For constable Surender Yadav, the grief of losing soldiers in the attack, four from his own battalion, parallels the shock of making it out alive. It has been a week since the suicide attack on the CRPF convoy that led to the death of 40 soldiers and left five others injured, the men who were part of the convoy are picking up the pieces, collecting themselves and the items left behind by their fellow soldiers that did not survive the bombing.
“I was supposed to be on that bus,” he said. At Qazigund, more than 190 kilometres from Jammu, where the convoy halted, a friend hollered him to come join him in his bus. Yadav went and took a seat in the bus about ten vehicles behind the one that came under the impact of the IED explosion. “I wept inconsolably for the first three days. Then everyone consoled me and said ‘doosri zindagi mili hai, ab ache se karma karo’. (You’ve been given a second life, now work well),” The 28-year-old constable said.
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39 men from CRPF’s 45 battalion were in the convoy on February 14, the day of the attack. As the explosion ripped through the vehicle, “It was loud bang, a flash of light and shattered glass around us,” the soldiers told The Indian Express.
As the list of the deceased started doing the rounds with Yadav’s name in it based on the seating list, “Everyone assumed I had died. My family in Deoria, (UP) panicked,” he said. It wasn’t until he reached Srinagar’s Bakshi stadium, where men from all battalions were accounted for, that they realised that he had, in fact, survived.
For other soldiers of the battalion, there is grief and anguish and one demand, “Hum chahte hain unhien shaheed ka darja diya jaaye.” (We want them to to be called martyrs). Constable Bhagirath Singh (Dhaulpur, Rajasthan), Constable Virender Singh (Uttarakhand), Constable Rattan Kumar Thakur (Bhagalpur, Bihar) and Constable Awdesh Kumar Yadav (Chanduali, UP) all from the 45 battalion were among passengers of the bus.
The battalion, stationed at Sumbal in North Kashmir’s Bandipore, had foiled a fedayeen attack on June 5, 2017 on it’s headquarter with four armed militants attacking the camp in the wee hours. Constable Virender Singh was part of the Quick Action Team (QAT) that foiled this attack.
They also seek pensions for the families of the men who lost their lives since those who joined the CRPF after 2004 are not entitled to pension. They say, that like all other forces in the Valley, they are also bearing losses and a pension could help the families who lose their earning members, “Hum bhi nuksaan utha rahe hain, isse parivaar ki thodi madad hogi.”
“We are prepared for gun fire or grenades or any form of attack already known, par ye kisi ne socha nahin tha ki aisa bhi hoga. (No one had imagined an attack like this.) Isiliye chook ho gayi,” said constable Atul Kumar. He remembered his fellow soldiers as hardworking and “always up for any assignment with a smile.”
They say that they are grieving the loss of lives but their morale is high and “sahi sharaddhanjali hogi jab ye hamla karne walon ko pakda jayega.” (True homage to the soldiers will be to bring the perpetrators of the attack to book.) The security establishment in Kashmir anticipated attacks on February 9, the anniversary of the Afzal Guru’s execution, and February 11, the anniversary of Maqbool Bhat’s hanging.
However, with growing numbers of troops returning from vacation and awaiting transport in Jammu, owing to the blockade on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the convoys moved on February 14.
Amid the anticipation of retaliation of forces and all the talk of war, the soldiers say that decisions like those are up to the netas and for them, carrying on with their job is more important. Amid the despair and remembrance, Wednesday brought the battalion something to cheer and a box of sweets did the round of the bunkers as two members of the battalion have been promoted.
For constable Yadav, it is the first time that he has lost a fellow soldier. Even as those around him find it in themselves to remember those who lost their lives with a smile, Yadav remains in a state of stoical resignation.