| Subedar Surinder Singh’s widow (right) with family members. (PTI)
New Delhi, April 30: Subedar Surinder Singh is a face behind a piece of statistic. The statistic is 1,847 — the number of casualties in the Indian Army’s western and northern sectors from December 2001 to October 2002.
Dressed in grieving all-white, Subedar Surinder Singh’s widow accepted the Ashoka Chakra, the medal of honour, on his behalf from the President earlier this year.
It was revealed in a reply in Parliament today, six months after the mobilisation was called off, that there were 1,847 casualties in a military exercise lasting a little over 300 days. The exercise — Operation Parakram — has been neither discussed or debated in Parliament.
Both government and Opposition have an unstated agreement that it will not be analysed publicly. The ostensible reason for such silence is fear that public knowl- edge of major military activity can compromise security.
Surinder Singh, a soldier with the 3 Sikh battalion, is dead. He was killed “for a pre-eminent act of valour of the most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice” in Rajouri sector of Jammu and Kashmir on March 3 last year. He had taken the full blast of a grenade on his body.
It bears repetition — 1,847 casualties. In the 1999 Kargil war, the number of casualties was less than 600.
In his written reply to the Rajya Sabha, defence minister George Fernandes would not state how many exactly were killed and how many injured. Nor would he describe the circumstances or explain what led to such high figures. Subedar Surinder Singh at least had the honour of his deed being recognised and acknowledged. He also died fighting the enemy.
Just how and why so many soldiers were killed in accidents while laying mines or while carrying out unspecified tasks for a tiring army — an army stationed on alert in hot desert and cold mountains for no stated purpose and not given a military objective — will not be officially revealed. That is classified information.
Lives in Indian military operations go that cheap.
In the war on Iraq, the total number of American casualties so far is estimated to be around 160. There is no count available on the total number of civilian casualties in Iraq but press reports in the West quote figures ranging from 2,000 to 2,600. The Americans mounted a special commando operation to rescue Private Jessica Lynch from a hospital in Najaf at the peak of the war.
A recent report by the Indian army puts the “kill ratio” of soldiers at 1:5, that is, one soldier lost for every 5 militants killed in Jammu and Kashmir. Another set of replies in Parliament last week said that 982 Indian soldiers were killed and 2,507 injured in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir in three years from January 2000.
The Indian army is 12-lakh strong. Some seven lakh troops were at staging posts in the western sector and involved in counter insurgency operations in Kashmir during Operation Parakram.