What do soldiers do after retirement? This question often finds a simpering response, ‘Well, they have the canteen booze for company’. But anyone who has toured the hinterland would think otherwise. In many villages veterans are heading village councils. Invariably one sees display boards like ‘Adarsh’ or ‘Nirmal’ village. Testimonials from the State administration line the walls of panchayat halls. But this is not their only contribution.
Honorary Captain Ramphal was a model soldier in many ways. With his 75-inch height and enviably athletic body he played practically every game. His straight spine and looking-into-the-eye disposition, always made a commanding presence. Ten years into retirement in his village in Bhiwani District of Haryana, his zeal for social causes refuses to dim.
Ten years into retirement in his village in Bhiwani District of Haryana, his zeal for social causes refuses to dim.
On 16 June 2013, Ramphal watched the TV news of the devastating human tragedy in Uttara Khand. His mind was made up quickly and he started collecting funds. With his high reputation for integrity, donors came forward willingly and cash flowed in. He, along with two other veterans Havildar Dharamvir and Naik Satbir bought rations and reached Dehradun in a hired truck.
The DM at Dehradun Mr Purushottam gave them a permit to move to Joshimath. They were still on the way when the DM called up to say that a portion the Joshimath road had been washed off and asked them to divert to Tehri. They did so moving to Chamba by late evening. There the SDM Tehri, one Mr Shrivastav advised them to stay the night at Chamba as the road beyond was not fit for night travel. The SDM also advised them to contact SDM Dhanolti where rations were in more urgent demand.
…the SDM requested if some tents could be arranged by them. Ramphal’s team immediately rushed back to Dehradun and purchased 32 tents and 21 tarpaulins.
The SDM Dhanolti Mr Pandey suggested they move to Tathod. There they met the Bloc SDM another Mr Pandey. Here they were provided with smaller Tata pick-up trucks and the Tehsildar with 10 helpers came to unload and transfer the rations. Ramphal’s team worked overnight to put rations in smaller packets for distribution to the needy individuals. By now there was a road block behind them but he had seen enough of these in his service and took the news in his stride. After the rations had been distributed, the SDM requested if some tents could be arranged by them. Ramphal’s team immediately rushed back to Dehradun and purchased 32 tents and 21 tarpaulins. These were dispatched without delay.
Ramphal’s village had been generous. After doing all this they still had Rs one lac balance. This they donated to Uttara Khand Chief Minister’s fund before returning home.
Being from my Regiment, we keep meeting. Ramphal narrated the experience like a military debrief; without colour or padding. I asked him what he learnt from the experience. He told me two things. First people feel genuine grief on such sad occasions and are willing to donate liberally. They of course do not have the initiative and organisational skills; that gap was filled by Ramphal’s team. Second, he was all praise for the right attitude and professionalism of the civil administration of Uttarakhand.
Finally I asked him if he would do a repeat if an occasion arose. “I do not wish a repeat of such a tragedy Sahib” he said without any hint of pomposity . But I could see the same old steely determination in those eyes that peered from beneath the now greying brows. A soldier is a soldier for life.
We have over two million veterans living around the country. They do not retire with degrees and diplomas. They carry home sincerity, skills and selflessness for serving the society. It is a pity that this tremendous asset is not being harnessed.