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'We soldiers fight for the Indians standing behind us'

By Archana Masih
Last updated on: March 01, 2019 12:02 IST
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'When people who are safe in their homes think that everything is peaceful -- 'kuch nahi ho raha hai' -- it is because a band of soldiers has already stopped that from happening and the anti-nationals have been neutralised.'

Soldiers at the site of an encounter with terrorists in Pulwama, south Kashmir, December 28, 2018. Photograph: Umar Ganie for Rediff.com

IMAGE: Soldiers at the site of an encounter with terrorists in Pulwama, south Kashmir, December 28, 2018. Photograph: Umar Ganie for Rediff.com

It is a time when all army and air force units in Kashmir and Punjab are on a high state of alert.

Weapons are being readied, troops are mentally ready, unit locations are secure, rehearsals are being carried out and soldiers are getting deployed along the border.

In certain posts at the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, it is still snowing. The day time temperature is a couple of degrees below 0 and the night time temperature plummets to a minus 30 degrees.

"You could give us millions of dollars worth of the best thermal uniform, but in an ambush you cannot fire a gun wearing a glove because your finger will not go inside the trigger," an army officer tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih in a chance conversation.

"Even if it does, the weapon will fire automatically because the glove makes your finger thick."

"You have to come out of your comfort zone for an effective operation. I can either fight Mother Nature or fight the terrorist -- it's better I fight the terrorist."

 

The major, who does not reveal his identity and will be referred to as Major Alpha for this feature, has spent nearly a decade in the Kashmir valley participating in anti-terror operations. Conducted by small groups of highly trained soldiers, speed and agility are their hallmark.

He thinks of Kashmir as his "karmabhoomi" and prefers the jungle to peace postings in the big city.

In a month when an Indian Air Force pilot was shot down in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, 45 security personnel were martyred by terrorists, 9 IAF crew perished in fatal crashes and 5 soldiers buried in an avalanche, it is a particularly difficult time for the men guarding the world's most volatile border.

The magnitude of the Pulwama attack, the air strike on Jaish-e-Mohammad camps and relentless mortar shelling on LoC has resulted in inevitable discussions among the men.

"There are young officers who are just raring to get launched. But the Indian Army never reacts, it always responds -- there is a difference between the two," says the officer who comes from a family with a long tradition of serving in the armed forces.

Having conducted multiple operations, he says, soldiers have to always be on their toes in a conflict zone.

"From the time the sun rises and sets and in the time in between, we are on our toes -- otherwise they will come, chop our toes and go."

Sometimes operations against terrorists last 4 or 5 days. The intelligence network provides information which is then confirmed and re-confirmed before men are launched for an operation.

"When people who are safe in their homes think that everything is peaceful -- 'kuch nahi ho raha hai' -- it is because a band of soldiers has already stopped that from happening and the anti-nationals have been neutralised."

"Retaliation from the other side depends on how well motivated they are to neutralise us," says the officer explaining that whenever they conduct an operation they know in their heart that they will "100% come back winning".

Yet they also know that there is the possibility of a soldier not returning alive -- and that feeling is beyond words.

"Words cannot do justice to that emotion. That brother who was sitting next to me and having dinner, today he is not there. How will I convey this to his family?" asks the officer who has had the misfortune of being that messenger to a martyr's family.

"Tomorrow something can happen to me and somebody will have to address my wife. To reveal this truth to loved ones is the most difficult thing."

In posts on the "hot zone" in Kashmir, soldiers often do not know of Sundays and holidays. Everyday they stand guard in heightened vigil.

The free time is spent playing games and chatting with troops and peers. "We discuss everything under the sun -- but no politics. In the army, we don't discuss politics," he laughs.

When there is phone connectivity (in the absence of cell phone towers ("dur-dur tak") they check their phones.

Military training never ceases in the army. It is a continuous process till retirement.

Soldiers at the site of an encounter with terrorists in Pulwama, south Kashmir, December 28, 2018. Photograph: Umar Ganie for Rediff.com

IMAGE: Soldiers at the site of an encounter with terrorists in Pulwama, south Kashmir, December 28, 2018. Photograph: Umar Ganie for Rediff.com

"A soldier is not only trained physically, he is also trained mentally, psychologically and spiritually."

"The army hardens you to weather various disparities of nature -- weather, topography, ethnicity -- and mind you, spirituality is not religion. It means soldiers are trained to control their mind and heart," he explains.

I talk to him about the tense, dynamic situation on our borders. I ask if this is like a war -- and if the situation is war-like at the border even when all seems fine to the rest of India.

"Please know whatever happens will be dealt seriously, violently with full compassion. We never hurt civilians. This country or that country."

"We are a very evolved army. We have aggression, but we don't have anger. We channelise our aggression in a constructive way."

He speaks as an ambassador of the Indian Army -- and with honour.

He hasn't been home for a long time, but is not disappointed.

He sounds upbeat and raring to go. His energy is infectious.

"We soldiers don't fight for what is in front of us, we fight for what is behind us -- behind us is our citizen, our country, our family," he says reassuringly.

I thank him for his service to our country.

His reply is just two short words: "Jai Hind!"

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Archana Masih / Rediff.com
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