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India needs Heroes like Harshan

Text: Captain R Harshan, a member of the Indian Army's elite Special Forces unit who lost his life fighting terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir in March 2007, will be awarded the Ashok Chakra, the nation's highest honour for valour in peacetime, on Republic Day. Archana Masih spoke to the hero's family and friends in Thiruvanathapuram. A Republic Day Special feature saluting India's Bravehearts.

R Harshan left his engineering degree course midway to give a final shot at his biggest dream. He could perhaps have made a lot of money as an engineer one day, but what he really wanted was to be a soldier, a profession that would pay him a pittance and send him to treacherous terrain to face the enemy. But for the teenager from Thiruvanathapuram, this was the life he had chosen, this was the career he truly wanted.

"You could not imagine Harshan as an engineer or sitting at his desk in a corporate job. This guy was cut out to only be a soldier," says his oldest friend Manu BC, a software engineer at Infosys.

His tenacity paid off and Harshan joined the National Defence Academy in Khadakvasla, Pune, as a cadet in 1999. Seven years later, he died fighting terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir on a cold, snowy night. Just two days before he was meant to come home to see his family who he hadn't seen for over a year.

In the three years he spent at the NDA and the year at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, Harshan proved himself as one of the Indian Army's best cadets. It came as no surprise when he decided to join the Special Forces, one of the toughest arms of the army. Like the British SAS and the US Green Berets, the Special Forces are highly trained and skilled commandos. As one Special Forces officer who has spent eight of his 10 years as an officer in Jammu and Kashmir explained, "In the Special Forces, you have to be 100% all the time, you just cannot slip to 99%. Ever."

Images: Left, Captain Harshan after he successfully finished a parajumping course, which entitled him to wear the wings on his chest. Right, in Class 6 at the Sainik School in Kazhakootam, Kerala. Photographs: Courtesy, Captain Harshan's family.

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