Death Defying Bear Hug: Major Laishram Jyotin Singh
Lt Col L Manongba, veteran and author, narrates the story of a young martyr from Manipur, who was trained twice over to save lives – One on the Hippocratic oath as a Doctor; the other as a Soldier with a formal promise and covenant for loyalty and allegiance to the country. “The vower agreed to obey all commands of the President of the Union of India and from any officer set over him, even to the peril of one’s life”.
Major Laishram Jyotin Singh’s ‘train ride with us on Planet Earth’ began in Nambol, a small but prosperous town astride the Tiddim Road in Manipur. This satellite township had witnessed the last stand of the Japanese Army at Red Hill (Maibam Lokpa Ching) in the Second World War in Manipur, before the tide turned against them. Today, Nambol is home to the Symbol of Reconciliation and Peace - India Peace Museum, sponsored by the Japanese Foundation. This cocktail of borough cum countryside environs was home to a young boy, Jyotin, son of Laishram Markando Singh and Laishram Ibeyaima Devi. Born on May 14th, 1972 at Nambol Awang Leikai, he was blessed with two kind ladies as elder sisters Dr L. Binakumari Devi & Smt. L. Ragini Devi (lecturer in mathematics) & a younger brother Professor L. Boeing Singh (Civil Engineering Professor at IIT Guwahati). Children of humble parents (father a State Govt Agriculture & Horticulture Department employee and a homemaker mother) they all grew very tall in their own worlds as very highly accomplished professionals.
Jyotin, the third child surpassed them all. ‘Ibungo’ as he was fondly called, did his schooling from Manipur Public School (MPS). He was the Placard holder of the MPS boy’s contingent during state Republic Day Parades at Imphal. This was a position of pride for any teenager. Ibungo was very conscientious and diligent; he would reach Imphal at daybreak for tuitions, rest at a friend’s place, and then attend school. He loved playing football, athletics, bodybuilding and trekking. He was destined for competition right from childhood. He did his MBBS from the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Imphal in 1996. His love for sports made him pursue and complete a two-year Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Medicine from Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports in 2001, under Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, Patiala.
To quote a friend, “He would always wear a suppressed smile which would explode into a grin occasionally. He was always ready to help a friend in distress.” The desire to reach out far beyond the lovely meadows of his birthplace Nambol, the self-imposed disciplined life that he inculcated as a young boy struggling through his schooling days, brought him to the portals of Army Medical Corps (AMC). He was commissioned into the AMC on 15th February 2003. Reminiscing about his initial days after joining the army, his colleague Lt Col (Dr.) MKK Maring narrates “Four of us, Capt Ch Keishing, Capt L Jyotin Singh, Capt M Athikho & self, all from Manipur & alumni of RIMS joined the AMC in the same month. Fresh from medical college and with no army background in the family, we were big humour in uniform. There were hiccups galore - sudden changes in our daily routine from civil lifestyle to military discipline, coping with mess etiquette, etc. During our pre-induction training in the hospital, the unit Company Havildar Major taught us drills and saluting. One day, the drill master gave a command ‘Baiye Salute’; Jyotin promptly lifted his left arm and saluted in style. The drill master nearly fainted!! We then went for Medical Officers Basic Course at Officers Training School, AMC Centre & School, Lucknow.
(The four doctors from RIMS, Manipur at AMC Centre and School, Lucknow)
After completion of training, Jyotin was posted to Arunachal Pradesh in High Altitude Area with a medical unit of Border Roads Organization. We were all young, handsome but clumsy men. At the end of the course, because of hard and rigorous training, we all became refined gentlemen & probably better Doctors. We then parted ways on postings, to meet again for a brief while at Leimakhong / Silchar in 2009. Little did one realise that this was the last time we would meet. I pulled his legs to get married”. One of his colleagues Major (Dr.) N. Jiten Singh (Retd) recalls that Major Jyotin was looking after not only the GREF personnel but also provided medical care to civilians and their families in that remote area of Arunachal Pradesh. The local populace was so happy with him that one of the local elders wanted him to marry a girl from the village and settle down there.
While serving at the Military Hospital at Agartala, Major Jyotin at times wore several hats as a Medical Officer cum Quartermaster cum Adjutant & sometimes as officiating Commanding Officer of the unit. Apart from routine hospital duties, Jyotin shared his Sports Medicine expertise with his troops. Jyotin, an excellent football and badminton player, would spend most of the evenings playing football with the Jawans of the unit or badminton with the officers of the garrison. This gave him an opportunity to interact with all ranks and he was indeed popular. The shy young lad from Nambol, Major L. Jyotin had transformed into a dedicated soldier, officer and doctor. In September 2007, Jyotin was asked if he was keen to go to Hyderabad for the World Military Games in Oct 2007. Maj L Jyotin was advised to volunteer for such events as he had the qualification and experience to deal with athletics and sports medicine. This exposure would widen his horizon and earn him a lifetime experience dealing with armies of the world. Major L Jyotin Singh reached Hyderabad for the World Military Games from 14 Oct to 21 Oct 2007. There he worked hard, especially in the anti-doping cell of the games, to the satisfaction of all and got a certificate of appreciation from the International Military Sports Council. Due to his competence and previous performance at World Military Games he was again detailed to provide medical cover for one of the disciplines at Pune during the Delhi Commonwealth Games in October 2008.
In December 2009, Jyotin reported to Delhi to undergo training for the Indian Medical Mission to Afghanistan. The night prior to departure for Kabul, Afghanistan, Dr N Jiten and Jyotin met up at Delhi Haat, a favourite spot for North Easterners based in Delhi. He confided that an engagement was expected soon after his return from the Afghan Mission, with a girl of his parent’s choice. He had not informed his parents about going to Kabul, as they might get worried. As destiny would later unfold, the two friends had their last meal together that evening. A few days after he landed in Kabul, he sent some photographs of the snowy residential compound to Jiten.
On 26th February 2010, news flashed that six Indian nationals had been killed in a terrorist attack in Kabul. The name of Major (Dr.) Laishram Jyotin Singh headed that list. Kabul at an elevation of 1791 metres is pretty cold in February with average temperature normally below 0 Degrees Celsius. Major Laishram Jyotin Singh had commenced looking after patients thronging the Indian Mission Hospital as part of the Indian Medical Mission team to Kabul on 13 February 2010. On 26th February at about 06.30 a.m. three Burkha clad terrorists and a driver tried to drive their car past the concrete mobile barriers placed at the entrance to the Noor Guest House in Shar E Naw, an upscale place in Kabul where Jyotin and other Indian staff were lodged. The neighbouring guest house had other international guests. When the Afghan Security guards and private armed security personnel challenged the car, three of the terrorists alighted and rushed away. The driver then detonated the car and himself about 60 metres short of the entrance to the guest houses. The blast left a 12 feet wide and 6 feet deep crater. Two of the terrorists then entered the neighbouring guest house. The third terrorist (whose ‘Joridar’ had blown himself up with the car bomb) rushed into the Noor Guest House. All four terrorists wore explosive-laden suicide vests. Of the two terrorists who had rushed towards the neighbouring guest house, one of them blew himself up with the suicide vest. Later it was confirmed that the terrorist accompanying him had escaped from the site through a blast hole in the wall. The terrorist who entered Noor Guest House was searching every room for Indian residents. He started firing and hurled grenades while looking for The Fateful Morning ‘Hindi Speaking’ residents/guests. This terrorist found himself standing in front of the door of Maj Jyotin Singh with the AK 47 Assault Rifle in his hand. He had probably exhausted his grenades. Maj Laishram Jyotin Singh was now standing face to face with the courier of death itself, clad in a deadly suicide vest who was about to lift his AK 47 Rifle for a ‘Deathly sweep in front of him’. The next rooms few feet away were occupied by other Indian colleagues and officers, who too were unarmed, as per the diplomatic protocol and agreements with the Afghanistan Government.
The instinctive response of the hero would leave many dumbfounded. Probably he had no time for thinking about actions and reactions. It was the sheer instinct of the Saviour, a split second action driven by the desire and mental focus to save lives. The sportsman in the Doctor too triggered the auto-motor action to react in the best possible defensive manner. Major (Dr) L. Jyotin Singh pounced upon the terrorist standing just a foot or two away from him. The terrorist dropped his assault rifle on being surprised by this most unexpected reaction of the gallant doctor and wrestled with Jyotin. The strong physique of the sportsman in the doctor ensured the terrorist didn’t get the better of him. In desperation, the terrorist detonated the suicide vest that he wore. In milliseconds, both the bodies were blown into smithereens by the powerful RDX. Young Jyotin gave the Bear Hug of Death and saved further killings and annihilation that the terrorist would have brought down upon the others in the adjacent guest rooms. As eyewitnesses and a senior official described, the abdominal parts of the martyr were completely blown apart; it was only his serene face and appendages which had burn marks but no severe injury was seen. He achieved martyrdom in the highest traditions of the country and armed forces – That of Unsurpassable Gallantry in the Face of the Enemy. A Doctor, an Officer and a leader of men, trained twice over to save lives – who saved his dozen-odd unarmed colleagues. What more could one ask from such a valiant leader.
According to eyewitness accounts, it was also learned that these terrorists spoke “Urdu’ and not ‘Pashto or Dari’ which are in use as the lingua franca of the Afghans. It was believed that these terrorists were from Lashkar –e- Taiba who had carried out a joint operation with the Taliban. The mortal remains of late Major L. Jyotin were brought home by a special flight of the Indian Air Force (IAF) on 28th February 2010. The IAF aircraft landed at Imphal airport at around 2:30 pm. Family members, relatives, friends and the Army Divisional Commander, Army officers and troops were at the airport to give a befitting Military Funeral to the Hero. The funeral cortege wound its way to Nambol for the last rites. Late Major Jyotin’s mother had one lament that her son never informed her that he was going to Kabul, thinking that they might object to his assignment and probably get him married early to change his mind from flying away.
(The martyr's brother Professor L Boeing Singh receiving the Ashoka Chakra from President on Republic Day, 2011)
But he had already scripted his own destiny – to return home a hero. On 26 January 2011, Late Major Laishram Jyotin Singh (MR-08609) was awarded the Ashoka Chakra, posthumously, by the President. Professor L. Boeing Singh, the youngest sibling of the hero, received the Nation’s highest gallantry award from Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, the Honourable President of India on behalf of the martyr. He is the first AMC officer to be awarded this highest honour. Ashoka Chakra is the peacetime equivalent of Param Vir Chakra, awarded only for the "Greatest of the Ultimate Brave". Since the inception of the award in 1952, only 83 individuals have been bestowed this prestigious Gallantry Award. The parent organisations, AMC and the army have ensured that the sacrifice of Jyotin Singh is not forgotten. AMC Centre & College, Lucknow has honoured this bravest son of India by dedicating its main auditorium in his name – ‘Major Laishram Jyotin Singh, AC, Auditorium’. In addition, a prominent ‘Chatuska’ at the sprawling campus of AMC Centre has been named as ‘Maj L.J. Singh, AC, Chauraha’. In December 2016, all ranks of Military Hospital Hissar, Haryana, contributed and installed a life-size bust of the brave Doctor at a prominent crossroad of the Military Hospital. In Dec 2011, Leimakhong Military Garrison in Manipur ceremonially installed a bust of the ‘Doctor’, made by Sculptor Shri L. Phonindro Singh of Nambol. then Divisional Commander also commissioned a park in his name – ‘Jyotin Memorial Park’. On 14th August 2020, the Manipur State Government instituted a new scheme called ‘Major Laishram Jyotin Singh, Ashoka Chakra (Posthumous) Ex Gratia Scheme for Natives of Manipur killed in action’ while serving in the Armed Forces or Assam Rifles or CPMFs. An amount of Rs 5 Lakhs as Ex Gratia would be paid to the Next of Kin of any martyr.
Youth and society need luminaries and heroes. Here is a lionhearted knight, from among us, who has proven beyond doubt his bravery, dedication and loyalty to the country and humanity. The state of Manipur, the society, the youth and parents alike, all must use this tale of heroism as an inspiration for the young and capable minds. There is much more that needs to be done in the state, to salute the heroism displayed by the Doctor – Trained twice over to save Lives. He gave the monumental Bear Hug to Death itself. As a veteran & as parents of Soldiers & Warriors of the country, one wished to visit the ‘Altar of the Brave in Manipur’, where the least that we could do is to light a candle, a joss stick and lay a flower of love. Jai Hind.
(This article was first published in Defence-related quarterly magazine MEDALS & RIBBONS Jan-Mar 2021 edition. The views expressed is the writer's own)
A brief note about the author: The Lt. Col. L. Manongba (Army Veteran) was commissioned into 11 GR on June 7, 1980, and took premature retirement in November 2003. In his second innings he was witness to epochal events, where he saw the birth of a new nation, i.e. South Sudan. At that time he was working as General Manager of a Petroleum Company in East Africa (South Sudan). He was elected as an Executive Member of the 1st Commercial Association of South Sudan (Petroleum Association of South Sudan). Since 2016, he has been overseeing the ECHS Polyclinic in Imphal, and is in the forefront of ESM activities in Manipur. He is available on e mail ID – email@example.com