Icambele Arsene's friends are bewildered by his daughter’s name. A few cannot even pronounce it. Bharti. Or Ms India as the Indian peacekeepers deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) call her affectionately.
Bharti, barely five months old, has welded an extraordinary bond between the peacekeepers and her parents. Icambele, a Swahili and French interpreter at the North Kivu Indian brigade, wasn’t even sure if wife Laure Kuyena would survive a complicated pregnancy. It was their misfortune that government doctors had gone on strike for over three weeks this May, demanding higher wages. Medical services came to a screeching halt in the province of North Kivu where the actions of heavily armed militias constitute a bloody battle.
The advanced hospital run by the Indian Army was the only alternative, but there was a hitch. It did not accept pregnancy cases. But Icambele’s prayers were heard and the rulebook was thrown out of the window to save his wife and unborn child. The 32-year-old said: “If we are enjoying the joys of parenthood, the credit goes to the Indian Army. The peacekeepers suggested we should call our daughter Bharti. I was only too happy to repay the debt of gratitude I owed the Indian contingent.”
Bharti’s story is a riveting account of human emotions triumphing over troubled histories and geographies.
Never before in its almost four-year history has a child been delivered at the North Kivu brigade’s Level-III hospital where Bharti was born on May 6. Peacekeepers share with her a precious relationship, one they promise to nurture. Major Shardool Sharma, an armoured corps officer, said: “We welcome Bharti as a harbinger of hope in the cataclysmic Congolese conflict. She is a top draw with the peacekeepers.”
It is sheer fate that Bharti, who Laure described as “child of peace”, has touched the lives of so many. Level-III hospital commanding officer Colonel I.P. Arora said: “Had there been any delay in bringing the patient to hospital, we could have either saved the mother or the child. Yes, this is a love story at some level in the time of bloody conflict.”
Icambele wants Bharti’s first words to be Hindi. Working in the midst of Indian peacekeepers since January 2005, his Hindi vocabulary has steadily grown. “It will be her tribute to the peacekeepers, who gave her life and a beautiful name.”