In an emotional reunion, an Army officer who nearly died in an encounter 16 years ago returned to the Manipur village where the fire fight took place and met a girl whose life he saved as well as the militant who shot him thrice. The officer, Colonel Dr. Divakaran Padma Kumar Pillay (D P K Pillay), who was then a young Captain, made the journey back to the remote Longdi Pabram village in Manipur in March 2020 as part of an Army goodwill gesture. The village had not forgotten his act of kindness and, in gratitude, the entire village gathered around him. He was inducted as an important member of the local community and was felicitated in a big way.
His last visit to the village was in January 1994 when he was leading a patrol to the remote village on the trail of dreaded NSCN militants, at a time when insurgency was at its height in the state. Tracking down the militants and finding them cornered in a locked room, Col Pillay broke open the door, only to be welcomed with a burst of bullets from AK-47s. The first bullet hit him in his shoulder and was followed by three more, with one hitting him in his chest. A grenade was hurled at him at that very moment too.
“I don’t know how I saw the grenade in the darkness but instantly, I kicked the grenade and the grenade blew on my leg, taking a portion of my leg away,” he says. In the ensuing crossfire, Col Pillay noticed two children who were severely injured. Despite having taken four bullets, when the helicopter arrived to evacuate him, he refused to be moved and insisted that the young children be taken to safety first. A fatally wounded Col Pillay had the option to either evacuate himself at the earliest or save the two children who had been hit in the crossfire. He chose the latter and hung on for two hours, waiting for the next evacuation.
“The nearest hospital was about 6 hours away. There’s no way the children would have survived. I think I knew that I had 5 minutes of life left in me and I can hang on for a little bit. So I told the pilot not to worry about me,” he says.
While Pillay did recover from his wounds and went back to join the Army after a gap of one year, his life hung in the balance for almost two hours that the chopper took to come back and evacuate him. At a young age of 24, Colonel Pillay was decorated with the Shaurya Chakra – India’s highest peacetime gallantry award.
However, the bigger surprise was that Pillay got to meet the militants who had fired at him 16 years ago. While one militant was killed in the encounter, the other three surrendered and have since reformed. They now work as farmers and came for the reunion after hearing that Pillay would be present. Perhaps the most touching moment for him was the gift he received when he was about to return to the capital —- a bagful of oranges that Kaine Bon presented to him, fruits that he had grown as a farmer after shunning guns 16 years ago.
Today, Colonel Pillay overseas livelihood programmers for the village and is instrumental in bringing a motor-able road to the village. He organizes developmental activities in the region. Prompted by Pillay’s initiatives, the BRTF has started the groundwork to construct a new 28-km road connecting the village with Tamenglong district headquarters. No wonder he has aptly earned himself the title ‘Hero of Manipur’ and ‘Savior of Longdipabram.’ D P K Pillay (Retd.) has seen action in several disturbed areas of the country. Col. Pillay has held several assignments in his 29-year career in the Indian Army. Besides several field assignments, he was selected by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to serve at the Military School, Bangalore to inspire cadets to join the Armed Forces. In 2003, he was selected for Project Beta which delivered a handheld PDA for use by the Infantry in counter insurgency operations. This was a very unique military-funded IT enterprise. For his contribution to the project, he was awarded the COAS Commendation Card in 2005. Currently, Col. Pillay is pursuing research on violent extremism at Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis as well as a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) project on Action Plan to Counter Radicalisation of Indian Youth.