x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Husband's last words of love

Suraj Bahadur Thapa was writing a letter to his wife when Naxalite rebels attacked his West Bengal police camp. The unfinished note was found by his body.

"My very dear Lakshmi, my very dear and sweet wife, I love you. Wherever I stay I shall always be loving you. Sometimes you and I fight with each other. But after every fight, I feel my love for you becomes more intense."

Constable Suraj Bahadur Thapa, 41, had been writing a letter to his wife, but never managed to finish it. On Monday, Thapa was shot dead at his bedside when a group of about 80 Maoist insurgents, men and women, burst into the paramilitary camp where he was stationed in West Bengal, leaving him and 23 other soldiers dead. "15th December 1988 was the happiest moment of my life because that day God brought you to me as my wife," the letter continues. "You have given me the love I shall never get from anyone else in my life - I find it painful to stay away from you even for a moment."

Thapa was killed, apparently while he was writing the letter on the pages of his diary, lying on his bed in his camp in Silda village, 75km from his hometown Kharagpur, where his widow lives with their children. He was stationed there as part of a paramilitary unit involved in the government's anti-Maoist offensive in the region. While most tents inside the camp were reduced to ashes when the Maoists, also known as Naxalites, set it ablaze - a fire that charred the bodies of many of the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) paramilitary men who were killed - Suraj's tent did not catch fire.

His diary, which contained a photograph of the couple with their children as well as the unfinished seven-and-a-half-page letter to his wife, was recovered by the side of his blood-soaked body the day after the attack. Suraj and his wife, Lakshmi, used to speak to each other two or three times a day by phone, said Yashoda Devi, a neighbour. Suraj had been speaking to Lakshmi and their five-year-old daughter only an hour before the Maoists pounced on the Silda camp, located 210km north-west of Kolkata.

At about 6pm, Lakshmi could not reach Suraj on his mobile phone and began to worry. Before long a neighbour came running to Lakshmi's house and informed her the camp had been attacked. Neighbours in the couple's village said Thapa and his wife were extremely close and that Lakshmi was devastated by his death. Ms Devi said yesterday that when Lakshmi heard there had been an attack on her husband's camp she broke down crying. When the news came confirming that he had been killed, she lost consciousness.

"Suraj and Lakshmi were childhood friends," said Ms Devi. "They fell in love and got married. Suraj loved his wife and children very much and it was a beautiful family. Now Lakshmi and the children are devastated. "Maoists fight for justice, they proclaim. But with these killings they have done grave injustice to many innocent families." At the funeral on Tuesday, as the coffins of the 24 soldiers reached the EFR headquarters near Kharagpur, Lakshmi began crying loudly, holding the body of her dead husband and blaming the authorities for not having provided enough security to her husband and his colleagues.

Speaking to television crews that had gathered for the ceremony, she blamed both the government and the senior Maoist leader Kishanji, who planned the attack, for her husband's death. "My husband was just doing his duty for the security of the nation. Can one die such a cruel death while performing such a duty? Many times my husband said that the camp did not have enough security and the authorities were not paying attention to their appeal for security.

"Kishanji, if you are watching the TV, you should know that you have done injustice to us. EFR men have families, too. See how you have made us widows and our children orphans?" The Maoists, who first took up arms in 1967 to protest government neglect of rural areas, say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and marginalised. In the past few years the insurgency has grown increasingly bloody. At least 735 people, including civilians and security personnel, were killed in Maoist violence in India last year, up from a total of 640 in 2008.

In his letter, Suraj wrote that he was conflicted about his service. He speaks of wanting to serve and protect his country, but feels the conflict with the Maoists is the fault of scheming politicians. "What shall I do Lakshmi? I love you a lot, and I love my country as well - The country is in very bad shape and the situation is getting worse with every passing day. In their interest, some politicians and their parties are endangering the existence of the country. And we are also suffering for them."

Then there are also the fears common to every soldier faced with his own mortality and the possibility of his children growing up without their father. "Life on this duty here is always in danger. These days, for us going to duty means like carrying our lives in our hands. Anything can happen at any moment. I shall keep loving you all along, through my seven lives, even if I suddenly die. "Being in this job I cannot look after my family well and you, Lakshmi, have to bear all responsibilities. If you suddenly find that I am not around you, don't break down, take very good care of our son and daughter so that they grow up well."