When a Meitei saved a Kuki Comrade and Muslim Soldiers Contributed toward the Hindu temple

by Editorial

It was a harsh winter in January 2013. The place was Churachandpur in Manipur which has grabbed the eyeballs of the nation for the past few years for all the wrong reasons. It has been the centre of gravity of the most horrific clashes between the Kukis and the Meiteis and even the most horrendous ambushes. I had just taken over the command of an Assam Rifles Sector at Churachandpur whose jurisdiction extended right to the Myanmar border. Militants often made forays from across the Myanmar border into our territory trying to ambush our patrols.

As a matter of principle, whenever, I took over command in an insurgency-infested area from the company to the Brigade level, I couldn’t wait to go on the ground instead of lending ears to the unending presentations in the air-conditioned conference halls by the commanding officers. Similarly, now the need of the hour was to reconnoitre the places where we had recently tasted success against the militants and more importantly where we had suffered at the hands of terrorists. The aim was to draw the lessons to enhance our operational efficiency. So, off we went on the very first day. I directed one of my commanding officers to take me bang on the Myanmar border where we had recently killed four militants of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF). We reached the spot after an arduous six-hour trek with AK-47s slung on our shoulders crossing several streams and mountain tops. The CO started his briefing in detail; based on hard intelligence, how one of his patrols led by two scouts was moving in the dead of the night to prevent likely infiltration by the militants. Suddenly, the leading scout came under heavy automatic fire.

All 20 members of the patrol party executed a ‘Dash, Down, Crawl, Observe, Sight and Fire’ drill. However, the leading scout got shot and was seen to be bleeding profusely. All this was being observed by the second scout who had hit the ground taking cover much behind at a distance of 25 metres or so. Generally, during such ambushes, when the militants pin down the patrol they go for the weapons of our troops lying dead or seriously wounded and make good their escape.

The second scout observed the militants running downhill towards the leading scout who lay motionless probably assumed by them to be dead. With utter disregard for his safety, the second scout left his covered position and dashed towards his buddy, the leading scout. In those precious few seconds, he not only rendered first aid to the leading scout but also kept firing towards the militants who were trying to reach for his weapon. After this narration, like a good CO, he had kept both the soldiers ready for introducing to me. Out of sheer affection and admiration, I kept my hand on his shoulder inquisitively asking the leading scout as to which part of Manipur he belonged to. ‘Sir, I am a proud Kuki belonging to Churachandpur’. Before I asked the same question to the second scout, he blurted out, ‘Sir l am a Meitei from Imphal’.

That’s the reason why all Manipuris, be they Kukis or Meiteis, have unflinching faith in the Assam Rifles who delivered in the recent difficult times despite all the odds when Manipur was on the boil. This is the ethos of the Indian Army or Assam Rifles when a comrade doesn’t flinch before rushing to rescue his buddy without thinking about the religion of the one in trouble. Having been groomed in a highly secular Army environment, it becomes well-nigh impossible for me to digest these communal flare-ups in our country. In this tit-for-tat militant religious politics, the Army stands out as the time-tested role model and the last bastion of secularism, a crying need of the hour. Indian Army has men and women of diverse ethnicities, faiths and linguistic backgrounds who live, train, eat, fight and pray together.

In the Army, nothing else matters but hardcore professionalism as there are no runners-up in the war. Religion plays only a positive role which motivates the soldiers to make the supreme sacrifice in their line of duty and never plays a regressive role.

There are innumerable cases of officers belonging to minority religions who have risen to higher ranks by sheer dint of their hard work. Several officers belonging to a minority community were commissioned into a pure Hindu Regiment yet commanded the unflinching loyalty of their troops. During their entire career, at all ranks, they have always inspired their troops based on their faith and prayed with them at the unit temple with a gusto that could match theirs. Even, the reverse is true with units belonging to minority religions being commanded by officers of different faiths. We need to introspect inwards and have a closer look at the intricate functioning of our Army, especially the concept of ‘Sarv Dharma Sthal’ (place of worship of all religions) where all faiths are worshipped under one roof. It is worth highlighting that the Army had selected National Integration as one of the four basic domains of Operation Sadbhavna in J & K. We should not forget that, it was the Company Quartermaster Havildar Abdul Hameed, a Muslim who had single-handedly knocked out three Pakistani tanks while fighting in the Khemkaran sector in 1965 and earned for himself, Param Vir Chakra, the highest gallantry award. Coming to the international image of our army, I recall the month of Ramzan during my command tenure in Lebanon. This country has a fair share of the Muslim population. Several Hindu officers under my command gave me a unique idea to organise daily Iftaars, village-wise for all the Muslim Lebanese villages falling under our jurisdiction.

This simple gesture endeared our troops to the Lebanese. In 2010, I was posted as the Deputy Commander of the Brigade at Sunjuwan. About 100 odd Muslim soldiers belonging to the JAK LI (Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry) regiment were posted on extra regimental employment. I distinctly remember how the Subedar Major (SM) of those troops never missed celebrating any Hindu festival on the calendar.

I remember, there was a dilapidated mandir near our Brigade HQ premises. During my inspection, I just casually pointed it out to SM. After a few weeks, I was surprised when SM requested me to inaugurate the same mandir after having personally renovated it with the help of all the Muslim troops. I vividly recall another day when the same Subedar Major invited me for the iftar on the occasion of Eid.

As it was my first visit to the mosque, I learnt the exact drill of praying like a Muslim at the mosque. This is the time when the entire country needs to look not only inward but also at the Army as to how all the troops of all religions fight shoulder to shoulder to shed their blood. The colour of the blood of all of us always remains red irrespective of our religion. This is the Indian Army ethos that separates us from the rest.

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