The Burning Valley: A Soldier’s Story has been edited by Rushi Bhinani
The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time.
The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next.
Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.
-Indian Military Academy Pledge
When I was in the academy, life was difficult. Never did I see a dull day or one where you could sit down and relax. Waking up at 4:30 every morning, to get ready for PT at 5:15, was the routine. The running…oh the seemingly never ending running! However, as dreadful as it may seem, it turned regular boys into men with stallion like calves. Right from attending classes, to obstacle courses, to night marching, and weapons training, you name it and we were made experts in it. We had to be. One thing that was instilled in all of us throughout our academy days was that, we are constantly at war. For us to breathe freely in the interior of the country meant someone out there just breathed their last.
Those words left a lasting impression on me. And they never seemed truer than that time in Kashmir.
There I was, a hot blooded, twenty four year old young lieutenant, trained by the best to be the best. My automatic rifle in hand, loaded and ready, while my men were waiting for me to lead them on a ‘search and destroy’ mission. There are a thousand scenarios playing on in your head, before you are about to raid a building suspected to be a terrorist hideout. The fact, that we are humans too hits us harder than any other time. We think of our families back home. Of our wives and girlfriends who we kissed goodbye, before we left. We think about our unborn child.
However, the minute we hear the word ‘go’, we get our game faces on and we hunt them down. There’s a saying in the army that ‘we don’t kill by choice; we kill by profession.’ That night, I killed.
Two militants met their maker before they could reach their AK’s. The flash bang blinded them and all of my training rushed back to me: a three bullet ‘burst’ on the torso. I was on ‘point’ because it was me who was leading them. I was in charge of their lives. In all of the smoke and conundrum there was a lot of confusion. Night vision only does so much. I told my team to split up and search for remaining hostiles. That’s when it happened. Gunfire. A painstakingly loud scream, a thud on the floor and then one of my men shouting ‘Saab! goli maar di haraamzado ne…’.
When I got to that room, he was on the floor with the others surrounding him. His head on another soldier’s lap. A young soldier from Manipur, barely 21. He had enlisted directly after school, didn’t even have proper beard yet. But his courage was unparalleled in the assault team. He was barely breathing by the time I got there, but his eyes were open. He waved at me as if asking me to listen to him. As I got closer, he whimpered ‘saab, meri maa ko batana…ki mai bahadur tha’.
Just like that, Sepoy Ashwin Thapa, was gone. Behind him, he left a mother who was going to get a dreaded phone call in an hour’s time, a demotivated group of men who were taught that this was the reality of the valley and also, an officer who couldn’t wash off the blood off of his conscience.
After the raid was over and we went back to base, I had to brief my superiors about the operation. My commanding officer, a Kargil veteran himself, patted me on the back and in his deep, thoughtful voice said, “Son! This is the reality of life. This is the reality of war. This…this is Kashmir.”
They say we are inhuman. They say that we are mercenaries doing the government’s bidding and hunting people down. We’ve been told that using tear gas, lathis, water cannons and pellet guns are radical methods. So I ask you one question: What do we do? Do we start loading our AK-47’s with 7.62 cartridges? Or should we replace the smoke with regular grenades? Do we start using our LMG’s to disperse crowds? No? Here’s where the hypocrisy comes into play.
Tires are set ablaze, curfews imposed and mobs take over police stations, holding officers hostage and drowning other officials by pushing his vehicle into the Jhelum River. You throw stones at us, fire at us with the same rifles. You throw petrol bombs at us and burn our convoy cars. It does not stop there, you wave the ISIS or the Pakistani flag and scream ‘Liberate India’. You even sneak into our bases and slaughter 18 men, who were sleeping, with rifles and grenades of your own and then you have the audacity to set the place alight.
Yet we are to be the one’s showing disdain. Yet here we are looking to promote dialogue.
To those of you who hide your faces behind scarves and are too afraid to confront us in person, back off. Back off while you still have the time, while you are still breathing. Just because you don’t wear a uniform doesn’t mean you will go unnoticed. Your cowardice is laughable. We don’t care about nationalities. We vow to protect from all enemies, both domestic and foreign. To the country who sponsors you who call yourself ‘fighters’ and/or ‘liberators’, we don’t have to remind you of 1965, 1971 and 1999.
However, being the ‘cats’ (politically correct term) you are, you’ll deny your participation. You’ll send a puppet prime minister at the UN General Assembly and claim Kashmir as your because of population demographics. That is your ‘rational argument’.
Let me be clear, we know who you are. We know where you are, and have known so for years, now. Just because we respect the treaties and the international border, doesn’t mean we are inactive. India, is the sleeping lion. The more you poke it, the angrier it gets. Do not test our patience. What always holds us back is the thought of the little girl who couldn’t go to school yet again. The thought of a little boy who couldn’t play with his friends. What stops us is the sight of a pregnant woman who couldn’t reach the hospital in time and lost her unborn baby.
We, are human too. We have families too. However, we are not going to give you our nation on a platter. Our fight is for those who are proud to be Indians. We fight for every piece of land. We leave no man behind.
Pervez Musharraf, the once mighty dictator and the man behind Kargil ’99 said, “We must learn from history, there is no military solution for the Kashmir issue.”
India never said no to political dialogue. All that we have been asking for is for our neighbors to stop waging a proxy war against us. All we ask is for the cross border shelling to stop. We don’t want this because we are afraid to retaliate. We want the violence to stop so that the talks can begin.
I don’t know when will normalcy restore to Kashmir. I don’t have an answer for how many lives will be lost before we realize that killing isn’t the solution. For now, the valley is burning. Heaven on earth is plagued with rodents on a killing spree.
And me? I’m just standing here guarding. Watching it all unfold. Helpless!
Author’s Note: ‘The Burning Valley: A Soldier’s Story’ is from the point of view of the soldier on field. It is to shed some light on the emotions and devastating experiences they might go through. It is just an attempt and my interpretation of the same.
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