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Dream to join army unites kin of fallen soldiers in Manipur

Grief, pride and a shared dream unite such military families in a state where extortion has become a way of life and where even Hindi films have not been screened for almost two decades because of a ban imposed by local insurgent groups.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2018 13:13 IST
Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Leimakhong (Imphal)
Insurgency in Manipur,Manipur,Indian Army
(L to R) Jessica, Neithinkim and Hatkhochin at an army base near Loktak Lake in Manipur’s Bishnupur district. While Jessica and Neithinkim want to join the army, Hatkhochin wishes to see her children as army officers. (HT Photo)

In insurgency-hit Manipur, where nearly 950 security men have been killed in action over the last three decades, family members of several slain soldiers are still tethered to the force and are chasing a dream of one day joining the Indian Army.

Hatkhochin Haokip was widowed in 2009, when her husband Havildar Thanjalet Haokip of 11 Assam Rifles was killed in a fight with insurgents. His bravery was recognised the same year with India’s third-highest peacetime gallantry award, the Shaurya Chakra.

Almost a decade later, Hatkhochin says the purpose of her life is to send her two boys to the Khadakwasla-based National Defence Academy (NDA), where cadets are groomed to become officers.

“My boys are in the 12th and 6th standards at the Sainik School in Imphal. I want them to follow in their father’s footsteps. In fact, I want them to go a step ahead. Their father was a jawan, and they should aspire to be officers,” said Hatkhochin, who lives in Churachandpur.

Grief, pride and a shared dream unite such military families in a state where extortion has become a way of life and where even Hindi films have not been screened for almost two decades because of a ban imposed by local insurgent groups.

Take the case of Neithinkim, in her twenties, who lost her husband Rifleman L Haokip three years ago. The soldier from 26 Assam Rifles was killed in an ambush by Naga insurgents in eastern Nagaland’s Tuensang district.

She now plans to join Assam Rifles, a force that allows women in the non-officer cadre.

“Life is hard without him. My six-year-old son and I often talk about happier times. I have made up my mind to join Assam Rifles. I like army life, and who knows, one day our son may also choose army as a career,” Neithinkim said.

The army is reaching out to such women, who it calls ‘Veer Naris’, and doing its best to help them achieve their dreams and carry forward the legacy of their loved ones, said an officer on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Jessica Roneimawi is 19. She lost her father Sepoy Isaak Khomawi of 4 Assam in the Siachen glacier in 2000. As a one-year-old then, Roneimawi has no memory of her father, but her mother Lalrosuong made sure that her bond with the army stayed intact as she was growing up. The BA second-year student has set her sights on joining the Officers’ Training Academy.

“I think my father would have been proud of my career choice had he been around. I am going to give it my best shot and hope to wear the uniform my father once wore,” she said.

Former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd) said the choices made by these brave ladies illustrated the strong bonds army families share with the force. “I would say we are not a band of brothers but a band of families,” said Hooda, who commanded the Leimakhong-headquartered 57 Mountain Division during 2009-11.

The Indian Army is doing its bit to help the children of Manipur realise their potential. In Leimakhong, it runs a hostel for young boys where the cost of education, board and lodging is borne by the force. The hostel, Disha, has 25 boys who study at the local Kendriya Vidyalaya and most of them want to join the armed forces.

First Published: Nov 07, 2018 13:13 IST