by Anil Bhat
The slim youth with a sportsman’s build and typical Meitei features, who walked up to the President of India, Mrs. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, before the start of the 62nd Republic Day Parade, on 26 January, 2011, to receive the Ashok Chakra awarded posthumously to Major Laishram Jyotin Singh, is Dr. Laishram Boeing Singh, his younger brother. He was escorted by Colonel Sanjiv Kakkar, who had headed the medical team in Kabul which Major Singh was part of and which was attacked by terrorists.
Major Singh was conferred the country’s highest peacetime gallantry award, Ashok Chakra posthumously, for his act of fearlessly charging at a suicide bomber and one of the terrorists who attacked the Indian Army’s medical team in Kabul. This team team comprising six doctors of Indian Army Medical Corps and five para-medics, was working at Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health and staying at Noor Guest House, in the Sher-e-Naw area, considered the Connaught Place of Kabul. Also residing there were two other Army officers of the English Language Training Team and some other Afghans, who also bore the brunt of this attack.
In a country where doctors and medical facilities are scarce, this attack assumes a greater degree of heinousness. The fact that it was yet another attack on Indians involved only in assistance and reconstruction projects and that the attackers were Urdu-speaking, leaves no doubt about this being Pakistani hatchet job.
Born on 14 May 1972, Jyotin, a meritorious student of Manipur Public School, an excellent footballer and body-builder, chose a career in medicine. Graduating from Regional Institute of Medical science at Imphal in 1996, followed by a stint of medical residency, he acquired Post Graduate Diploma in Sports Medicine from the reputed Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala in 2001. Commissioned as as a short service officer in the Army Medical Corps in February 2003, he was granted permanent commission in April 2007.
On completion of his basic military training, he was posted to a medical unit of the Border Roads Organization, General Reserve Engineering Force in a high altitude area on 8 July 2003. Here, he not only looked after the Border Roads personnel but also provided medical care to civilians and their families in remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh. Posted to Military Hospital, Agartala on 9 February 2006, he became a great asset. The inter-unit football and badminton matches helped him to interact with troops and he became popular in the social circle of the garrison within no time. His expert advice was frequently sought after by one and all in the garrison, as almost all Army personnel are fitness freaks. Invited to be a part of the Fourth CISM (International Military Sports Council) Military World games organized by the Indian Armed Forces at Hyderabad in 2007, Major Singh worked as medical officer in charge of the anti-doping unit. He was also invited to attend the Commonwealth Youth Games at Pune in 2008. Jyotin, a sincere and diligent worker, was always ready for any task even beyond the call of his regular duty. While working as medical officer at the military hospital he provided specialist services to the Government Hospital and College.
Selected on merit for deputation to the Indian Medical Mission in Afghanistan, he was stationed in Kabul since 13 February, 2010.
Thirteen days after his posting, on February 26, at 0630 hours, 2010, the Noor Guest House was attacked by heavily armed and determined terrorist suicide bombers. Haneef, the Afghan owner of the Guest House, who pleaded to them was shot dead. One of them, after detonating what is termed as a Suicidal Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (SVBIED), resulting in the death of three security guards, proceeded further to kill any survivors. The terrorist fired bursts of rounds from an AK-47 into the individual rooms and started throwing hand grenades. In the melee, five unarmed officers took shelter in one of the rooms in which a grenade was lobbed and the fire on its roof spread consequently to the bathroom where another group of five officers were sheltered. On hearing shouts of the five officers, Major Laishram Jytoin Singh crawled out from under the debris of his room and unmindful of his own safety, charged with bare hands at the bomb-jacketed terrorist and pinned him down to ensure that he could no longer lob more grenades or fire his AK-47 at the officers cornered in the burning room. He continued to grapple with the lethally armed terrorist and did not let him go till the latter panicked and detonated his suicide vest, resulting in the instantaneous death of the terrorist and himself. He gave up his life to save his colleagues, one of whom unfortunately was charred to death, while another succumbed to his injuries five days later. His supreme sacrifice also saved the lives of two officers, four paramedics and two Afghan civilians. While Colonel Kakkar survived with 15% burns and a splinter in his right leg, some others suffered up to 40% burns and splinter injuries.
Director General Armed Forces Medical Services, Lieutenant General Naresh Kumar, who arranged for Boeing’s journey from Guwahati and his stay in Delhi and who helped me to get in touch with him through Colonel Kakkar, commended the work done in Kabul by the Indian Army medical team. Both General Kumar and Colonel Kakkar were all praise for Major Singh, for his professional competence and his nature of being warm and always helpful to all.
Jyotin, was the third among four highly accomplished siblings. While his father Laishram Markanda Singh retired in 1997 as a Deputy Director, Department of Agriculture, Government of Manipur, his mother, Ibeyaima Devi, as described by Boeing, is “a great home-maker…despite not being much educated herself, she and our father gave us all the encouragement and support to make us achieve highly in our professions.” While the parents stay at Nambol Awang Leikai, Bishnupur, Manipur, Jyotin’s elder sisters, Bina Kumari Devi is a doctor and Ragini Devi, a lecturer in mathematics – both married – are in Imphal. Boeing, the youngest, is a Ph.D in Infrastructure Financing from I.I.T., Chennai, teaching at I.I.T., Guwahati.
While Jyotin, the first Ashok Chakra recipient of the Army Medical Corps, of Manipur and the entire North East, has done his organization, the State he hails from and India proud, his irreparable loss is being borne stoically by his family.