Rejected by Indian Army, love for olive green led Amritsar’s Tejpal to fight & die for Russia : The Tribune India

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Rejected by Indian Army, love for olive green led Amritsar’s Tejpal to fight & die for Russia

Rejected by Indian Army, love for olive green led Amritsar’s Tejpal to fight & die for Russia

Tejpal Singh (extreme left) and other Russian army recruits receive directions at the frontline.

Tribune News Service

Neeraj Bagga

Amritsar, June 22

Exactly nine days before he died fighting for the Russian army in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Tejpal Singh called his family to tell them that he would not be in a position to speak to them for the next few days as he was going to the frontline.

On March 12, Tejpal Singh, 30, was killed, thousands of kilometres away from his home in Amritsar, fighting for another country, wearing a uniform that he was indifferent to — although, as his young widow told The Tribune, he loved the colour olive green and always wanted to join the Indian Army.

Except that the Indian Army had rejected him a couple of times, as had the paramilitary forces twice and even the Punjab Police once.

Tejpal was desperate. He was married, with two children — a six-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. His parents, who run a small provision store in the corner of their small house in Palam Vihar, Amritsar, are unlettered. Time was running out. He knew he had to do something soon.

Tejpal Singh (left) with another Russian army recruit.

It wasn’t as if he wasn’t smart. He had been to Cyprus twice on a study visa, the first time for six months in 2013-14 where he undertook a travel and tourism management course; and for the second time for 17 months when he met his future wife, Parminder Kaur, who had gone there on a work visa.

An easy-going man who made friends easily, he had kept intact his foreign network from a decade ago. They had continued to send him information about visas, work opportunities and easy residencies abroad.

About six months ago, he called some of them. Help me find work, he said.

Parminder isn’t fully clear when her husband realised that the Russian army was looking to enlist young, able-bodied men to fight their war in Ukraine. Perhaps it was six months ago, she told this reporter. Whenever it was, Tejpal knew what he needed to do. He kept the information secret from his parents and the process of application secret from his wife.

“Tejpal got to know on the Internet that Russia was permitting foreign nationals to join its army to keep the fight alive in Ukraine. He saw this is as a rare opportunity to realise his dreams and fulfil family responsibilities,” one of Tejpal’s friends told The Tribune.

One of these friends told him he and some others had, indeed, joined the Russian army; they sent him photographs wearing olive green fatigues. They told him that if he did well he could, one day, apply for permanent citizenship as well.

But all Parminder knew was that her husband was applying “somewhere abroad”. She didn’t think it was that unusual. She had met her husband abroad. Half of Punjab is abroad.So when he told his family that he had decided to apply for a Russian visa because he wanted to join the Russian army, he was greeted with huge resistance. But Tejpal was adamant. He changed the password of his mobile phone so that no one could have access to his messages.

According to Parminder, “No one in the family was aware of when and from where he applied for a visa to travel abroad. One thing was sure — he got an e-visa.”

According to immigration agents littered across the Punjab landscape, an e-visa, or an electronic or “online visa” is far easier to obtain because all documentation has to be provided online — whether it is bank statements, income tax returns, the embassy fee in question, hotel booking and travel tickets.

According to Manish Kumar, an immigration agent with an office in Amritsar and elsewhere in Punjab that The Tribune spoke to, many embassies are also, increasingly willing to accept dummy documents of the last two requirements.

For a full month Tejpal’s family tried to persuade him not to travel to Moscow to join the Russian army. But he wouldn’t listen. He won the argument.

But Tejpal also decided that he would disguise his route a bit. So he first flew to Bangkok on December 20, 2023, stayed there for 22 days and then booked a ticket to Moscow. Parminder told this reporter that she was the one who booked and paid for his Bangkok-Moscow ticket from Amritsar online at a cost of Rs 72,000.

On January 12, around 11 pm, he called her. He had reached Moscow, he said. The next day he called again, this time to say that he had cleared the Russian army’s physical and medical tests. He was now a cadet. On March 12, only eight weeks later, he was dead.

Parminder told this reporter that Tejpal sometimes talked about the difficulty he faced in understanding Russian, although the army had several translators in Punjabi, Hindi and other languages. The first month was spent in learning the language; training was tough, lasting 14 hours a day.

“But he continued to make friends from many countries, including Africa, Nepal and Sri Lanka. He made me talk to his course mates from different countries and continents,” she recalled.

At the conclusion of the language training course, Tejpal and friends were put in a training during which they travelled for three days. They had reached Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine, a region Russia has claimed right from the start of the war in February 2022. Along with other cadets, Tejpal was handed over to a new commander who clamped down on communications on the phone.

On March 3, Tejpal called his wife at home in Amritsar. They spoke briefly. He told her he wouldn’t be able to call often because he was going to the frontline. That was the last time she would hear his voice. Tejpal was killed in action on March 12. But Parminder wouldn’t know until June, when she called the number of a friend in his unit that he had once given her. “My husband was a part of the Russian army, but I don’t even know if that army is going to pay me any compensation. And now his friends are saying that they want to return home. But my husband will never return home. We haven’t even got his ashes back,” she told The Tribune.

Haven’t even got his ashes, laments widow

My husband was a part of the Russian army, but I don’t even know if that army is going to pay me any compensation.... We haven’t even got his ashes back. — Paraminder Kaur, Tejpal’s wife

About The Author

The Tribune News Service brings you the latest news, analysis and insights from the region, India and around the world. Follow the Tribune News Service for a wide-ranging coverage of events as they unfold, with perspective and clarity.

#Indian Army #Russia #Ukraine

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