Missed death by a Whisker - Paraplegic Soban Singh
He is a paraplegic, but his arms and torso are still powerful as he pushes his wheelchair swiftly towards us. The strength, determination, discipline and training are evident, even at 58, and his only regret is “All my contemporaries are now Subedar-Majors. I would have been one too, if not for this injury.”
Given the severe nature of his spinal cord injuries, Soban Singh will never become a Subedar-Major, but he is much more than that – he is a war hero, who has survived one of the most horrifying attacks that warfare can inflict.
15 October, 1988. I was then 26 and posted in Sri
Lanka, as part of the IPKF’s Operation Pawan.
Our Major had discovered some weapons in a village and we were ordered to carry
out a search-and-capture for suspected terrorists. We were traveling in two
3-ton Shaktiman trucks. I was in the last one with five others, and we were
laughing and joking as we sped along the roads. Suddenly there was a huge
When Soban Singh recovered consciousness nine days later, he was in a hospital in Chennai (where he had been air-lifted). His first thought was “Where are my legs?” he looked down and saw them there, but couldn’t feel anything, except terrible pain all over his body.
He became unconscious again, only waking up in a hospital in Pune after a month. From others he heard the details of what had happened that fateful day. “Our truck had been blown up by a landmine so powerful, that the vehicle was flung more than 35 feet in the air. All my five other companions had been blown to bits (their body parts had to be gathered up in blankets). I was the only survivor, but the doctors had not much hope because of the extent of injuries. My stomach was ruptured, my head was broken, my ribs shattered, and I had to be kept alive with an oxygen tank. Most important, my spine was shattered, paralyzing me completely below the waist.”
It was the thought of his wife and three young children which (and yes, his physical strength and determination) which kept him fighting for his life. After three years in hospital, three years of healing and rigorous physio-therapy, Soban Singh was transferred to the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre. He lives there, going to his native Nainital once in two years. “My village is in a remote area, and the hilly terrain makes it difficult to negotiate on a wheelchair.”
These brave jawans do not talk about their difficult life – a life lived on a wheelchair, but let me tell you in short what it means to be paraplegic
Injury to the spinal cord causes loss of sensation and control, not just in the limbs, but also in areas such as bowel and bladder control, sexual function, digestion, breathing and other functions. Because their limbs do not function, and they cannot move their body normally like the rest of us, they are prone to pressure (bed) sores, spasms, frozen joints, osteoporosis and fractures. Because their lungs do not function properly, they cannot cough out phlegm, and even a simple cold can lead to pneumonia and breathing complications. Because their hearts lose muscle power, they are prone to cardio-vascular disease. Since emptying their bladders regularly is a problem (and is done lifelong using a catheter) they are prone to urinary tract infection, and kidney failure.