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6.3.11

  "I was manning the light machine gun (LMG) as our group was returning from an ambush near Jammu when it suddenly felt like acid being thrown on me. It was a barrage of 12 bullets from an AK-47, which hit my stomach. Writhing in pain I thought it was all over," says Sipahi Kuldeep Gautam of 17 Mahar Regiment who survived. As the crowd at Kasturchand Park applauded the performers at the 'know your army fair' inaugurated on Friday, Gautam was among the 20-odd waiting in the sun as they were being handed over the keys of scooters specially designed for the disabled.

With the weariness seen on their faces, they were soldiers crippled in action as they seemed like forgotten heroes in an otherwise bustling fair. The group included young soldiers who were injured in anti-terrorist operations as well as veterans of the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The 31-year- old Gautam seemed to be the luckiest of all. The bullets have permanently damaged his gall bladder, intestine and the right kidney leaving him with a fracture in the spine. He had to remain in the military hospital for one and a half years. The incident that took place in September 2003, rendered Gautam disabled for life.

It was a counter-ambush by the militants who targeted him first as he had the LMG, the most lethal weapon of the group. Gautam who had lost all hopes of surviving was lucky as coincidentally the general-officer-commanding s(GoC) was on a visit to his unit and had arrived by a helicopter. Gautam was quickly evacuated. "It's only because of the GoC's chopper that I'm here to receive the scooter today," he says.

Gautam, a resident of Mathura, has continued with his service and is now posted in Pune where he is also undergoing a computer course. He will retire in 2015 after which he plans to set up a computer training institute.

On whether he regrets joining the army, Gautam says, "Not at all. In my earlier encounters, there were casualties in the enemy camp. It's all a matter of chance," he says.

Vasant Kolhe of the Maratha regiment is a veteran of the 1965 Indo-Pak war. He lost a leg in a mine blast. Settled as a farmer in Pandharpur, he calls himself a happy man. "Our troops had captured the area close to the Sialkot town of Pakistan. The blast occurred when I was clearing a minefield. It happened in a fraction of a second. When I regained consciousness in the hospital, I realised I had lost a leg," he laughs.In 1966, Himmat Sawant lost his toes while he was being rescued. 

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