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‘Opportunity to Help Country’: Hit By Covid-19 Lockdown, Locals Queue Up in Sikkim to Join Army

Following an abuzz over social media about rising tensions between India and China, over 2,000 youths queued up for an Indian Army recruitment rally to enrol porters in East Sikkim on Wednesday. Aspirants gathered at Ganju Lama Dwar, Gangtok said they consider the recruitment as an opportunity to be in the frontline and help the country’s cause.

“I have never been engaged in the frontline. I want to help our soldiers, work for the Indian Army. The times are not right, and I can do anything that is desired of me in the interest of our country,” said 23-year-old Rabi Chetri, a college graduate who was working as a waiter at a hotel in Gangtok.

The Covid-19 lockdown also acted as a catalyst in the recruitment drive, as several locals working at the hospitality industry lost their jobs since the industry was hammered hard with no business for nearly four months.

The Army’s job notification for 600 vacancies mentioned that those physically fit and in the 18-40 age group would be eligible to join as porters for a contract period of 179 days and entitled to a monthly salary of approximately Rs 20,000 along with compensatory wages.

Terming it a ‘routine process’ in an operational area, an army official at the site said that the global pandemic had slowed many recruiting efforts and cancellation of local events.

“I came across this notification at Rangpo Checkpost and wanted to apply. I have previously worked as a porter for the Indian Army, and I wish they would recruit us permanently. I am Class 12 pass with an ITI certificate. It is a normal recruitment process and has nothing to do with border tension. They keep hiring civilian porters on a seasonal basis,” said 27-year-old Om Prakash Rawat who was lined up wearing a mask and face cover.

Indian Army veterans, Colonel Dilip Kumar Borah and Colonel DN Bhutia expressed their appreciation for the porters and their service to the military for many decades.

“Porters have been an integral part of the army along with mules in high altitude terrain. They carry rations, kerosene, water, ammunition to our forward posts. Many of them are employed along with their local ponies when army mules are not available,” said retired Col Borah, then Commanding Officer of the Grenadiers, a battalion of about 900 soldiers deployed in the icy heights of Dras in Jammu and Kashmir.

“I have used their service in Arunachal, Kupwara sector of J&K and during Operation Vijay in Dras. I have the greatest regard for them and for their work in the Machhal sector, Kupwara and Dras,” Col Borah added.

“The role of porters in the army will never diminish. Foot soldiers occupying the rugged mountain terrain of India-China and Indo-Pak borders are surviving due to the constant logistic supply of arms, ammunition and rations, Fuel Oil Lubricants by this chain of porters,” said retired Col DN Bhutia who is currently overseeing the Himalayan Centre for Adventure and Ecotourism (IHCAE) quarantine facility in Chemchey village of South Sikkim.

“The point where four-wheelers stop functioning, the porters come in,” Col Bhutia remarked.


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