In the stirring saga of India's struggle for Independence, thousands gave up their lives as martyrs. Many of their stories have gone unrecorded. When free India was compelled to defend itself against its foes, many more stories of martyrdom were created.

Here is a hitherto untold story of sepoy number 4345252 of the Indian Army's Infantry wing from Assam's Dima Hasao district, who, at the tender age of 19 years, was one of the youngest Indians to become a prisoner of war during the Indo-Pak Conflict in 1971.

Unfortunately though, sepoy (redit') Lalhruoi Hmar, now aged about 64 years, emerges as another Wing example of how we sometimes tend to distance ourselves when it comes to admiring our real life heroes in the true sense of the term.

Having made sacrifices of the highest order for his motherland, Hmar, who now resides in Haflong in Dima Hasao district (NC Hills), says, "No-body ever enquires about us. Today I am finding it hard to
look after my family the way I wanted to and even managing the basic needs, at times, becomes difficult. But more than the money, it is the very apathy of those at the helm of affairs that makes me

sad Although it has been nearly 44 years since the war ended in favour of India, Haw says that nobody from the government ever came to him to see how he was doing, acknowledging his contributions. which many believe can still inspire the young and the old alike.

"Once a soldier, always a soldier! People like us can still contribute, provided we are given the opportunity to do so. It is not Just by holding guns at the war zone that a person can contribute. There is a lot we can do for our society. In the last 40-odd years, un-fortunately, nobody deemed it fit to engage me in any manner. I remained confined to jhum cultivation to meet my family's needs," he rues.

Hmar had Joined the 3rd Assam Regiment on October, 1971, and barely a month after his first posting in Punjab, he, along with the members of his troops, had to leave for the border, as the war (leading to the liberation of Bangladesh) became inevitable.

"We were posted In Punjab (Indo-Pak border), and the intensity of the conflict escalated every passing day since December 4, 1971, when the war broke out. After resisting the attack for nearly five days, some of us crossed over into Pakistani territory. The air strikes intensified on the bonder" recalls Hmar.

I suddenly found that seven of us (Indian soldiers) were cordoned off by the Pakistani troops. It was early morning of December 9, 1971. They shot dead two of us immediately. They tied our hands and  blindfolded us. I thought they would kill us, but then a few hours later, we found ourselves in Multan Central Jail," he says. I was subjected to torture day in and day out during my confinement in jail, which lasted for one year and 18 days," he says.

Hmar says that he, along with some 218 Indian prisoners of war, were released on December 18, 1972, on the Wagah border (more than 50,000 Pakistani prisoners of war were captured in India during  the course of the war), where they were received by the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, the then Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the then Chief of Indian Amer, Sam  Manekshaw, besides Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

We were given a hero's welcome. We kissed the grould of ow motherland. Those were great moments. I still cherish them. I do not know where the other PoWs are now. But from Assam. I was the only one alive." he says.

The 12 months and 18 days of con-finement and torture not only left a toll on me physically, but emotionally too. I got drained. It was very difficult for my family to handle the situation," he says.

It was only on February 16. 1972. that my father got to know through a letter from the Assam Regiment (Infantry regiment) Office, located in Shillong, that I was alive and imprisoned in Pakistan.

"After serving the earthy for another five years, I opted for retirement on compassionate grounds, for my mother was not keeping well and even my brothels had got separated. It was during this period that my father and grandparents also expired. I had to look after the family. There was no other option" he reminisces.

"Post-retirement, I had plans both for my family and society, but they could not materialise due to one reason or the other" he states.

Hmar informs that he had plans to start something of his own, which would not just cater to the needs of the people in the hill district, but would also give the likes of him (senior citizens) employment opportunities.

"I had once come across a news item which said that the government was planning schemes for all the prisoners of war. It was around ten years ago, but nothing came our way. Perhaps we have been forgotten," he laments.

"I am also a member of the senior citizens' forum (Dime Hasao), which now aims to empower the senior citizens through various projects. It was in this regard that I recently met Assam Governor P.B. Acharya and spoke at length on the issue."

Hmar now plans to create a forum which would ensure that no senior citizen is looked down upon and at the same time, make them self-dependant.

"I have four sons and a wife and I continue to be the only earning mem-ber (Rs. 6,000/month) in the family, even at this age," he divulges, confiding that he, at tines, does feel dejected and saddened by the fact that his countrymen know little about him and his sacrifices.

 Addressing yours truly, an emotional Hmar says, "You are one of the very few persons who showed some interest in my achievements. Memories were slowly fading away before you expressed your keenness."

As the warrior in Hmar continues to share his experiences about his life without uniform, one fails to understand why and how such acts of valour and selflessness by our war heroes fail to evoke appreciation and recognition from our governments and society. It is time we all spared some thought to ensure that this legacy of valour and sacrifice endures and inspires future generations. As the axiom goes, he-roes are born where heroes are won shipped.

(sanjoyray@gmalteom)

Source: Assam Tribune
Sunday, September 6,2015




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