Four months ago, Army Major Kamlesh Mani was on his usual patrol route in the Chanjmulla village of Kashmir when he met a young, friendly 16-year-old boy. Mani gave him a piece of chocolate and a friendship took root between Mani and the teenager, Gawhaur Mir, a native of the village who was born with a hearing and speech impairment.
Now, Army Major Mani sponsors the boy’s education. He has even bought him a smartphone so the two can always stay in touch.
“After meeting me a few times, he came with me to our Army camp. I gifted him a pair of shoes and we grew attached,”. “The next day, he came back with a crate of apples for me. I wasn’t there at the time, but, when I returned, he ran to say ‘hi’ and only then accepted something to eat.”
Mir comes from a big family of nine members, of whom four can’t hear or speak.
Mir, Mani added, was previously enrolled in a Baramulla school but was unhappy there because he would be beaten up by teachers. The major has now got him enrolled at a school in Handwara, where a teacher for special needs is available, and paid for his books, uniform, and tuition. Mir is currently in Class 9.
“The family has given me consent to take him wherever needed for his treatment. He was diagnosed with 70 per cent disability, so the chances of getting his hearing back are very low, but I’ve offered to take him to Delhi whenever I go for a check-up,” Mani said.
The village Mir comes from hitting the headlines this May when a colonel, a major and three other security personnel were killed in an encounter with militants. Two militants were also killed in the exchange. Kashmir’s history of conflict means it has been under a massive security cover for years on end, a fact that has been a source of unease among local residents.
Major Mani, however, said there were no hesitations when he befriended Mir. “There were no apprehensions at all. The people of Chanjmulla are cooperative.”
His gesture, he said, “is a small step which I hope changes the mindset of the people”.
Major Mani was commissioned in December 2013 and has been stationed in Chanjmulla for one year now with the 21 Rashtriya Rifles regiment. He was a student of Military School Bangalore and went on to train at the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, Pune.
In 2013, he was conferred with the President’s Gold Medal in the Indian Military Academy. Mani said he presented the medal to his school as a “gesture of respect”.