Major Ishleen Kaur
The history of any army is replete with immortalised tales of selflessness, camaraderie and the ultimate sacrifice. While soldiers who have brought victory have been inscribed in the memories of the country as ‘Forever Young’, there are women who have faced the brunt of these wars not by facing the nameless bullet, but by bravely living the turbulent life that comes after a war. On the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, and to commemorate the victory, homage is being paid along the length and breadth of the country to the fallen, and respect to the veterans and Veer Naris.
As the Akhnoor-based Crossed Swords Division commenced on a humble odyssey to pay respect to veterans and felicitate Veer Naris, what emerged were stories of courage, valour, hardships and sacrifices. The Division set out to recognise and felicitate the wives, mothers and daughters of the men who returned home wrapped in the Tricolour without a chance to say their words of farewell.
“I do not want to be called a victim of war. I was strong enough to survive on my own,” a Veer Nari famously said, echoing the sentiments of many like her. To understand the story of a soldier, one must fathom the depth of their moist eyes. The war left us with many such stories, but those of Git Kaur, Kanta Devi, Karnataro Devi, Simro Devi and Pushpa Devi can melt any heart. These women were at the epitome of marital bliss, proud to be married to men who donned the olive green in a society that has a rich martial tradition. Belonging to Jammu and its nearby areas, these Veer Naris have struggled to live their lives without their husbands for the past 50 years, but have emerged as stellar examples of what true grit, determination and courage mean.
Git Kaur, wife of the late Sepoy Balwant Singh of the 5th Battalion, Sikh Regiment, lives a mere 30 km from Chhamb-Jaurian, the place where her husband made the supreme sacrifice. A mother of two, the latter of who never saw her father, she recounts how the indomitable spirit she imbibed from her husband pushed her on when times seemed bleak, with the relentless support of the Army.
Kanta Devi, wife of the late Havildar Amarnath, Sena Medal, of the 8th Battalion of JAK Light Infantry, still vividly remembers the playful jokes of her husband, who used to say that the Army would be with her long after he’d gone. He lost his life defending his homeland just 15 km from his home in Sunderbani. Times were tough thereafter; goons and thugs assuming her to be a soft target tried to extort money, but were warded off with the assistance of the Army. Her two sons and a daughter, one of whom serves in the CRPF, are now well settled and happily married.
Turned into a refugee in her own country during the 1971 war, Karnataro Devi, wife of the late Sepoy Sundurilal of the 5th Battalion of the Dogra Regiment, came to know about her husband’s martyrdom three months after the war, when his mortal remains arrived, as the roads from Kargil were blocked due to the hazardous weather. But fate had yet more tests for her; she lost her young son to an ailment soon after. However, with a will to fight on, she rallied her courage and worked even harder to provide the best for her daughter, the last living symbol of her eternal bond with a soldier.
The story of Simro Devi, wife of the late Sepoy Sahib Singh of the 9th Battalion of JAK Light Infantry, is yet another tale to draw inspiration from. Only a mirage remained of the dreams the couple had woven together of having a daughter and bringing her up with love and care, but after the demise of her husband, life was altered and gloom lay heavy upon the young woman. Nevertheless, she found her inner strength and took up tailoring to lead a life of respect and dignity. She adopted a girl and raised her the way they had dreamt of, to honour the wishes of her late husband.
The moist eyes of Pushpa Devi, wife of the late Lance Naik Gullu Ram of 8 Grenadiers, tell a story of perseverance without a single word being uttered. Sorrow and grief may have wrinkled her features, but not her spirit. Gullu Ram made the supreme sacrifice while fighting the enemy in the battle of Chakra in the Shakargarh bulge.
These stories form a part of the tapestry that is the Indian Army and the countless sacrifices made for the country. These also serve as an inspiration in these trying times of the pandemic, when uncertainty looms large. It sends out a message that even after such an ordeal if a person can survive and thrive in this world, there is no obstacle that the human endeavour cannot surmount.