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A soldier’s battle between duty and grief

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Kathmandu, April 26, 2016: When the April 25 earthquake hit the country, Nepal Army personnel Rishi Ram Thapa, 26, was deputed in Melamchi of Sindhupalchowk district at the Bhim Kali Battalion along with other soldiers.

Thapa, originally from Thansingh VDC-7 of Lamjung district, immediately readied himself for disaster response as per the instruction from his higher command.

With the hope that all of his family members were fine, he engaged himself effortlessly in rescue works in a remote village near Melamchi.

He had no idea about what befell his kins. After about two days, he got a call from his in-laws telling him that they were desperately waiting for his presence.

“I was in Duwachaur of Sindhupalchowk to help the needy quake victims when I got the emergency call via communication set,” Thapa recalled.

“I was in total dismay whether to continue rescuing or to rush immediately to my village,” he said, adding, “But as per the instruction from my higher command, I rushed to my in-laws’ home where his loved ones were desperately waiting for him.

“The closer I approached the crowd near the debris of my in-laws’ house, my heartbeat went up.”

Within a few minutes, he had to witness two bodies just pulled out from the rubble of the quake-damaged home.

Explaining the situation as ‘the most difficult time of my life,’ he said, “It was hard for me to believe my eyes.”

“My ever-smiling and chatty wife was silent and an infant baby on her side was lying in deep sleep.” He could hardly approach the bodies as he was praying for some miracles to happen. But his prayers fell into deaf ears, his hopes faded as he saw his beloved wife and child lying lifeless in front of him.

The 7.8 magnitude quake, which left scores missing, thousands killed and injured, had deeply moved him while he was involved in the rescue works. But he was left shattered when he learnt that his own family members were victims of the devastating quake.
“People were throwing their arms to the sky, asking for rescuers to find their missing ones out of the debris. I felt little lucky when I saw them. At least the bodies of my beloved were found,” he said.

He torched a single pyre for the two. The funeral completed within few hours.

Death tolls were increasing, national and international military support was in the country but the support was inadequate for the needy victims.

Though the sudden demise of his beloved deeply shocked him, he did not remain there as a mere victim. “Despite grieving, I thought my support could be of greater help for others at the time of need and decided to set out for my duties, Thapa recalled.

Thapa was not alone overcome the grief. There were dozens of others who choose to engage themselves in rescue, search and relief operations despite their sorrow. Scores of soldiers lost in total 271 family members while 289 kins of the servicemen were injured. About 12 military personnel were killed in the quake and 10 are still missing.

Nepal Army, one of the influential security bodies of the country, carried out rescue operations within few minutes of the disaster in coordination with Nepal Police and Armed Police Force.

After returning to duty, Thapa was in involved in the rescue operations every day. He felt the pain of the other victims as his own and was more empathetic to the victims after losing his own family members. His friend extended sympathy, consoled him and suggested him to have some rest but he worked effortlessly to help others.

“Engaging myself in the operations was a means to minimize my grief,” he said adding, “But I seriously felt that we need more skills and equipment for effectively carrying out rescue works during such disasters.”

Thapa said with a heavy heart, “Nothing can compensate my pains but a reconstructed Nepal would definitely comfort me.”

Thapa rued that one year has elapsed but no real reconstruction works have started.

During the rescue operations, many rescue workers faced concerns about their own security and felt the lack of effective tools and techniques to tackle disaster.

“We learnt great lessons from the disaster and have initiated strategic steps to cope any other disaster,” NA spokesperson Brigadier General Tara Bahadur Karki said.

Nepal Army has sought Rs 4.44 billion to complete the entire reconstruction and maintenance of its 1109 damaged infrastructures that also includes Army Headquarters building, whose foundation was laid by Army Chief General Rajendra Chhetri on Friday.

Many security personnel, including NA soldier Thapa, are themselves living in tents like other victims waiting for reconstruction of the destroyed barracks.

“My troubled one year went by fulfilling my duty and contemplating my grief,” he said, adding, “I wish no one dies because of their own home they build to live in.”