On a patriotic mission

On April 9, 2019, India’s first apolitical, patriotic road trip by a civilian was flagged off by the CRPF DIG at Bengaluru

People are often spotted clicking photos of a very old Hyundai Xcent wherever it is parked. The car has countless defence forces badges, stickers and patriotic slogans pasted on it and the Tricolour flutters from it too. Passers-by surmise that it belongs to a ‘fauji.’

The decorated sedan tows a Maruti 800 car, which in turn has a small cycle and bike attached to it, for use in hilly or hostile terrain. But interesting as the sight is, it’s what is inside the smaller towed car that is precious — over a hundred earthen urns or ‘kalash,’ containing soil from the memorials and homes of fallen soldiers.

Meet the man behind the wheel, Umesh Gopinath Jadhav

On April 9, 2019, India’s first apolitical, patriotic road trip by a civilian was flagged off by the CRPF DIG at Bengaluru. With the necessary permission and help from the Defence forces, Jadhav is visiting families of soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for the country and collecting soil from memorials and homes of these families.

Jadhav, who will be completing his journey by the end of this month, has driven 1,16,000 kilometres across 28 states and eight union territories and has already met 145 families of brave-hearts, starting from soldiers who were killed during the World Wars, and the 1971 Indo-Pak War to Kargil and Siachen warriors, from the relatives of those slain in the 26/11 Mumbai attack to those of soldiers who were killed in the Pulwama and Galwan attacks. His black coat has several formation signs (token badges) given to him by the various Defence units that he has visited to honour the fallen soldiers.

Jadhav, who is currently in Andhra Pradesh, met officials of the Eastern Naval Command, at Port City where he was felicitated by the Junior Chamber International. He gave a motivational talk at the gathering. “The holy soil collected from the soldiers’ families will be handed over to the Armed Forces in New Delhi in a few weeks. In the backdrop of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, the defence authorities will decide whether to use the soil in making a memorial or a map of India in the memory of our soldiers,” says Jadhav, who had been a professor of pharmacology and is also a percussionist, with his own music school.

The Pulwama attacks, a turning point

“In 2019, I was playing at a musical concert in Jaipur when the news of the Pulwama attack was flashed in the media. We lost 40 CRPF jawans in that ghastly terrorist attack in J&K. It was a turning point. I asked myself, ‘what if a member of my family was one of them?’ Patriotism is not just about typing ‘Rest in Peace’ and ‘Salute brave-hearts’ on social media from the comfort of my home. I decided to step out, undertake a journey as a civilian, offer condolences personally to the veer soldiers’ families, create awareness among citizens about thousands of unsung heroes and inspire youngsters to show patriotism in action, and not just digitally.”

Only the Tricolour, no corporate banner

“This is a non-sponsored trip with voluntary help from citizens in different cities. I don’t take any corporate sponsorship because I cannot let my vehicle display banners and flags of corporate houses. I consider the Nation first and only the Tricolour should be displayed on my car. Fuelled by ‘josh,’ I usually drive 200-500 kilometres per day and sleep in the car at times,” he adds.

Jadhav’s car has slogans such as ‘Duty unto Death,’ Jai Bharat,’ ‘Bharat ke Veer,’ ‘Honouring India’s soil’ apart from information about the war memorials and the purpose of his trip. He has also collected testimonials from all the families he has visited. He plans to make a documentary based on his experiences during the road trip. He and his friend Gautam Raj have also brought out a table calendar featuring the fallen brave-hearts for distribution to educational institutes, Armed Forces offices and soldiers' families.

Only civilian invitee

Earlier, in February 2020, Jadhav had handed over the urn containing the soil collected from 40 slain Pulwama soldiers' family homes, to the CRPF additional director general in Lethpora, Jammu and Kashmir. The soil was used in making a memorial. He was the only civilian invitee during the first anniversary of the Pulwama attacks at the Martyrs’ Memorial.

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