Do We Care?: For All Those Soldiers has been edited by Rushi Bhimani.
This is for each and every soldier there ever was and are to come.
If you had to pick, what would you pick out to be the toughest job?
Some would say, it’s definitely a doctor’s job; there you’re in charge of someone’s life and decisions are made within split seconds. While some would say, the job of a Supreme Court Judge, as he decides people’s fate and faces a constant dilemma—whether to condemn with life imprisonment or the death penalty. Whereas, a few might feel that the job of a teacher is the toughest because a person’s future is in their hands; an entire country’s future is in their hands.
However, the one job that is a culmination of all of these roles and beyond is that of a soldier.
A soldier is required to make split second decisions that involve taking a person’s life. Or maybe a split second decision to sacrifice his own life so that the rest of his men can continue fighting and go on to live another day. An officer ought to lead by example. In the proud traditions of the Indian army, it’s the officer who leads his assault team in battle. He’s the one who takes point of raiding terrorist compounds and he is also the first one to step on a landmine. This example of courage, indomitable spirit and just the sheer determination was exemplary in Kargil.
There’s a saying in the Indian Army which says, that just like corporates, the attrition in the army is permanent. However, the mistakes the army makes, come back home in body bags. One step wrong and all you are is an official name and number in the list titled ‘KIA’.
Lt. Manoj Pandey, Capt. Vijyant Thapar, Capt. Vikram Batra, Capt. Anuj Nayyar, Maj. Vivek Gupta, Grenadier Yogendra Yadav, Rifleman Sanjay Kumar are some…just some names from Kargil that we remember. Do you know why? They went out of their way to make sure that the person next to them made it out alive. They made sure that the flag of their country flew high over what has now been officially established as the world’s highest battlefield.
But what we might be unaware about is that there were 527 others who were killed and 1,363 who were badly injured.
So what odds did our soldiers face when it came to Kargil? They faced not one but four enemies in Kargil. Four, you ask? So the deal was that they had to bear the brunt of enemies who weren’t just determined but very well trained with an advantage of being on the peak; enabling them to see as far as four kilometres. Anything moving in an olive green uniform and they’d try their best to silence them. Our men had to battle the cold with temperatures dropping to -35 degrees in the supposed ‘summer’ months without time to acclimatize on those withering heights. Cerebral edema—a situation where your brain fills with your own fluid—and pulmonary edema—a situation where lungs fill with your own fluids, which results in a feeling of drowning within yourself—claimed the lives of many of our comrades who never even got to fire a shot.
They were tasked to climb near vertical slopes and capture peaks as high as 18,500 ft. above sea level and had to do all of these things with equipment that were sub-standard in comparison to what Pakistan had acquired from China.
Let me try to put things into perspective: We were using standard rifles whereas they were firing anti-aircraft guns at regular soldiers trying to recapture hill tops. It was an unbalanced battle, to say the least.
Yet, at times all we do is imagine because no amount of words can justly put things into perspective.
Having said everything that I have, I’d take a moment to put up a question in front of you. It’s something I’ve contemplated numerous times but still it keeps coming back to me:
Do we care?
Seventeen years to the day and do we even give a damn about who fought? Do we care about the kind of difficulties our soldiers faced? What was it like for the families? The answer to that and all questions of a similar nature —every single time—is a big, resounding ‘no’.
Let us admit it, we don’t care about Kargil. It doesn’t disturb us as it does not affect us directly. It did happen a long time ago. To substantiate our nonchalance we say, ‘Ek fauji ka toh kaam hota hai yeh. Humaari suraksha aur time aane par desh ke liye jaan dene ke liye hi toh isaan fauj mein bharti hota hai!’
A soldier’s job is to serve his country and in the process he might become a martyr. That does not imply he steps in the battlefield to die. What he does is, he steps in prepared to die, if need be.
Big difference. A really big difference.
Yet here we are with not even a national crematorium or war memorial for our heroes. Such is the nature of the human mind that till the time something doesn’t directly concern us, we couldn’t be bothered.
For someone who actually went through or goes through the ordeal of having their fathers, husbands, sons or brothers in the forces, it’s not easy. It’s not always ballroom dances and the clink of whiskey glasses. It barely is.
You’re always hoping that you aren’t on the other end of a certain phone call. Hoping yet knowing full well that it’s a real daunting possibility. You’re always hoping that even though it’s just for two minutes, you get to hear the voice of your loved one. You’re always counting days backwards when you know they’re finally coming home.
As for a soldier, it’s the wrath of the enemy from one end and the longing to kiss his wife or to hug his new born daughter, whom he is yet to see. These feelings torment him day and night but when he stands guard, his focus shifts to a far greater cause. This is true for a soldier of any nationality and has been the case across centuries.
Today, Kargil is seen as this major victory against Pakistan and it’s absolutely true. We annihilated them and took back what was rightfully ours. We did that with dignity and compassion. Even for the enemy. We never fired unless fired upon. However when we did fire, there were bodies rolling down the steep mountains. Even till this day, there are people in uniform or otherwise, dying in the valley.
Violence reports and curfews in J&K fall on deaf ears of the population and of those sitting in Delhi.
Somehow, we still don’t care.
I don’t have answers for these questions and as far as Kargil is concerned, it’s already been seventeen years. I’m just glad and thankful that I was lucky enough to see my superhero come back home.
I leave you with the last words of a man who displayed exemplary courage in the face of grave danger and hardships and came out on top.
I have no regrets, in fact even if I become a human again, I’ll join the Army and fight for my Nation. If you can, please come and see where the Indian Army fought for you tomorrow.
-Captain Vijyant Thappar
Vir Chakra (Posthumously)
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