In Satara, a village and a family await their Siachen martyr

Sepoy Sunil Suryawanshi was among the 10 soldiers who died in the Siachen avalanche

"This Valentine’s Day was supposed to be our third marriage anniversary, and this time, my husband had promised to give me a surprise gift. He cannot leave me and go alone. I still believe he is alive," says 22-year-old Rekha Suryawanshi, wife of martyr Sepoy Sunil Suryawanshi. Rekha still doesn’t know that her husband was trapped and killed in the massive avalanche in Siachen, while guarding the country.

Sepoy Sunil Suryawanshi and his wife Rekha on their day of their wedding
Sepoy Sunil Suryawanshi and his wife Rekha on their day of their wedding

Sepoy Nursing Assistant Sunil Suryawanshi was a soldier of the 19 Madras Regiment and was amongst the 10 soldiers who were trapped and killed by a massive avalanche at Siachen on February 3. The Army declared that they were dead on February 5. 25-year-old Suryawanshi was originally from the Army Medical Corps (AMC). He hailed from Maskarwadi village in Mand in Satara.

This is Maskarwadi’s second loss in a span of two and half months. The village lost another son, Martyr Colonel Santosh Mahadik, who was a commanding officer of the 41 Rashtriya Rifles on November 17 last year. Mahadik died in a gun battle with terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district.

Suryawanshi was recruited as a sepoy in 2012, when he was in his second year of Bachelors in Science degree. Sunil’s father Vitthal and mother Sangita are farmers who have struggled a lot to educate their sons. Sunil’s mother Sangita said, "He was inspired by patriotic films and wanted to join the Army ever since he was a child. His posting at Siachen was a dream posting, because he loved nature and the mountains, especially the blue and white ones."

She added, "Two months ago, he left for his posting and promised me that he will return soon. He asked me to take care of the family in his absence and assured me that this time when he comes home, he will stay for a longer time. He will come soon, God is not so cruel."

Sunil’s elder brother Tanaji who works in a bank in Satara said, "We received a call on Tuesday, informing us about his death. Till yesterday, we were hoping for him to be alive. But now, we still cannot digest it [that he is dead]. At present, only my father and I are aware of his death. We have not yet told his wife and my mother." Tanaji said that his mother and Rekha have been told that Sunil is one of the two injured soldiers and is currently undergoing treatment.

He added, "Prior to going for his mission [in Siachen], he called us and said he had to change his location because of the change in climate. He said he would not able to speak to us for two weeks at least, and asked us to not worry about him, promising that he will return soon."

The Suryawanshis were going to conduct a house warming in their brand new home on Sunil’s return, along with his daughter Tanuja’s second birthday, on February 19. Rekha said, "He had asked me to gift our daughter a gun and a doll on his behalf, for her birthday on February 19. Sunil loved weapons. He had also suggested having the house warming ceremony with Tanuja’s birthday, so that all of our neighbours could gather and have fun."

A teacher remembers
Remembering her student, Sunil’s school teacher Vandana Surywanshi-Bhosale, from the Primary District School in Maskarwadi said, "Sunil was better known as Sonya by his school friends. He was the most talented boy in my class. I was his class teacher from class second till fourth. He was not only good in studies but was also good at games. He was fond of cricket and was a patriot. He was an all-rounder and a good debater.

She added, "I still remember how his classmates left school and started working in farms, but Sunil would walk to the other village daily to complete his studies till the tenth standard. He was also assisting his father in the farm during his school days. He was a respectful person. Last year, when I visited the school, he had called me over for lunch. He was a very down to earth man."

Rocky road to the martyr's home

Martyr Sunil Suryawanshi's mortal remains will reach his village by Friday. However, the roads leading to his home are not in a good condition. While the local authorities have started working on the road, a dispute has arisen in between two villagers whose land is being used for the road.

Mohan Patil, a local, said, "The roads are in such a bad condition and there is not even a proper road to peacefully bring his mortal remains to his house. To overcome this issue, the local administrative bodies commenced work [on the road] but two farmers were fighting amongst themselves on a personal land issue. But, that has been resolved. The repair will finish by Wednesday night."

Army says
“The body is still at Siachen Base Camp due to bad weather conditions. It is expected to reach Leh early Thursday morning and will then reach Pune by Thursday night. Chances are that the final ritual will take place at his hometown on Friday.”

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