You may take a soldier out of the battlefield, but you cannot take the battlefield out of a soldier. For a veteran, who has fought three wars – in 1962, 1965, and 1971 – for India 83-year-old Tsetan Dorje still has a lot of fight left in him.
“I am ready for the fourth one. If army calls me, I will face the enemy and ensure he is defeated,” says Dorje, now settled in a remote village near Kharu on the outskirts of Leh city.
Amid the ongoing tension over the standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan valley, the war-hardened veteran says, “If China enters into a full-fledged combat with India, its misconceptions of being superior will get demolished within days”.
Dorje who began his military career in 1955 at the age of 18 still recalls when villagers collected money and gave him Rs 15 as he had volunteered to be recruited into then militia that was later known as Ladakh Scouts and from where he retired in 1976.
The octogenarian walks with the help of a stick, but can still roll on the ground and explain how he used to give signals to his team while alerting them about enemy movement.
“My blood boils when I hear that 20 of our soldiers were martyred in the combat with Chinese. Till the time, I am breathing I am capable of serving my country. I just need instructions and even at this age, I am ready to go to the border and take on the enemy. I am not scared of anybody. I have seen three wars. I have seen both China and Pakistan. They stand nowhere in front of Indian soldiers,” says Dorje who took part in the three wars as a driver of Signal Corps.
“What is China? We must fight and push them back into their territory. Chinese claim more than what theirs actually is. The training of Indian troops is far more superior to that of the Chinese. We have no dearth of resources. Chinese may be more in numbers, but they cannot beat us in willpower”.
Recalling one of the encounters in 1962 war, Dorje says, “Our post was in Demchok. We got to know that China was doing some activity. We covered our posts. Then, we had a scuffle and we finished them on one side. We kept fighting with them for three days and finally pushed them back”.
“I used to drive a Willys Jeep. There were officers in my vehicle. We were a convoy of four vehicles, including three Shaktiman trucks. We were coming back to our base. Chinese had blocked the road and ambushed our convoy. But, we broke the headlamps of our vehicles. I was leading the convoy and knew the road very well. I managed to bring back the convoy to our base. Unfortunately, one of our soldiers died and two-three sustained bullet injuries. Our vehicles also got hit with bullets, but we managed to reach back”.
Talking about the different between the situation in 1962 and now, Dorje says, “In 1962, we had limited manpower and the ammunition was not that powerful. Yet we gave them a befitting reply. Our willpower is far stronger. Even at this age, I can cover an ammunition depot. If the army calls me, I will not even take a minute to stand up and move. We fight to win. Life or death does not matter. The aim is that enemy has to be eliminated. China must know that it is not the same India that they fought with in 1962”.
Dorje’s grandson recently got commissioned in Indian Army and is posted in Srinagar. “I am proud that my grandson has got into Army and is going to serve our country,” the war veteran says.
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