CRPF constable, in his late 30s
Originally from Tarn Taran, Amritsar
His full name, age and exact camp posting can’t be revealed as per CRPF request, “given security considerations”. Everything else is an open book.
He sits on a bed in his barrack at a CRPF camp amidst all the things he holds dear, though, as he puts it, “When you live the life we do, there is very little that remains precious but your life, and your sense of duty.”
Posted in some of India’s most volatile places since he joined the force in the late 1990s, including Jammu and Kashmir, he was deployed here on December 19. His family “showed no fear — like any soldier’s family”, he says. “All my wife said was that Tarn Taran was far from home. Then she saw me off with some extra sweets for my company.
That box is now one of the few things I have with me.”
The transparent box with a blue lid, kept in a plastic wrapping inside a bag, now holds very little of the khoya she had packed. It is the first thing he offers to anyone entering his barrack.
CRPF personnel at a camp are a mixed bunch, coming from different parts of the country. The khoya has a story of its own. “Mere yahaan ye bahut banta hai (It’s very popular where I come from). My wife made this herself. It reminds me of her, and my family. She packed it to the brim, telling me, ‘It’s a long train journey from Punjab to Chhattisgarh’. But like always, it’s enough to last a month,” he smiles.
An orange T-shirt, and blue jeans
He rummages through the black bag to pull out the shirt and jeans. He bought them from a shop in Tarn Taran over five years ago. “While I’m deployed, these are my only civilian clothes,” he says. At the camp, constables are required to be either in full gear, or during their off time, in CRPF tracks. As for going out, he laughs, that is never an option in the places he is posted.
A sleeping bag
The rolled-up bag too lies on the bed. It is assigned as part of a CRPF personnel’s ‘light kit’, to be carried during missions. “My wife reminded me thrice about my sleeping bag as I left home,” he says.
A bullet-proof vest
It’s not from home, but the vest in CRPF colours is one of his “proudest belongings”, always by the constable’s side. Unlike standard-issue bullet-proof vests that are heavy and cumbersome, he points out, this one is “extra-light”. “Look how it folds so neatly.” His voice dropping, he adds, “It’s strange no doubt that I hold a bullet-proof vest so dear. But in the paramilitary forces, we keep ourselves happy with the little things. Hamesha udaasi hoti hai (There is so much sadness). We give our lives for the country, just like the Army, but we don’t get the pay, the leave or the perks.”
His mobile phone
In large parts of Chhattisgarh interiors, there is very little mobile connectivity. And yet, he holds his phone up proudly as his only connection to his family. “All I need at night before I sleep is two things. One the photo of my wife and two daughters — I can’t see them as much now because of the time it takes to reach Punjab… and then there is Tiger.”
I am trained to be part of the dog squad. For seven years in Kashmir, I was in charge of one dog — Tiger. We lived together, fought together. They will assign me to a new dog here. But I have a video of Tiger making me proud, running through an obstacle course. He is family.”