Vital Connect

SSB not only guards the border, it creates a sense of nationhood among locals

Dilip Kumar Mekala

FORCE team at border pillar on Indo-Nepal border

Siliguri, North Bengal: Around 1,500 metres above the sea level, near Okaity border outpost, a young SSB jawan was returning to his barrack after a day’s long work at around 3pm. It was a cold afternoon with the temperature hovering around seven to eight degrees centigrade. With a combat uniform and a riffle on his shoulder, he looked like a typical 24-year-old soldier-at–work. In fact, according to him, most of the soldiers in the border outpost belong to that age group, with the youngest being 20 and the oldest around 25.

The FORCE team accompanied him to the border outpost from the Okaity village, a five-minute-walk. According to him, he works for about six- to eight-hours a day, depending on the requirement.

The requirement usually arises when the teams are sent on election duties and sometimes on rescue operations and so on. On that particular day, he had finished his routine six-hour patrol and Naka duties and then was heading to the BOP for a two-hour guarding and dak duties. Few metres before reaching his destination, he pointed at a structure to show the BOP and his barrack. The structure seemed to be a temporary structure, most of which was made of wood. Most of the BOPs in such mountainous, inaccessible areas are such temporary structures.

He had applied for a constable position back in his hometown and after receiving the joining letter in about eight months’ time, he was sent for training to Assam. He was then posted at the border outpost after his training and was given rotational shifts in the battalion headquarters and the BOPs, under that battalion.

Few minutes in to the conversation, he realised that we shared the same native language and that I hailed from a place very close to his hometown. The excitement in his eyes to be able to speak to someone in his mother tongue was palpable. So much so, that he insisted on introducing yet another friend of his, posted at the same border outpost, who spoke the same language. They were curious to know about the latest news from back home whether it was politics, movies or any other related subject matter. Few minutes of conversation in his native tongue seemed to serve as a major morale booster for him.

Factors like motivation, professionalism and high morale become extremely important for such young officers, especially in rough terrains, far away from the hometown. Recollecting a recent incident in the life of a fellow jawan in the same BOP, the soldier said, “His parents got separated few days back. He wanted to leave the job and get back home to his mother. When the commandant heard of the incident, he spoke to my friend, tried to explain how he should be taking responsibilities and not run away from them. So, he eventually took a few days off from work and joined back.” ‘Buddy pair system’ is a popular practice followed here. It basically means that the two jawans are paired to take care of each other’s wellbeing and if there is any significant change in the behaviour of one, the other updates the commandant, company commander or any higher official. This is a mechanism followed in order to address the issues at the ground level.

About 20-minute’ distance from Okaity, we visited another border outpost called Ektisey, which is equally difficult in terms of its terrain and the climatic conditions. Standing at about 1,400 metres from the sea level, it was very close to a village called Ektisey (named after the BOP). The difference here is that there is road only till the village and then it takes about 20 minutes of walk into the mountains to reach the BOP. The location is such, that the construction of a road is not a viable option. It stands far off in the mountains with the temporary structure, of course. These temporary wooden structures are constantly under threat from the natural disasters like the land slides and the earthquakes. The epicentre of the recent Sikkim earthquake was just about 100 kms from the Ektisey village and the temporary structure was badly affected by the earthquake.

The border outpost is mainly run by the solar panels and there are generators for the back-ups. Since it is on the mountains, cut off from the markets, the goods and the ration are generally stored and refrigerated for few days as it is not practical to travel all the way to the plains everyday for the daily requirements. The road route, though difficult, makes this BOP a little more accessible than the rest in such areas.

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