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With heavy heart and steady hands,he bids farewell to fallen comrades

Balwinder Singh is in charge of ferrying coffins of CRPF men killed in combat

Written by VijaitaSingh | New Delhi |
March 26, 2013 3:10:23 am

Earlier this month,CRPF Head Constable Balwinder Singh supervised the final farewell to colleagues who fell to the terrorist attack on the force’s Bemina camp in Srinagar. As always,he did his job with solemnity and stoicism — with a heavy heart,but the steady hands of a veteran of painful moments.

Balwinder Singh has a heartbreaking job-description: it is his responsibility to ensure that coffins of fellow CRPF personnel fallen in the line of duty are treated with the dignity they deserve,and despatched to their waiting families in faraway corners of India.

The CRPF occupies combat frontlines in conflict zones across the country,and suffers heavy casualties. Most of the bodies are routed through Delhi,where Singh is posted. He refuses to discuss numbers,but in the three years he has spent heading a team of five at this job,over 200 CRPF personnel have been killed,a vast majority of them in attacks by Maoists in central and eastern India.

Next to the rubble and scrap at the cargo complex of Delhi’s IGI Airport is a small clearing earmarked for CRPF’s last farewell functions. This,so to speak,is Singh’s theatre of operation. On a table under a tent,coffins wrapped in the national flag are kept for officers and men to pay homage before they are flown to the native places of the slain personnel.

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The farewells are normally quiet,solemn affairs without VIP visits,attended mostly by officials connected with the CRPF,and usually not covered by the media. The case of the Bemina victims — the first terrorist strike in Kashmir in three years — was different. MoS Home RPN Singh showed up to pay homage before the bodies were flown out — to Bhopal,Chennai,Ranchi,Lucknow and Jalaun in Uttar Pradesh.

“One thing that we never allow ourselves to forget is that they died fighting for the country,and it is not just a duty for us. We have to ensure that they are given a proper tribute,” says Singh. He does feel emotional,he says,but he never allows emotion to overcome the larger context of the CRPF’s mission.

“I do not remember the number of coffins I have handled here in Delhi,” he says. “Whenever we get a message that a colleague has been killed we get on the job immediately. The whole process may take 10 or 12 hours,and sometimes we stay back at the airport when there is an early morning flight involved in the ferrying of the coffin.”

From arranging the wreath to coordinating with the bugle team,everything is part of Singh’s job. His team also keeps in constant touch with the families of the slain personnel,talking to them by phone,keeping them updated and informed until they have received the body.

“We do not rest until the body has reached the family and make sure that they do not face any problems,” Singh says.

Some cases,he says are especially difficult.

“Two years ago,I made these arrangements for one of my batchmates who was killed in an encounter in the Northeast. We had joined the force together and even trained together. It was not easy to accept he was no longer alive.”

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