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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Poonch encounter: A gallantry winner, a new father, an only bread-winner

The Punjab government has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 50 lakh and a government job for each for the families of the three soldiers from the state killed in the Poonch encounter, including Sepoy Gajjan Singh of Ropar.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba , Kamaldeep Singh Brar , Manish Sahu , Shaju Philip , Jagdeep Singh Deep | Amritsar, Jalandhar, Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: October 12, 2021 12:57:52 pm
The Armymen who were killed in the encounter on Monday.

In 2006, Naib Subedar Jaswinder Singh had been awarded the Sena Medal for his role in killing three terrorists in Kashmir. On Monday, days away from a ceremony to be held for his late father, the 39-year-old fell to militant bullets in Poonch.

Family members said the last time they spoke, on Saturday night, Jaswinder had enquired about the date being set for the ceremony, and insisted on talking to everyone. Survived by his wife Sukhpreet Kaur (35), son Vikrajit Singh (13), daughter Harnoor Kaur (11) and mother (65), Jaswinder belonged to Mana Talwandi village in Punjab’s Kapurthala district.

Jaswinder’s father Harbhajan Singh also served in the Army, retiring as Capt (Honorary). Elder brother Rajinder Singh, who retired from the force in 2015, said Jaswinder joined in 2001, just after Class 12. The youngest of three siblings, Jaswinder was last home in May, when his father died, and was to come for the ceremony, scheduled tentatively for November 1-2.

The family that jointly owns around 6 acres of land is close-knit, with the brothers staying together.

Rajinder said: “I first got a call from the Army in the morning, and officials said they just wanted to know our wellbeing. I grew suspicious. Then came another call, and the news was broken to us.”

They were told Jaswinder had died with four others when a grenade was thrown by militants, he said. The body will reach the village Thursday afternoon.

Naik Mandeep Singh, 30, among the five soldiers killed, last met his brother — Jagroop Singh, a Havildar, posted at Ganganagar in Rajasthan — one-and-a-half years ago.

Rushing home to village Chatha in Punjab’s Gurdaspur to attend his brother’s last rites, Jagroop said that given their postings, the two had seen each other only on video calls lately. One of those calls was just a few hours before the Poonch encounter.

“We are three brothers, one is in Qatar and drives a truck there. Mandeep had followed me into the Army 10 years back,” said Jagroop, adding that their families along with their mother live together in the village. Their father died in 2018.

With the family owning less than 1 acre of land, Jagroop said the three of them had no choice but to head out for work, for a better life for their children. With at least 15 people from Chatha village currently in the Army, it was the natural choice.

“It is difficult. Women have to look after home on their own. Mandeep had two sons, I have a son and daughter. We would try to come home on leave by turns. This is why we couldn’t see each other for long periods,” Jagroop said. Mandeep leaves behind his wife, also called Mandeep, and two sons who are just 3 and 18 months old.

Jagroop recalled how excited Mandeep had been in their last few video chats, talking constantly about the construction he planned for their house. “He sent me a design of what our home would look like. He also sent a voice note. We discussed how to arrange the money.”

Recalling their last conversation, on Sunday evening, he added, “We were laughing, talking about our childhood. I had no idea my brother would be no more when I woke up in the morning.”

Despite the long history of Chatha men joining the Army, Jagroop said, Mandeep was the village’s “first martyr”.

The Punjab government has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 50 lakh and a government job for each for the families of the three soldiers from the state killed in the Poonch encounter, including Sepoy Gajjan Singh of Ropar.

The youngest of three brothers, Sepoy Saraj Singh, 25, had joined the Army four years ago, in the footsteps of his elder brothers Gurpreet and Sukhveer Singh.

Less than two years ago, in December 2019, he had got married. Family members said he last spoke to his wife Ranjeet Kaur on Sunday night, promising to come home on Diwali. They have no children.

SHO, Banda, Manoj Kumar said the family, belonging to Banda area of Shahjahanpur, was waiting for his body to arrive. The Uttar Pradesh government has announced Rs 50 lakh for the family, job for a next of kin, and the naming of a road after Saraj.

All of 23, Sepoy Vaisakh H, from Kudavattoor village in Kerala’s Kollam district, had been posted to J&K — the other end of the country — two-and-a-half years back. It was only his second posting, after joining the Army in 2017 following Class 12, and serving for a while in Kapurthala, Punjab.

With Vaisakh dead, the family has lost its only bread-winner. His father Harikumar lost his job at a private firm in Kochi during Covid. Vaisakh is also survived by his mother Beena Kumari and younger sister Shilpa.

Family friend and local panchayat member K Ramani said Vaisakh’s wedding had been fixed a year ago, but he had put it off to see Shilpa getting married first. “He insisted he would tie the knot only after that,” said Ramani.

She added that the parents had put in everything into educating the two children. The 5 cents and a small house they owned had been sold to meet the educational expenses. “It was only last month that they had moved into a new house, constructed with Vaisakh’s savings and bank loans,” Ramani said. “Vaisakh came for the housewarming.”

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