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How many more Hanumanthappas shall we lose? RIP, brave soldier!

Siachen lone survivor Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad passed away today, three days after he was miraculously dug out alive from several feet of snow. On February 3, an avalanche hit the army post in Siachen glacier, in which the 19 Madras Regiment soldier was working at an altitude of 19,600 feet.

TV grab of Hanamanthappa who was in Army’s Research & Referral Hospital, Delhi.

Following the accident, the extensive rescue operation carried out by the Indian Army found all nine companions of Hanumanthappa dead. The tragedy got national attention due to the sheer size of the catastrophe. Deaths of soldiers on either side of the border in this frozen hell are commonplace.

A ceasefire has been holding since November 2003, with Indian troops stationed on the upper part of Siachen and Pakistani army on the lower part. Both the nations have put its men to guard this deadly patch of ice where no human habitation exists.

Siachen Map

A recent news report has stated that the Indian Army already lost four people last month, besides an Army Doctor who died in Siachen last year. These deaths are ‘routine’ in the cold deathbed, and quite often, we won’t even read reports about it. In 2012, Pakistani troops faced the wrath of Mother Nature, when an avalanche in lower Siachen killed 130 Pakistani soldiers.

Official data claims the Indian Army loses 10 soldiers annually on an average. Since April 1984, when India and Pakistan first deployed soldiers in Siachen, close to 869 Indian soldiers have lost their lives due to the extreme adversities. The loss has been more for Pakistan, who have soldiers stationed at Gyong La pass, have been losing 30 soldiers a year since 2003.

Siachen Soldiers
Rescue team at work in Siachen after a huge avalanche buried 10 soldiers alive.

Independent analysts claim that to maintain its army in Siachen, the Indian Army incurs an expense of Rs 1,200 crore annually. Pakistan spends lesser, because it has built roads to the base camps, where food supplies can be transported. Nevertheless, the exercise burns a big hole in the Pakistan exchequer’s pocket.

It is ironical that Siachen means “wild roses in abundance” in the Balti language, a native tongue of Ladakh. The locals attribute the name to the abundance of Himalayan wildflowers found in the valleys below the glacier.

Facing almost 35 feet of snow and blizzards year round in Siachen, Indian soldiers manually remove snow with shovels, lest their post is swallowed by the accumulating snow.

Law-makers from either nation would not budge from their stance; each side believes the harrowing region is their ‘own’ to protect. Pro-nationalists would debate how mountaineers brave the same dangers on expeditions. The point is, the adventure expeditions are carried out when the weather is at its best; and unlike our brave soldiers, they don’t reside in the hellish circumstances for three whole months.

Soldiers manning the Siachen glacier know they might never see their loved ones ever. When their colleagues leave for home after the 90-day stay, soldiers send the message: “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.”