Kashmir-Bihar: Tale of two veteran soldiers, now close friends
They’re victims of militant attacks. One, a Muslim from Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the other, a Hindu from Bihar. The one thing, however, that has kept these two veteran soldiers going, despite being confined to wheelchairs, is their close bond, forged over a passion for basketball.
Mohammad Latief Bhat, 40, and Ajit Kumar Shukla, 40, are admitted to the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre (PRC) in Phase 6, Mohali.
Both were posted in Rajouri, with Bhat from Anantnag in J&K, a sepoy in the Indian Army’s JAK Light Infantry Regiment and Shukla, an ex-gunner with 104 Army Air Defence. Both did not know each other.
Bhat suffered grievous spine injuries on August 3, 2001, when his vehicle, escorting an army convoy in J&K’s Rajouri, was hit by a mortar shell, sending it plunging down a 250-feet deep gorge.
As fate would have it, around four years later, Shukla suffered spinal injuries after two bullets fired by militants during an encounter in Rajouri district hit the left side of his abdomen on February 25, 2005.
They were shifted to the Army Hospital in Udhampur and referred to the Western Command Hospital in Chandimandir from there. Bhat joined the PRC in March 2003 while Shukla joined three years later in March 2006.
“We did not know each other but we connected over wheelchair basketball games,” Bhat said.
He said they both started teaching wheelchair basketball to other soldiers in the centre and gradually started learning more about each other which led to forging of deeper bonds.
They have represented the country in multiple international wheelchair basketball tournaments. .
“We played the first one in 2017 in Indonesia and bagged the bronze medal. In the same year, we played a national tournament in Nepal and won a silver,” Shukla said. “We also played a tournament in Lebanon in 2018 and got the bronze medal. We also played a tournament in 2019 in Tokyo,” he added.
Shukla believes the game will keep them friends forever.
“The army has taught us to never judge and make friends on the basis of religion and caste. It teaches us to be humans first. Humanity is the greatest religion,” he said.
Latief and Shukla are living in the government quarters in the centre. They said their time in the PRC has given them a new lease of life.
Bhat says their similarities also connected them.
“We were posted in Rajouri, have married for love, have a passion for basketball and have no children of our own,” he said. “These similarities are the thread that connects our friendship,” he added.
PRC director Colonel GS Nagra spoke on their friendship: “We are proud they are a part of the centre.”
Established in 1978, PRC is a charitable institution that undertakes rehabilitation of paraplegic and tetraplegic soldiers and provides them therapeutic facilities and vocational training in various fields to make them economically self-sufficient.