Bachchu6 mins 16.7K 6 mins 16.7K
Daljit Singh first noticed the child running across the deserted street of Kuri village. Our team took back possession of the village from the insurgents after an eight-hour battle. We were happy because the casualty on our side was minimal, a few wounded, none grievously, and no fatality. It would not be possible but for the unprecedented valour shown by Daljit and his seven daredevil companions. While we kept the opponent busy with our LMG and rockets, Daljit and his friends crossed the line stealthily and entered the village from the opposite side, throwing RPGs on the occupied huts with surgical precision and then charged on the panicked terrorists with their automatic SLRs. It was a cake walk, Daljit said with a guffaw, brushing aside all the compliments bestowed upon them by our team leader, Commander Shahrukh.
Kuri was one of the fringe villages on the LOC of Pakistan border, about a hundred kilometres from Gulmarg. It was located on the slope of a picturesque valley with few huts scattered around. The villagers usually got down to Gulmarg during the winter because of heavy snowfall in their valley. They were mostly shepherds, with some seasonal cultivation done in their valley in April and May when the snow melted.
When we entered the village, it was deserted. We had come to know from our lookouts that most of the villagers had left the village a few days ago after facing continuous unprovoked shelling and mortar fires by the Pak Army. We smelt a rat. This was a common ploy to send infiltrators across the border when the villagers were forced to desert their homes. These shepherds were our lookouts, our valuable source of information regarding any movements across the border. We assumed there would an attempt to send infiltrators across the LOC under the covering of continuous shelling. We sent out reconnaissance team to check and they confirmed the presence of insurgents in the village which was otherwise deserted, barring one family who had been taken hostage by the terrorists.
Daljit and his team confirmed total decimation of the targets, thirteen men, armed to the teeth. But our commander was cautious and we proceeded surreptitiously. It was not easy. The birch forest ended about fifty meters before the boundary of the village and there was no cover in that flat barren stretch. We crossed in groups of twos and threes, other members of the company stood alert to give us cover firings if needed. But there was no retaliatory fire from the village, confirming Daljit’s assessment.
Once we entered the village, we found an eerie silence hung over it like a heavy pall. The air was acrid after continuous heavy fires and shelling. Some huts were still burning. There was no movement, but we had some bitter experience in the past of hiding terrorists suddenly opening fires on unsuspecting army. So we all picked up our guns in firing position and crouched reflexively the moment Daljit shouted ‘stop’! He noticed some movement across the deserted alley. We were about to start firing in that direction, but Daljit told us to hold, the target appeared to be too small to be a terrorist. It could be a stray dog or may be a sheep.
Daljit progressed towards the spot crawling prone. We all kept our fire-arms ready, lest any adverse situation cropped up. There was no more movement across the alley. Daljit reached the end of the alley and taking shelter behind a thick wooden pole of a thatch, forwarded his reco-stick fitted with a mirror. In case a terrorist was lurking on the other side, Daljit would spot his reflection on the mirror before he could see him. We all were waiting with baited breath. But instead of picking up his SLR, Daljit started laughing. He had a funny way of laughing, a deep-throated guffaw, punctuated by loud gurgles of laughter. We relaxed.
Commander Shahrukh asked Daljit what he saw.
Daljit replied with a broad grin, ‘EK Bacchu (a kid)’!
We all progressed in a file. A kid might not be absolutely an innocent one in this setting. We heard stories about kids who were strapped with explosives and sent across the border and when some jawan tried to rescue it, he lost his life. This kid could also be a trap. So our commander ordered Daljit to be cautious. But he was too sure that this kid was no trap.
And surely the kid was an innocent girl of about ten, who lost her parents when the terrorists attacked their village and took their family a hostage. When the army attacked their refuge in the morning, the terrorists promptly killed her parents, lest they defect. She hid under a blanket and the terrorists didn’t notice her, or might have ignored her presence because of her tender age.
We rescued the kid and brought her back to the barrack. She would be sent to some orphanage after a while, as the protocol dictated, but in the mean time we all became her friends. Daljit took special care of her, like a foster father. She also had a special corner for Daljit. Whenever we returned from our exercises or training schedules, she would rush down to Daljit with a sweet smile.
For some official overlooking of the case, the transfer of the child to the orphanage was delayed and we did not bring it to the notice of the higher officials. We all started considering her as our child and called her Bacchu. She also addressed us as Chachu meaning uncle. When a contingent of our company was ordered to move very close to the LOC for a special mission, which included both Daljit and I, we took Bachchu along with us. We pitched a separate tent for her, just beside the one where Daljit put up.
One fine morning we were engaged in some combat drills when we noticed Bachchu running across the mountain slope towards the border. We shouted at her and called her back. But she paid no heed. Sometimes kids could be irrational and whimsical, but here the consequence would be very grave. If she got close to the border, the Pakistan Rangers would shot her down ,or she might be blasted off by any of the anti-personnel mines strewn along the border by both forces. Daljit ran after her, but she was running like a mountain goat and at that altitude running very fast could be dangerous for an adult. Three of us were after her but she beat us easily and crossed the first line of barrier. After this, there was a stretch of no-man’s land and then stated the border of Pakistan manned by the Pakistan Rangers.
Daljit was near her, but she was nearer to the border. I was far behind them, but could see the shooters of Pakistan Rangers had picked up their rifles aiming at Daljit and the kid. But Daljit cried out, “Don’t shoot, she is our child” and jumped on her shielding her little body with his tough and muscled torso. We knew that both were going to die. I closed my eyes and was anticipating the staccato of automatic rifles and the LMG, punctuated by the cries of Daljit and Bacchu. But there was none. When I opened my eyes, I could not believe what I saw. Daljit was returning with Bachchu in his lap, scolding and shouting at her angrily. The soldiers of the Pakistan Rangers were laughing and shouting at them, rather in a cheerful taunt, but there was no fire.