The 20 soldiers who died came from 11 states. While CO, Col B Santosh Babu, was from Telangana, the others came from Bihar, UP, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It was India fighting back.
‘Humble, A leader who took care of his juniors’
Col Bikkumalla Santosh Babu 37,
The Commanding Officer(CO) of the 16 Bihar Regiment, his seniors and fellow Telugu-speaking officers in the Army recall, was known to be a humble, soft-spoken person, and a leader who took care of his juniors. One of the last conversations with Babu, an officer recalled, was regarding the school admission of his two children in Secunderabad where he was posted next, as he looked forward to serving in his home state.
His remains arrived in Hyderabad Wednesday evening.
Col Babu’s wife, B Santoshi, and two children, Anirudh and Abigna, who have been living in Delhi reached Hyderabad Wednesday morning.
Col S Sreenivasa Rao, a senior colleague who is from the same town, said he was a leader who took care of his juniors. “He was down to earth and not at all aggressive in nature. A very soft-spoken man, always cool and calm,” he said.
“He was a topper of the batch from school to NDA and IMA. Young and energetic, with excellent track record. He was commanding the battalion,” said the Colonel.
When contacted, Col Arun Kulkarni, the principal of Sainik School-Korukonda, said that Col Babu was an active participant in alumni activities and stayed in touch with his teachers. “He was very forthcoming to help the school… He is a big role model for the students after valiantly fighting the enemy in the highest battlefield,” the principal said.
‘Papa said everything out of our capacity, but not Army’
Sepoy Ganesh Ram Kunjam 28,
Tiharu Ram Kunjam got the call informing about his nephew’s death from an unknown number on Tuesday afternoon. “Before I could understand what was happening, the call got disconnected,” he said. He has since made umpteen calls to the same number and all have gone unanswered.
Ganesh Ram Kunjam had come home in January, for his engagement. The eldest of three siblings, he joined the Army in 2011 as soon as he finished schooling. “He always wanted to join the Army and prepared himself well,” said his father, Itwari Ram Kunjam, 46. For the tribal family of paddy farmers from Gidhali village in Kanker, there was no hesitation in sending the eldest son to the Army. “We had to send him to do something, either college, which costs money or what he really wanted, which was dangerous. I had hoped that it would take him a couple of tries to clear the entrance, but he cleared it in first attempt,” said the father.
“He would keep telling us that everything else is out of our financial capacity, but not the Army,” Itwari Ram Kunjam said.
Left promising to return
Deepak Singh, 31, Madhya Pradesh
Deepak Singh had visited his home in Farhada village in Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh to celebrate Holi, promising to return soon. He got married last November. His father Gajraj Singh, a farmer, said nobody had imagined his son’s body would return wrapped in the Tricolour. He said he was proud of his son’s sacrifice. On June 20, Deepak would have completed eight years in the force. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and former CM Kamal Nath were among leaders who paid tributes to him.
‘Our worst fears came true’
Havildar Sunil Kumar, 37,
Sunil Kumar, from Taranagar village in Patna, joined the Army in 2002. His elder brother Anil Kumar, a retired Armyman, said: “Our worst fears came true with the news of his supreme sacrifice. As family of a soldier, there is a great sense of pride…” Kumar’s wife Rikki Devi said he had come home seven months ago. The couple has two sons and a daughter. Kumar’s father Basudev Singh runs a provision store in their village.
‘Last spoke a week ago…’
Sepoy Kundan Kumar,
Sepoy Kundan Kumar of Aaran village of Saharsa joined the forces in 2012. Kundan’s wife Baby Devi (26) said: “My husband returned to join duty on January 27. When I last spoke to him on June 9, he sounded comfortable but did hint at tension at the border. He also wanted me to talk to his mother.” The couple has two sons aged five and three. His father Nimendra Yadav, who owns two bighas of land, said: “…My son’s sacrifice must not go in vain.”
‘We were looking for a girl for him’
Sepoy Jaikishore Singh, 26, Bihar
Sepoy Jaikishore Singh (26) was from Chakfatah village of Vaishali, the second of four siblings. His elder brother Nand Kishore Singh is in CRPF. His father Kapur Singh is a farmer. Jaikishore had come to the village in February. His relative Shiv Vachan Singh said: “We were looking for a girl for him. He would motivate village youths to join defence forces. We are proud of him but our government needs to show bigger resolve to respond to China.”
‘Asked us not to worry’
Havildar K Palani, 40, Tamil Nadu
Havildar K Palani joined the Army when he was 18. His younger brother Idayakani, also in the Army, said Palani had struggled a lot in his childhood and always worked hard after he joined the Army. “He influenced me a lot, which made me follow his path,” said Idayakani.
His wife Vanathi Devi, 34, said Palani had called her two days before he was killed. “He said they were moving to the border area and that he may not be calling me for a few days. He said everything would be fine and that I shouldn’t worry about him,” she said. Devi lives with their two children — a daughter aged 8 and a son aged 10 — near Ramanathapuram.
His father Kalimuthu told the media that Palani had built a house. “I used to ask him often to come back… He would say that he will retire soon. I thought since he had worked so long for the country, let him take his own time to return,” he said.
‘Told us situation was tense’
Sepoy Rajesh Orang,
26, West Bengal
In Birbhum’s Belgoria village, tribal farmer Subhash Orang lost his only son Rajesh Orang (26), the sole earning member of the family. A bedridden Subhas told reporters that Rajesh was supposed to visit Birbhum in May but could not due to the lockdown.
Rajesh’s cousin Abhijit Orang said. “Had he come home in May, we would have gone ahead with his wedding. Now we are waiting for his body.”
Orang, eldest of three children, joined the Army in 2015, leaving graduation midway.
‘He was planning retirement’
Havildar Bipul Roy, 35, West Bengal
Bipul Roy from Alipurduars district in north Bengal, was planning to take voluntary retirement next year and leave Meerut, where he lived with his wife and baby girl. His father Biren Roy, a farmer, said, “He wanted to come back after retirement. Now his body will arrive here. His life should not go in vain…”
‘He dreamed of becoming a commissioned officer’
Sepoy Ankush Thakur,
21, Himachal Pradesh
Sepoy Ankush Thakur, a resident of Karohta village in Hamirpur district, was part of the Punjab Regiment and joined the Army in 2018. “His father and grandfather had both served in the Army. From an early age, Ankush had resolved to follow in their footsteps,” Ajay Kumar Sharma, a schoolteacher who taught Thakur for 10 years, said.
Thakur’s father Anil Kumar said he dreamt of becoming a commissioned officer and had taken along his books for preparation when he joined duty around 10 months ago after completing his training. “We had planned a function as he was coming home for the first time after joining active duty. His unit was moved to Galwan when the situation escalated there,” his uncle said.
Wanted to go abroad but fell for Army
Sepoy Gurtej Singh Punjab
Sepoy Gurtej Singh, like other boys and girls in his village, wanted to go abroad. “He had even cleared the IELTS exam after Class XII in non-medical stream, but then an urge to serve the nation rose in him. He prepared for the Army recruitment exams and joined the Army in 2018 December,” said his father Virsa Singh.
Gurtej was the youngest of three sons of Virsa, a farmer in Mansa’s Beerewala Dogra village.
Explained | Why China is flexing its muscle
His uncle, Sebedar Gurmail Singh (retd), took part in the Kargil war. Virsa Singh said, “The last I spoke with him was 10 days ago; today I heard the news that he died fighting. China backstabbed us and it is not for the first time that they have done this…this is not good.”
Last visit was for engagement
Sepoy Gurbinder Singh,
Sepoy Gurbinder Singh last visited his village Tolawala in Sangrur nine months ago for his engagement ceremony. “Their marriage date was yet to be finalised,” said village sarpanch Mewa Singh. Mewa said, “Ours is a village of faujis. Boys from 30 families are in the Army and he was one among them. No one cooked today. This is the first time a fauji from our village got killed,” Mewa Singh said.
Gurbinder joined Army in March 2018.
‘My brother inspired me to join the army’
Naib Subedar Satnam Singh,
Family had no clue about the sacrifice made by Naib Subedar Satnam Singh until Gurdaspur police reached his home in Bhojraj village on Wednesday. Satnam’s family had no contact with him for the last three days and were worried after the news of clashes between Indian and Chinese forces.
“He was the first from our family to join the Army in 1995. He inspired me to join the Army,” said younger brother Sukhchain Singh, who is also a Naib Subedar in the Army, posted at Hyderabad.
Satnam is survived by wife Jaswinder Kaur, daughter Sandeep and son Prabhjot. The children are in Class XII.
Jagir Singh, a farmer, said Satnam returned to duty in Ladakh just a month ago. “I am proud of him.”
Sarpanch Jagjit Singh said, “Earlier Kashmir posting was considered highly risky. But now China border is equally risky…”
‘He motivated youngsters to join the army’
Sepoy Kundan Kumar Ojha, 28, Jharkhand
Kundan Kumar Ojha had a daughter 15 days ago and was supposed to leave for his hometown, Sahebganj, on July 10 after the lockdown. At Dihari village, Ojha’s cousin Aakash Pathak said: “Before the delivery, Ojha called me and said: “Beta ho ya beti jam ke party karenge (son or daughter, we will party hard).”
Pathak said although he was aware of his posting in Ladakh but didn’t know he was fighting the Chinese. His wife hasn’t spoken a word since the news broke of his death, said Pathak.
Pathak said they studied together. “He was selected for NCC, I was left out. Later he got selected for Indian Army in 2011…. He used to motivate youngsters to join the Army who could not in their first attempt. More importantly, he used to tell others that the contribution towards nation can be made in any profession.”
Last few cryptic words: ‘Don’t worry’
Sepoy Ganesh Hansda , 21, Jharkhand
A week ago when Ganesh Hansda called his brother Dinesh, he informed in a few cryptic words that he was in an area where tension prevailed. He said, “Don’t worry,” and hung up. Dinesh said their upbringing was amid poverty. “I quit my studies to work as a labourer, I killed my dream of joining the Army so that at least my brother could be part of it. We took several loans to make this work,” he said.
Ganesh joined the Army in 2018. “In the last nine months, we were able to clear all our debts and just when we thought we will have a pucca house and amenities like clean water, he left us…It is a double whammy for us.”
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At his kuccha house in Bahargora in East Singhbhum, the family has put Ganesh’s photos on a table, waiting for his body.
‘My son’s sacrifice must not go in vain’
Sepoy Chandan Kumar, 23, Bihar
He had planned to get married in May but could not because of lockdown. A resident of Gyanpur village of Bhojpur, Chandan followed the footsteps of his three elder brothers who are in the defence services. Chandan’s father Hridyanand, who retired from the Home Guards, said, “My son’s sacrifice must not go in vain.”
‘His last words got lost in poor network’
Naib Subedar Mandip Singh, 38, Punjab
Mandip Singh’s last words to his wife got lost in the poor network in Ladakh. He had recently joined duty in Ladakh after spending time with his family during the lockdown in his village in Patiala. Singh, the only earning member of his family, joined the Army in 1997. His children — daughter Mehakpreet Kaur (15) and son Jobanpreet Singh (12) — are students of Army School in Patiala.
His cousin, Captain Nirmal Singh, who retired in April, said Mandip had joined the Army due to the family’s poor financial condition.
Family’s main bread-earner
Sepoy Chandrakanta Pradhan, 28, Odisha
From Biarpanga village in Raikia block of Odisha’s Kandhamal district, Pradhan was his family’s principal earning member, his father, Karunakar Pradhan, Pradhan, a marginal farmer, said. Pradhan said Chandrakanta had joined the Army in 2014 and had last visited home around two months ago. He belonged to a tribal community. “We feel proud that he has laid down his life for the motherland,” Pradhan said.
‘Was loved by all’
Naib Subedar Nanduram Soren, 43, Odisha
Naib Subedar Nanduram Soren came from Rairangpur area of Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district. His elder brother Doman Majhi said Soren had joined the Army in 1997 after completing Class XII from Rairangpur College.
‘Proud of their sacrifice’
Sepoy Aman Kumar, Bihar
Aman Kumar from Sultanpur village in Samastipur joined the Army in 2014. He was second among three brothers and a sister. His father Sudhir Singh, a farmer, said: “We are proud of sacrifice made by my son and other brave soldiers.”
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