purchased at a cost of someone else’s life.
It was my job. As leader it was my duty to kill the insurgents to preserve the peace and order. I was to kill and ask others to kill. As I would do again tomorrow if need be. Our opponents, not enemies were also young. Even in their faith, killing was not the essence of existence.
But then Combat is personal. Kill or be killed. A Question of survival!
The essence of humanity disappears in a thin line, that differentiates life from death.
The safety, honour and welfare of my country comes first always and every time,
The safety, honour and welfare of the men I command comes next,
My own safety, comfort and welfare comes last always and every time.
Military service has a number of attractions, it also has features which deter men of sound reason and not man enough, the main being the number of challenges that constantly come up. The challenge to overcome fear is one of them.
Fear itself is not shameful. In fact absence of fear would be an abnormality of character. The challenge lies not in denying fear but being able to function in the face of it. It is an internal struggle.
I was not only afraid of being physically handicapped or killed but also had other fears. Of being a blatant coward stripped of all pride, self-respect and honour. Or going mad, born of terror – going berserk and trigger happy devoid of any guilt and shame. Spiritually and mentally handicapped.
I had to cope with my fears to be an effective and ideal leader. I had to watch myself carefully. Was I what I thought I was myself?
I have realized how little control we have over our own lives. Call it by any name – destiny, luck, chance providence or fate. It is born of something uncontrollable by humans.
That explains why I chose to head for a particular house in the village. And why the bullets then chose to go through boneless flesh rather than savagely through the heart. Or perhaps why the wooden door came in between me and the grenade splinters. Or why God chose to give me a second lease of life...
This point has been driven home several times. Perhaps it couldn’t be more apt in my case – to be on a patrol in a faraway land having been written off early in my career as an arrogant and insubordinate officer. To prove my military leadership and caliber against all odds and under fire….
So we have to wait not knowing the hands of fate and destiny to take us through a meaning full life, well lived.
And be remembered long after we are gone in the hearts and minds of the people in whose lives we made a difference…
The jungles of North Eastern India are awesome enough to send chills down one’s spine each time the leaves rustle or a twig snaps. Wild carnivores, giant pythons, and even tribes of cannibalistic headhunters inhabit these jungles. Blood sucking leeches and swarms of mosquitoes prey on every living being that dares to venture into the thick foliage. These factors are indeed discouraging enough to demolish the enthusiasm of any determined adventurer coming to this region.
In these same jungles, hundreds of misguided men, drawn from amongst the local population, ruthlessly wage war on the Government of India. Having organized themselves into an insurgency movement, they have created hideouts and bases in these jungles. All of them are thoroughly trained in guerrilla warfare by experts from across the borders and equipped with the latest and most sophisticated weapons. These insurgents have converted parts of the jungles into killing fields, fully prepared with booby traps, camouflaged pits and well chosen ambush sites. They prey on the tribal folks, collecting taxes and enjoying ‘hospitality’ of ordinary homes whenever they feel like it.
The Government of India has left no stone unturned in its relentless efforts to safeguard the liberty and rights of the hundreds of thousands of innocent people of the region from marauding insurgents. In most places, the police forces and state administration have proved ineffective. The army was sent in turning the entire operation into a long drawn military campaign lasting so many decades. Today it appears to most people in the country that the trouble in the North East is something between the Army and insurgents. This is largely due to ignorance and lack of knowledge. The army’s role is like that of a qualified surgeon who is called in to remove the cancer in a patient on the operating table and having done so hands over the patient to the hosp staff- the doctors and nurses for post operative care and recovery. In this case the cancer is the terrorist and the hospital staff is the state administration and the police force. Just like the Specialist the army should never have been staying there for so long in the first place.
The Army’s job is difficult, yet undertaken unflinchingly, and with utmost determination to mount enough pressure on terrorists, so that the threat to peace is eliminated quickly enough. Insurgents have a great advantage because they are able to tie in the local population unto themselves, for securing their loyalty either through filial relationships or through terror. In order to provide reassurance to the people, small Army units are often compelled to exert themselves beyond limits of human endurance. Many soldiers have died and many wounded. Brave deeds go largely unnoticed, because in recent times, for several reasons, the media haven’t ventured in the area. Many untold stories remain etched in the minds of the surviving soldiers or grateful people who were direct beneficiaries.
The army is an alien presence, which can be blamed easily enough for almost anything. Often without reason but sometimes even the army crumbles from its chosen positions. If that begins to happen too often then the end of law and order is in sight and will ultimately lead to the collapse of the Indian Republic.
“Hello amma, this is me ….
Oh I am fine absolutely fine.
How are you all? A small incident.
Yes my CO told me he spoke to you.
No no – I am not really hurt. Well, yes a bit but not so bad.
Just a few scratches. Please don’t cry. I am not hurt.
I hope they told you. I am a hero … everyone is proud of me … aren’t you too. I guess I will come home soon so don’t bother coming here. How are dad, Jyoti and Deepti. Tell them I am OK. I’ll write a detailed letter soon. I love you all”.
I hung up and returned to the present to my pain and agony. I saw another wounded moving around the phone. He looks pre-occupied as if trying to compose the words to reassure folks at home
I wake from my dream with a start. I try to sit up. Outside I see a very clear morning. My dream was fresh. I feel it lingering again and again.
Who were they!
How many? Think!
I didn’t know them, may be I saw grandpa. He left for his heavenly abode last year. Did he tell me I didn’t belong here? Did he ask me to go back?
In the dream I moved fast as if in a spacecraft. I saw them staring at me. Eyes wide open but nothing in them. They looked stiff and their stares were blank. I wanted to speak to them.
Tell them of my heroic deed. But no one answered. They were not interested. I realized the irrelevance of my action. Did I contribute to that evil or did I lessen that evil in doing what was right. By doing what I was supposed to do? I shall never know.
“Na cai’tad vidmah Kataran no gariyo
yad va jayema yadi va na jayeyah”
“We do not know which for us is better, whether we conquer them or they conquer us”
“Atha cet tvam imam dharmyam
samgraman na karisyasi
Tatah svad Harman kirtin ca
Hitav papam avapsyasi”
But if thou doest not do this lawful duty then thou will fail thy duty and glory and will incur sin”
National Defense Academy- The cradle for leadership
As one nears the NDA and reads the sign board that announces the first view of NDA it makes my hair stand up the same way as it did the first time I reached there as a young boy of 16.
This institution has taught me a lot and I cannot express it here because the feeling is deep inside me and I cannot bring it out in words. I do not know how but this institution has implanted deep within me the love for my country and instilled in me values of honour and duty and like me, in all its graduates.
These values are the strength that preserve our country from the forces seeking to undermine her - whether it be by design of evil countries or by our own citizens whose lack of values are steadily but unmistakably eroding and dividing this country.
This magnificent building exists with the sole purpose of turning young boys into men. Young men trained and commissioned to be leaders who would fight and win against the enemies of our state.
You need to belong here to know what makes this place what it is. It is a holy place that we cannot think of it without reverence and affection that one would do to a shrine.
And every visit to this hallowed institution is a pilgrimage to seek inspiration and renew our faith.
Integrity and loyalty
In peacetime there are no yardsticks by which one may measure the true potential of an officer. Thus managerial skills get precedence over integrity and honor that sets apart a man from the minions and becomes a standard of performance. There may be nothing wrong in it but it could be that the managerial officer sees his troops as a resource to be used or misused for advancing his own career rather than as a moral charge to be defended and protected by trust, faith, personal sacrifice and example. And these manager officers s tend to evaluate the subordinates by their own yardsticks and measure loyalty towards themselves rather than to the unit and country.