Grief, shock afflict families of soldiers who died in Manipur landslide
The bodies of 11 army men from Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts in West Bengal and the neighbouring state of Sikkim were sent to their homes on Saturday.
Bedhyan Rai, a havildar with the 15 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, celebrated his 39th birthday on Wednesday. He spoke with his wife, daughters and parents. On Saturday, a coffin carrying his body reached his village in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district.
Fondly called Tinku by his loved ones, Rai was among the 20 army personnel who lost their lives in the landslide that hit the Marangching railway construction site in Manipur’s Noney district in the intervening night of June 29 and 30.
The landslide hit the 107 Territorial Army (TA) camp of the Indian Army deployed at the area for the protection of the railway construction work.
“My younger brother celebrated his birthday and spoke with family members on Wednesday evening. He was supposed to call on Thursday morning again. But he never did. None in the family could imagine that they were speaking to him on his birthday for the last time,” said Pintu, Rai’s younger brother and a resident of Gauri Shanker Tea Garden at Kurseong in Darjeeling.
The death toll of landslide rose to 27, after six more bodies were recovered from the debris till 12 noon on Saturday, officials said. At least 20 were army men. The bodies of 11 army men from Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts in West Bengal and the neighbouring state of Sikkim were sent to their homes on Saturday.
“My son-in-law Sitaram Rai, 42, was a naib subedar in the 18 Dogra regiment. He last came home in February and had promised to renovate the house and make it pucca the next time he returned. He was supposed to come back in September. But today his body is coming back in a coffin,” said DB Maley, father-in-law of Rai.
Two flights carrying the mortal remains of 11 soldiers arrived at Bagdogra airport in north Bengal at 9.30am and 10.30am on Saturday. From there, the bodies were taken to Bengdubi army cantonment, where a wrath laying programme was held. The bodies were then dispatched to the homes of the soldiers with full honours.
“Though the region of north Bengal and Sikkim have seen many soldiers sacrificing their lives for the country, this is the first time that such a large number of soldiers in coffins returned homes at one go,” said retired colonel Keshab Rai, who was present at Bengdubi.
The 11 dead were identified as havildar Milan Tamang and Bedhyan Rai, naik Diwankar Thapa, riflemen Benjamin, Ladup Tamang, Sankar Chhetri and Marcus Gurung, naib subedar Sitaram Rai, lance naiks Bishal Chhetri and Bhupen Rai, and naik Tshering Lepcha.
Lepcha, a resident of Upper Dzongu in Sikkim, was posted in Darjeeling before being transferred to Manipur. He had joined the army when he was in class 10. “He was on leave for two months before going to Manipur,” said Furmit Lepcha, his wife.
Senior army officers, local Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs Shankar Ghosh, Aandamoy Barman, BP Bajgain and Neeraj Zimba from Siliguri, Matigara-Naxabari, Kurseong and Darjeeling, respectively, were present at Bengdubi.
Anit Thapa, president of Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha, and the would-be chief executive of the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, requested local people of Darjeeling hills to organise candle light rallies on Saturday evening.