Guwahati: When she first met this uniformed stranger, Hoineithem Haokip could not have foreseen that he would help turn her life around. She was barely six months old when she contracted polio and was paralysed below her waist.
Colonel Anand Bajpai met Hoineithem in Tuitong village of Manipur about five months ago. In the dimly lit room of her thatched hut, Bajpai recalled how she remained impassive while seated on a stool as he tried his best to strike a conversation. Col Bajpai was so moved by Hoineithem’s plight that he and his wife, along with the entire unit of 19 Assam Rifles, decided to adopt her.
Theithem (as they fondly call her) would spend most of her time making artificial flowers from waste material. The paramilitary unit has now shouldered the responsibility of providing her with financial means to make more such pretty flower bouquets. The 20-year-old has also been presented with a wheelchair, a gesture appreciated by the whole village.
“I first learned about Theithem from her father who’s also the pastor at Tuitong village. It was during a routine interaction with locals on Republic Day that he told me of her physical disability and I asked him if we could meet her. When I first saw her and said hello, she was absolutely expressionless. Despite my best efforts to make her smile, even offering her chocolates, there was no reaction. Her father told me that all she did was sit in a corner and stare at the roof or make flowers from trash. I was overcome with emotion,” says Col Bajpai.
When the officer called up his wife and narrated Hoineithem’s story, the couple immediately decided to adopt her. He humbly refers to this decision as ‘humanity’ – a value he believes is ingrained in anyone who dons the military uniform.
“The moment this news about Theithem broke out, my unit came forward to support her financially. My senior was the first to buy the products she made. My course mate in Jalandhar, who came to know of her, offered us a wheelchair free of cost. When I gifted this wheelchair to Theithem, she was filled with tears but still no words were said,” recalls Bajpai.
Hoinethem makes no effort to hide her joy in having found this love and support.
“My family never treated my illness as an inconvenience but I felt bad seeing my parents work and not being able to help them. Now, I feel so good after getting this wheelchair from 19 Assam Rifles. I can move from one room to another and also venture outside on my own,” says Hoinethem.
Recently, Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh facilitated a loan for her from the Manipur State Co-operative Bank. Furthermore, a local Manipuri officer of the Army unit has been helping Hoinethem and her family get important things done. She now has an Aadhaar card to avail government schemes, banking and other facilities.
The 19 Assam Rifles unit also helped her get admission in the Arts and Crafts Training College at Thoubal, where she will be undergoing training for a year. Col Bajpai and his men want her to become a successful entrepreneur someday.
“I am so proud of Theithem. She’s a true survivor and has been able to motivate quite a few others. We want her to become an entrepreneur. I hope a day would come when she would finally get to stand on her own feet,” says Col Bajpai.
“It is wonderful to see her smile and whenever we meet she has a twinkle in her eyes. She doesn’t understand Hindi and I don’t know to speak the Kuki language, but that has not stopped us from talking to each other. There’s a long way to go, and I am keeping my fingers crossed,” the commandant of the paramilitary unit summed up.