Sunjwan Martyr’s daughter fighting for unfulfilled promises

Straight Line News Network

Jammu, Nov 27: On 10th February 2018, a 20-year-old Neha Choudhary lost her father. A year later, she is fighting a battle with the administration of Jammu and Kashmir to keep the memory of his sacrifice alive. Her father, Honorary Lieutenant Madan Lal Choudhary was martyred in the Sunjwan attack when heavily armed terrorists stormed inside an Army Camp after penetrating the heavy security and started firing upon the army quarters. The quarters housed families of the soldiers and the attack caused the martyrdom of five army soldiers while grievously injuring several others.

Neha Choudhary, the daughter of Honorary Lieutenant Madan Lal Choudhary who also took a bullet during the terrorist attack is now struggling for the construction of a war memorial in her father’s name. Promises made by Member-Parliament for the Udhampur-Kathua-Doda constituency Dr Jitendra Singh remain unfulfilled as the war memorial remains a distant dream for the daughter of Sunjwan martyr.

Neha has dedicated an entire room in her house in the memory of her father. It has his portraits, pictures with his family, a painting of him in uniform with the tricolour, his uniform, medals, awards and even the tricolour he was wrapped in after he was martyred. The room, Neha believes, is all that is left of the memory of his father who sacrificed his life for his country.

Early in the morning, the shots of gunfire woke up Neha and her family. In a conversation with The Straight Line, Neha recalled how her father’s first reaction was to alert the headquarters that something had happened, but she could only focus upon the bullets that were flying everywhere.

“It was dark, but I could see the little flashes as the bullets hit the door and got inside. My mother wanted to safeguard my cousin who was in the lobby and as soon as my dad saw the door, he saw that our door had almost gotten open. Usually, there are three locks, but only the chain lock was left bolted. My dad closed the door and told us to leave.”

With no way out of the army quarter and her father struggling to keep the door closed trying to keep his family safe, Neha says she didn’t see the bullet coming her way as it hit her few centimetres under her right knee, crushing the bone and passing through the leg on the other side. She dragged herself on the floor with her leg bleeding badly because of the bullet-hole, and got inside the room. While her mother closed the door after getting her cousin from the lobby, her father continued to fight bravely on the outer door, despite being hit with multiple bullets ensuring that the terrorists did not get in.

“We put a trunk in front of the door, shifted the bed and got down on the floor. These are things my father taught me as a child; what to do when there is an attack. We had to reduce our size so we got on the floor. Since there were windows, the bullets could come from anywhere and we must keep out of its range. The bullet had passed through my leg and it felt like someone had cut off my leg beneath the knee. It was bleeding from both sides and hurt so badly,” narrated Neha.

I gathered the information about the series of events that happened next from other officers, investigation teams and army officers who were present at the spot, she said. Honorary Lieutenant Madan Lal Choudhary did not give up the fight easily. He fought the terrorist and tried snatching his weapon, even when his body was laden with bullets. The terrorist pulled him hard and he fell on the floor but even then he tried to get up. But seeing that, the terrorist hit his head with the butt of the rifle so hard that the bruise could be seen. He single-handedly kept the terrorists engaged and thus alerted all the people living in surrounding quarters to escape or take cover.

“When my dad fought those terrorists, he did not just do so to safeguard his own family but also all the other families there. The attack began around 4:45 am and after attacking our quarter, the terrorists had gone inside an empty quarter next to ours on the second floor. I called the Commanding Officer since I had the phone number in my mobile. But since the terrorists had a vantage point from the empty quarter, they were firing non-stop on the rescue party. Grenades were being launched. We were evacuated from there around 8:30 am.”

For four-five hours, Neha and her family remained in the room in a state of extreme pain and suffering. When they were evacuated, she had suffered extreme blood loss and was on the verge of death herself. She was moving in and out of consciousness and was in no position to even stand. Evacuating them itself was a difficult task but as her father fought the terrorists outside, she was fighting for her life inside the room.

“Even after the attack was over and we were evacuated, I was still afraid. Not afraid of the attack but afraid of losing my father, of becoming an orphan. My mother still carries a splinter in her leg and I walk with a limp sometimes. The attack left us mentally and physically scarred for life. Now we just wish to commemorate my father’s legacy- his sacrifice in the form of a war memorial that was promised to us on 20th February 2018 by Dr Jitendra Singh.”

Dr Jitendra Singh tweeted on his official twitter account, “Rs 25 lakh contributed from MP-Fund to build Shaheed Samarak in memory of Shaheed Madan Lal Choudhary, Shubham Singh and Roshan Lal of Hiranagar.”

Furthermore, it was reported in newspapers “The information to this effect was conveyed to Deputy Commissioner Kathua, Rohit Khajuria by the Union Minister.”

But a year has gone by and even the faintest sign of the memorial cannot be seen. Neha has other grievances with the administration beyond the memorial as well. Neha alleges that they were promised vengeance but nothing happened until a year later, in the same month of February, Pulwama attack happened. Then the government got serious about retaliation and yet, now that few more months had passed, no one remembers the martyrs.
“When I was in the hospital, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited me. Now that a year has gone by, I have to virtually beg to meet Dr Jitendra Singh to ask about the Samarak and even DC Kathua evades me. Is this the respect that the family of a martyr deserves? And I am not just a daughter of a brave soldier, I was a victim of the terrorist attack as well.”

When Neha approached ex-Deputy Commissioner, Kathua Rohit Khajuria, asking about the memorial, he told her that land had been identified in Mukhandpur Choudrian but Neha complains that no one notified their family of anything. She believes that it could be a ploy to further deter the construction and avoid her questions.

Neha believes that the announcement of memorials in the name of martyrs is not something that the families demand. She is of the belief that ever since India became independent there have been countless number of martyrs and it is impossible to construct a monument in the name of every martyr.

“But playing cheap politics in front of the media, announcing memorials is something that politicians do to gain electoral weightage. The promises exist just as long as the media hype surrounding the attack. After that, the family is made to knock on the doors of officials in an attempt to try to bring those promises to fruition,” she said.

She wishes that her father’s sacrifice does not go in vain, with people forgetting the horrific instance that forced her into a life without her father, but that can’t be done by building memorials at a place that no one visits. She said, “Building a memorial at a place that no one visits will be an insult to my father and the other martyrs. I would have preferred naming a college after him so young minds would be inspired to join the army as well.”

The girl who fought for her life more than a year ago is now running pillar to post at the hands of the administration. She believes that the only hope for her in Prime Minister Narendra Modi who took strict action after the Pulwama Attack.