18 yrs after he survived encounter, Army officer returns to help village
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When a project to make its people self-sufficient was inaugurated in far-flung Longdaipabram in Manipur last week, it formalised a bond between an Army officer and the village forged under the worst of circumstances in the state.
Eighteen years ago, as a young Indian Army captain, D P K Pillai, had received near fatal wounds heading a team that carried out raids in Longdaipabram. It was 1994 and the Army had just re-entered the state after being pulled out and stationed in Kashmir. The NSCN-IM had taken over entire tracts, and the Tamenglong district was one such area.
While flushing out militants in Longdaipabram, Pillai was shot six times and his left foot blown up by a grenade. He was to be airlifted when he decided to stay back, insisting that two children who were caught in the crossfire be airlifted instead. While the Captain would survive and spend the next year in hospital, Longdaipabram never forgot Pillai's gesture — as he was to realise much later.
"Many years after that, one of my friends was stationed here. He knew I had been injured here and visited Longdaipabram. They remembered me and the village head got in touch with me. I came to meet them in March 2010 for the first time since the incident," says Pillai, now a Colonel.
He made several repeat visits, and eventually decided to help change life of people in the village where he had seen near death. The two projects the officer has helped launch hope to make Longdaipabram self-sustaining. Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju, who was initially supposed to launch the projects, will now come on May 12 for a visit.
While one of the projects, taking the help of the National Bamboo Mission, will give villagers machines to make bamboo products, under another, villagers have been organised into a cooperative so that they can collectively own orange plantations.