Beyond the call of duty: army veterans and families serving the country off the battlefieldTarun Mittal
The Indian Army: just the sound of these words in unison can evoke so many emotions – of pride, courage, dependability, and discipline – among Indian citizens from all walks of life. Be it protecting our borders, or quelling internal strife, or single-handedly managing rescue operations during natural disasters, the Indian Army has always come out with flying colours when deployed into action, often making them the first and last resort in dire situations. Today on Army Day, India celebrates the sacrifices and valour of the millions of men and women of the Indian Army.
For those looking for a short history lesson on the relevance of 15 January, well it is the day Field Marshal Kodandera M Cariappa (then Lieutenant General) took over as the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian National Army from the last British officer in 1949. As the country celebrates its 70th Army Day this year, we take the opportunity to highlight the army personnel and their families who have served the nation and its citizens through selfless and altruistic acts. Here are eight such people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help their compatriots in need:
Subhashini Vasanth is an army widow who has found purpose in helping the wives and families of martyred armed forces personnel. As the founder of the Vasantharatna Foundation for Arts (VRFA), which she started in memory of her husband Col. Vasanth Venugopal, Subhashini provides a crucial support system for several martyrs’ families. Having initially started out as only a liaison between the government, the civil agencies, and the families, the VRFA has since helped martyrs’ families sustain themselves by providing financial and educational support not only for children but also the women.
For her efforts, Subhashini Vasanth received the Neerja Bhanot Award in 2016, and her NGO, which has helped over a hundred families in Karnataka thus far, is soon planning to set up operations in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, and Delhi as well.
Subedar Major Bhagguram Maurya
Subedar Major Bhagguram Maurya joined the engineering department of the Indian Army in 1983. Thirty-four years later, when he retired and returned to his village Rameshwar in Uttar Pradesh, he spent the hard-earned money from his Employee Provident Fund to construct a road. The Himarampur area in which Bhagguram’s house is located did not have a road worthy of even a bicycle to ply on at the time. It took months of negotiating for the land around the path and Rs 4 lakh before he could get the road constructed. For placing his village’s needs ahead of his own, Subedar Major Bhagguram Maurya has twice been honoured by Indian Presidents – in 2002 by APJ Abdul Kalam and in 2012 by Pranab Mukherjee.
A public health nutritionist from Delhi, 22-year-old Deepshikha Chhetri was inspired by her father, an Indian Army officer, to provide better educational and health practices in a rural Rajasthan village. Having witnessed the struggles of the children attending the Rajkiya Madhyamik Vidyalaya school of Bhoola Village, Sirohi district, Deepshikha embarked on a journey to ensure that its students received an education at par with that granted to children in urban areas.
Working for the India fellowship in association with Kshamtalaya Foundation, Deepshikha has launched a crowdfunding campaign called Bringing Hope to Education with the aim of providing sorely needed portable desks for the students as well as improving the infrastructure of the school. In addition to this, she is also working on introducing WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) in both the school and community, personal hygiene, menstruation hygiene, and a mid-day meal as part of her two-year tenure in Bhoola.
Radhika Anand, an Air Force officer’s daughter, has made it her mission to increase the dwindling green cover in India. With help from the Indian Armed Forces, she has planted over 1,10,000 saplings of mango, tamarind, jackfruit, and blackberry trees across India in just one year. She is also the founder and CEO of Plantology, a self-funded organisation that conducts workshops on preserving a healthy ecosystem. Plantology also works on increasing youth awareness and building a grassroots-level mass movement for environmental protection. All the money raised through these workshops has been used to plant more tree saplings, primarily in the states of Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
Sapna and Nihar Halder
Nihar Halder served in the Indian Army Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers for nine years and was part of the peacekeeping force that went to Sri Lanka in 1989. Since his return to his hometown in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, Nihar and his wife Sapna have dedicated their lives to helping the less-fortunate members of their society. The couple started their journey by joining Sankalp Sanstha, an NGO that collects and sells waste newspapers and scraps and donates the money raised to schools and to help physically disabled children. They have also started a programme for felicitating simple acts of bravery, kindness, and perseverance in their village.
The couple has gone out of their way to help their neighbours when they needed it the most, such as by providing food and clothing to the countless people who were affected by devastating floods in July 2013.
A memorable part of Nachiket Pande’s childhood involved him listening with awe to army stories from his father who served in the Indian armed forces for 25 years. In November 2015, drawing inspiration from the Humans of New York Facebook page, Nachiket started a page called Veterans of India with the aim of sharing stories of defence officers, war veterans, and individuals who have interacted with the armed forces. An active member of the ‘One Rank One Pension’ protest movement in Delhi, Nachiket interviews several veterans and shares their stories so that he may honour them by making more people aware and appreciative of their sacrifice.
Speaking of the reason behind starting the page, Nachiket says, “Whenever our soldiers look back from the border, I want them to see a country which is proud of them.”
Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar Gopinath is among the most well-known entrepreneurs of India for pioneering budget air travel in the country with the launch of Air Deccan. A captain in the Indian Army and a veteran of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, his first step after an early retirement from the armed forces was to set up an ecologically sustainable sericulture farm, a venture that earned him the Rolex Laureate Award in 1996. He then co-founded a helicopter charter service called Deccan Aviation in 1997 and then went on to launch Air Deccan, a low-cost airline that revolutionised the sector by bringing affordable air travel to the masses.
Despite Air Deccan eventually merging with Kingfisher Airlines in 2007, and the failure of his subsequent air freight business (Deccan 360), Captain Gopinath is rightly regarded among the most important entrepreneurs and businessmen of India in the past few decades.
A native of Wayanad, Kerala, Thonakal Gopi was a passionate runner since his childhood days and represented his state in several 5,000 and 10,000 metre runs. In his final year of BA Economics, however, he was forced to drop out due to financial constraints. This led him to join the Indian Army through the sports quota. In January 2016, he was acting as a pace-setter for an Army marathon runner and was expected to stop after the 30-km mark. But the 29-year-old hawaldar completed the full course and booked himself a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics. While he finished 25th in Rio, Thonakal clinched the gold medal in the 2017 Asian Marathon Championship, becoming the first Indian man to do so in the history of the storied competition.
At a time when nationalism and patriotism have assumed hyper-inflated and farcical proportions, the efforts of these men and women are a reflection of what devotion to their country means. It isn’t just on the borders that our jawans line up to serve; the sacrifices and efforts of these brave people and their families trickle down to several aspects which drive social change. So join us in saluting the countless known and unknown soldiers, from the past and the present, who live and breathe to serve our great nation.