Manipur’s relentless struggle against the controversial the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has not been able to shake a bond of 18 years between an army officer and the locals of Longdipabram, a remote hamlet some 175 km away from Imphal.
Though human rights activist Irom Sharmila and Lt Colonel DPK Pillay represent opposite ends of the spectrum, both have carved out a special place in the hearts of Manipuris.
Pillay returned to Longdipabram after 18 years. It was here he took militants’ bullets in his chest, legs and arms as a 27-year-old captain on January 25, 1994, and was later decorated with Shaurya Chakra. Athanbou Pamei, the 52-year-old village chief, recalled, “A girl and a boy — Masebiliu and Adingmang — were wounded in the crossfire. Captain sa’ab was bleeding profusely, it seemed he wouldn’t live. Still, when a helicopter came to rescue him, he refused to go and insisted that the girls be evacuated.”
Recognising the army officer’s extraordinary relationship with the village, minister of state for defence Pallam Raju flew Pillay — currently posted in Delhi — to Imphal in a special aircraft on Saturday for a foundation-stone laying ceremony of a road from Tamenglong to Longdipab-ram.
Young girls posed for pictures and old women with crumpled skin touched his face. “We owe him a debt of gratitude. He is one of us,” said Pamei.
At a time when the country is debating a sense of alienation among people from the northeast, Pallam said the relationship between Pillay and the village was a shining example of how all chasms could be bridged if the hearts met.
He said, “Any Indian Army soldier would sacrifice his life for children.”