A tale of three UN medal recipients from India
A badminton champion. A talented chef. A first-time parade commander.
These men, serving with the Indian Horizontal and Mechanical Engineering Company (HMEC), received medals of honor for their service in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Their counterparts from an intermediary level hospital, the Force Signal Unit and the Petroleum Platoon were also awarded alongside the engineering contingent.
Standing at attention, arms in hand with a straight face, in 42-degree Malakal heat for an hour. Add to that a list of commands and maneuvers performed in perfect synchrony by the two hundred and sixty-two medal recipients. How hard can it be?
“Heat resistance training, lots of hot water, a proper diet, a whole lot of focus and persistence is what it takes. Imagine holding the sword upright and still in the hot sun for an hour and shouting commands in the open field for all to hear!”
Captain Paras Bisht’s hoarse voice tells the tale of just how gruelling the task was. “Still, it felt so when I was selected as parade commander,” he adds proudly.
As I sit with the three gentlemen, all with different stories to tell on how they eventually got to receive the prized UN medal of honour, I am even more enthralled at the unique spirit of diversity that makes the peacekeeping story so rich.
First there’s the happy-go-lucky Sergeant Sachin Kadam, the head chef who ensures that the men are kept fed and happy with familiar tastes 2500 miles away from home. This, however, is a small challenge compared to cooking in the sub-zero temperatures of North-East India where he was once based.
“I would have to keep the food in boiling water overnight to thaw it. Otherwise it remains frozen. Even the pots and pans were soaked in boiling water at least 2 hours before breakfast. So, cooking in South Sudan is so much easier in comparison!”
I ask him if his wife leaves him to do all the cooking when he returns home.
“Only if she wants something special,” he answers laughing. “I miss my family a lot, but I know they are proud of me and the work that I’m doing here in South Sudan.”
India remains one of the largest contributors of UN troops, with military personnel from the Indian armed forces operating in seven ongoing peacekeeping missions. Over 2,500 troops from India are based in South Sudan alone.
Sergeant Sugumaran C was an ace badminton player in a remote village in Southern India before he felt the urge to join the army 15 years ago. He is now a junior engineer working on high-level projects such as the recent rehabilitation of a 205-kilometre main supply route linking Malakal to Melut.
“I feel honoured to have been called to serve under the blue helmet. This is the fifth medal I’m receiving in the army but definitely a very special one as very few get this opportunity,” says the soft-spoken Sugumaran.
“I urge the people of South Sudan to remember that their unity is their strength. You have to come together – not against each other - to build your country.”