On Friday morning, atop the Siachen glacier — the world’s highest battleground— an avalanche trapped 25 members of an Indian Army patrol team. Although rescue teams were immediately pressed into action, help came too late for the medic on the team.
Ashwani Kumar’s decision to study medicine came after his elder brother died of dengue. The family believed that if it was not for the doctor’s negligence, the brother would have survived.
Ashwani soon became the first doctor in his family.
“He was among the toppers at Rajendra Medical College in Patiala,” said Ashutosh, his brother. “He had vowed that he would treat poor people for free.”
But soon another desire would grow in him — to serve in the armed forces.
In January 2015, despite having received offers from the Indian Railways and Indo-Tibetan Border Police force (ITBP), Ashwani chose to serve in the Army. Now, he was not only the first doctor from his family but the first officer as well.
“He wanted our family to be represented in the Army, as our contribution to the nation. That is why he joined,” said Ashutosh.
“He dreamt of becoming an officer and doing something different. Only a few of us from the family are educated,” said his father Anokhe Lal, a retired railway employee.
In July, Captain Ashwani Kumar received his next posting — Siachen glacier in Ladakh.
“We thought that our life would be good now. But the good times didn’t last long,” said Lal.
On Sunday, at his one-storey home in Patiala’s Shantinagar, friends, relatives and the entire neighbourhood gathered to remember the humble and responsible Captain Ashwani. His mother was in shock and was inconsolable, calling out to Captain Ashwani every now and then by his nickname, Neeraj.
She had talked to him on Thursday, the day before he was killed.
“He would call almost everyday from a satellite phone. I had advised him to call daily, because his mother would start fighting with me if he didn’t call home regularly,” said Lal.
Chief of Army Staff General Dalbir Singh offered condolences on Sunday. But the family has one complaint.
“The Indian army kept us in dark after we heard that Ashwani was trapped. They didn’t provide us clear information. We kept calling again and again to know the information. But they called us only twice,” said Lal.”We have been asking them how could he have died when 24 of his colleagues escaped,” said Ashutosh. “Nobody is giving us clear answers.”
Originally from Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad, Captain Ashwani’s family had shifted to Patiala years ago because his parents wanted to provide better education to them.
Villagers from Thana Sirsa Gunj village in Firozabad also arrived in Patiala to be with the mourning family.
“It was a proud moment for us, after he became doctor and bada adhikari(big official),” says an emotional Bawar Singh, uncle of Captain Ashwani. “Everyone in the village was so happy. Now, everybody is shocked.”