HE WAS just seven when he lost his father, who too had retired from the Indian Army. He grew up while seeing his mother struggling to make ends meet as she would clean utensils in others’ homes, crush stones at construction sites and would do all sorts of work to raise her three children single-handedly. He joined the Indian Army in 2014, after clearing class 12, to support his family and to take forward what came to him naturally from his father: love for the country.
On Saturday, the body of Lance Naik Saleem Khan, 23, from 58 Engineers Regiment, reached his home at Mardanheri village of Patiala.
The family was told that he was in a boat and part of a team involved in engineering work near a river in Galwan valley area of Ladakh. He died as the boat capsized.
Khan’s burial ceremony was held with full military honours as her mother Nasima Begum, 55, was handed over the National Flag. Inconsolable, she embraced and kissed the Tricolour. The entire village attended the ceremony amid slogans of ‘Saleem Khan amar rahe’.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Nasima said, “Wo to desh ka bachha tha, mere jigar ka tukda tha par desh ka bachha tha (He was the nation’s child. He was my beloved but he belonged to the country).”
Nasima said that she had spoken to Saleem over the phone two days ago. “He said he would come home soon. He would never describe in detail what was happening there but just said that they were working on some operation. He also said that phones would connect with great difficulty now so if he doesn’t call, we should not wait or worry. I have lost my everything. He was our only support. My husband served the Army and now my son too has sacrificed his life for the country,” Nasima said.
Budh Din Khan, Saleem’s paternal uncle, who too retired as Naik from the Army, said that Saleem was just seven when his father Mangal Din had died nearly 18 years ago. “My brother had served as Naik in the Corps of Military Police (CMP). He had fallen off a train and suffered an injury which affected his mental ability. He retired from the Army and died later. I too retired from the Army and now Saleem has given his life for the country,” Budh Din said.
On how Saleem died, Budh Din said, “We have been told that Saleem was part of a team involved in engineering work in the area. He was in a boat which overturned, and he died. We do not have any more details.”
Asked if there were any injuries to the body, he said, “There were some red marks on the face which looked like mild injuries but we aren’t sure. Maybe they were due to drowning but otherwise there were not any major injuries.”
As per the confidential Army document, accessed by The Indian Express, describing Saleem’s death incident, it says that he died on June 26 at 3:20 PM at ‘Shyok river on DS-DBO road’. It further says: ‘Cause of death: Likely drowning’. The incident description reads, ‘While performing bonafide military duty in Op Area at 120 km in Shyok… he was carrying out Op combat engineer task in which he was placing safety ropes across the Shyok during which the boat capsized and he drowned while performing the task at 1330 HRS.. He was rescued and taken to ADS where he could not be revived and was declared dead at 1520 HRS..’
Saleem’s salary and his late father’s pension were two sources of income for the family of four, including mother, son Niyamat Ali, 24, and eldest daughter Sultana. The family owns no land.
“Our entire world has come crashing down. He was supporting us and had joined the Army to bring our family out of the financial crisis. Our mother used to clean utensils in other homes and crush stones working as a labourer to raise us. Saleem decided to join the Army so that he can help our mother,” said Niyamat.
“Desh ke liye to sab kuch haazir hai. Desh sabse upar hai. Kuch bhi kar sakte hain desh ke liye hum. Mere Papa gaye aur mera bhai bhi gaya. Par main abhi bhi taiyyar hoon desh ke liye jaan dene ko (We can do anything for the country. The country is supreme. My father died for the country, my brother died for the country. I am also ready to sacrifice my life for the country),” Niyamat told The Indian Express.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 50 lakh and a government job for a family member of the soldier, as per a statement released from Chandigarh.
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