“HOW CAN MAN DIE BETTER, THAN FACING FEARFUL ODDS, FOR THE ASHES OF HIS FATHERS, AND THE TEMPLES OF HIS GODS” (Lord Macaulay’s lines written at the gate of the Rezang La Memorial at Chushul, Ladakh)
At the very outset, I want to inform the reader that this write up will not be like the usual book summaries that I post every Friday. This would rather be a collection of excerpts from the book, “The Brave: Param Vir Chakra Stories” by Rachna Bisht Rawat. Now you may ask, “Sourav, why not a summary this time?” Well, dear reader, this is one such book which I feel cannot be summarised into a limited number of ideas or of which I can provide you a gist. This book contains lived experiences of India’s 21 war heroes who were decorated with India’s highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra. Through this write-up I am making a modest effort to throw light upon the life of these 21 war heroes of India, borrowing from the said book. Only 9 of these brave heroes had the honour of wearing these awards on their uniforms alive, the other 12 were conferred the award posthumously.
When is Param Vir Chakra awarded? “The Param Vir Chakra is awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, in the presence of the enemy, whether on land, at sea, or in the air.”(Ministry of Defence, Government of India)
The Brave takes you into the hearts and minds of India’s bravest soldiers, all of whom won the Param Vir Chakra, India’s greatest military honour. With access to the Army and the families and comrades-in-arms of the soldiers, Rachna Bisht Rawat paints the most vivid portrait of these men and their extraordinary deeds.
I have also added the official citation links to this write up in case you want to read more about them.
Indo-Pak War of 1947-48
- Major Somnath Sharma (Badgam, Jammu and Kashmir), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for stopping the movement of raiders towards Srinagar airfield, even with a plastered arm.
‘Somi died. He was not there to die, he was there to kill. A job had to be done. It was his job and he did it.” (Major Somnath’s brother)
Major Somnath Sharma was born on 31 January 1923, in Jammu. His father was a medical corps officer, who rose to the rank of major general. He applied for admission to the Prince of Wales’s Royal Indian Military College (now Rashtriya Indian Military College), Dehradun. After passing out in May 1941 he joined the Indian Military Academy (IMA) where he did exceptionally well. By then the war had started and IMA training was cut short. After about nine months of training, Somnath Sharma became a commissioned officer in February 1942. He was just 19 when he joined the 8/19 Hyderabad Regiment, now 4 Kumaon, as a second lieutenant.
“The enemy is only 50 yards from us. We are heavily outnumbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to the last man and the last round.” This was Major Somnath Sharma’s last message to headquarters on the radio.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “His leadership, gallantry, and tenacious defence were such that his men were inspired to fight the enemy by seven to one, six hours after this gallant officer had been killed. He has set an example of courage and qualities seldom equalled in the history of the Indian Army.”
- Lance Naik Karam Singh (Richhmar Gali, Kashmir)
He was awarded the PVC for repelling five attacks one after the other with a limited number of soldiers in his company and with limited ammunition.
Karam Singh was born on 15 September 1915 and was enrolled in the Army on 15 September 1941. He was sent to 1 Sikh. He never went to school and could not write much beyond his own name. This did not stop him from rising in the forces; he became the Quarter Master Havaldar of his battalion. Much of his reputation came from the Military Medal that he won for his bravery during the Burma war in 1944. Karam holds the distinction of being the first living soldier to wear a Param Vir Chakra on his chest.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Lance Naik Karam Singh proved himself to be a dauntless leader of men in crisis. Nothing could subdue him and no amount of fire or hardship could break his spirit.”
- 2nd Lieutenant Rama Raghoba Rane (Rajouri, Jammu and Kashmir)
He was awarded the PVC for clearing roadblocks and minefields to make way for tanks to move to Rajouri.
Rane was born in Chendia village, in Karnataka, on 26 June 1918. When World War II broke out, 22-year-old Rane decided to join the Army and was recruited into the Bombay Sappers (Engineers) in July 1940. During the passing-out parade, he stood very high in the order of merit and was presented with the Commandant’s Cane for the best recruit. He continued to wear the uniform till April 1971. He passed away at 73, in 1994, after undergoing an operation where the doctors were not able to stop his bleeding.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “With sheer will power he cleared this roadblock by 0630hours. The next thousand yards was a mass of roadblocks and blasted embankments. That was not all. The enemy had the whole area covered with machine-gun fire but with superhuman efforts, despite being wounded, with cool courage and exemplary leadership and complete disregard for personal life, he cleared the road by 1030 hours.”
- Naik Jadunath Singh (Tain Dhar, Kashmir), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for defending his post against three waves of attack and repelling enemy attack single-handedly, after his comrades were either dead or seriously injured, getting 8 bullet wounds in the act.
Naik Jadunath Singh was born on 21 November 1916 in Khajuri village of Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh to a poor farmer. He was noticed in the village because he became a wrestling champion and would often sort out goons who misbehaved. He was also deeply religious and a staunch devotee of Hanuman, so much so that he took a vow to remain a bachelor for life and followed it. When Jadunath was 25 years old, he enrolled in the Rajput Regiment. After he had completed his training he was sent to the 1st battalion of the Rajput Regiment.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Thus, charging single-handedly at the advancing enemy, this Non-Commissioned Officer, performed the highest act of gallantry and self-sacrifice and by so doing saved his section-nay, his whole picquet from being overrun by the enemy at the most critical stage in the battle for the defence of Nushera.”
- Company Havaldar Major (CHM) Piru Singh (The Battle of Darapari), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for leading D Company that had been tasked with attacking and dislodging Pakistani irregulars from Darapari in the Tithwal sector of Kashmir.
Piru Singh Shekhawat was born on 20 May 1918 in Rampura Beri village of Churu, Rajasthan. School became a daily punishment for this free-spirited, happy-go-lucky child and finally one day, he decided he had had enough. Flinging his slate at his teacher, Piru ran away from his classroom. He never returned. The Army had always appealed to him as a career and he kept going to recruitment camps till he was selected. At 18, he joined the Army, coincidentally on his birthday—20 May 1936. . He was sent to fight in the Second World War and by the time he returned in September 1947, India and Pakistan had become two countries. Being a part of the Rajput segment of 5/1 Punjab, Piru was sent to 6 Rajputana Rifles. He died on 18 July 1948, 30 years old.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “With complete disregard to his bleeding wounds he made a mad jump on the MMG crew bayoneting them to death, thus silencing the gun. By then he suddenly realized that he was the sole survivor of the section, the rest of them either dead or wounded.”
UN Mission in Congo, 1961
- Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria (Elizabethville, Katanga), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for performing the supreme sacrifice while clearing up a roadblock established by the Gendarmerie at a strategic roundabout.
“Salaria was like a man possessed. He had lost count of how many men he had killed; he’d turned into a killing machine, flinging grenades, bayoneting men and slicing through necks with his khukri.”
Gurbachan Singh Salaria was born on 29 November 1935 in a village called Janwal, near Shakargarh, now in Pakistan. Salaria fancied himself a palmist. Before the Congo deployment, he had run into an excise officer, who used to read people’s palms. He told him that there was a star on his mount of Jupiter, which would bring him great fame. Salaria took the prediction very seriously and would often point it out to fellow officers in lighter moments.
He was a good kabaddi player and continued to be good at sports even after he cleared the entrance to King George’s Royal Military College (KGRMC), Bangalore, at 11 years of age. Gurbachan went on to the National Defence Academy and then the Indian Military Academy. He joined 2/3 Gorkha Rifles in July 1954 where because of his cropped hair cut and upturned moustache he was nicknamed Khan Saheb by his commanding officer. In March 1960, he received orders transferring him to 3/1 Gorkha Rifles.
Major General (Retd) R. P. Singh, later wrote the book on Captain Salaria; A Star on the Mount of Jupiter.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Captain Salaria’s gallant action prevented any enemy movement of the enemy force towards the main battle scene and thus contributed very largely to the success of the main battalion’s action at the roundabout and prevented the encirclement of UN Headquarters in Elizabethville. Captain Salaria subsequently died of his wounds.”
The Indo-China War of 1962
- Major Dhan Singh Thapa (Battle For Sirijap 1, Ladakh)
He was awarded the PVC for gallantly commanding a greatly outnumbered post in Sirijap 1 and repulsing three attacks and inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers.
“When all their ammunition finished and the Chinese started using incendiary bombs to start fires to smoke out the soldiers, the Gorkhas pulled out their khukris (traditional Nepali knives), and jumped out of their trenches screaming out their war cry: ‘Jai Mahakali, Aayo Gorkhali.’”
Dhan Singh Thapa was born on 28 April 1928 in Simla, Himachal Pradesh, and commissioned into 8 Gorkha Rifles on 28 August 1949.
He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously since he was believed to have been killed in the war. He had, however, been captured. When Maj Thapa came back in May 1963, he had to be remarried to his wife since she had been made to undergo the rituals of widowhood. He also found himself face to face with his newborn son Param Deep Thapa, who had been named after the Param Vir Chakra his father had been awarded. When he grew up, Param went on to join the Army.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Major Thapa’s cool courage, conspicuous fighting qualities, and leadership were in the highest traditions of our Army.”
- Subedar Joginder Singh (North-East Frontier Agency)
He was awarded the PVC for gallantly holding a defensive position at a ridge near Tongpen La in N.E.F.A. (now Arunachal Pradesh) against three Chinese attacks.
“If Joginder Singh had not been killed in the war, he would have hung up his uniform in a year’s time and gone back to his wife and children in his sunny village near Moga in Punjab, with a monthly pension of Rs 116. Perhaps he would have still been farming wheat there while recounting war.”
Joginder Singh was born on 28 September 1921 in Mahakalan village near Moga in Punjab. His parents were not well off and could not afford a good education for him. As a result, he could not finish school and decided to join the Army. He was recruited into 1 Sikh and fulfilled his desire for education by clearing professional exams and becoming a unit instructor.
Joginder Singh died fighting a shamefully unequal battle his government pushed him into, completely unprepared and unequipped, but he is immortalized in the country’s history for his brave act of valour.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Throughout this action, Subedar Joginder Singh displayed devotion to duty, inspiring leadership, and bravery of the highest order.”
- Major Shaitan Singh (Rezang la, Ladakh)
He was awarded the PVC for commanding five defended platoon positions against successive Chinese attacks.
When he fell disabled by his wounds, he refused to be rescued and ordered his men to leave him to his fate in order to save their lives.
“Maj Shaitan Singh and his men lie frozen there till a shepherd discovers their bodies three months later.”
Shaitan Singh was born on 1 December 1924 at Banasar village in Jodhpur district, Rajasthan. The village is now known as Shaitan Singh Nagar. After completing his graduation, he joined the Jodhpur Lancers (Horse Squadron) and when the State Forces merged with the Indian Army, he joined the Kumaon Regiment. Rezang La memorial has been built on the site where the men of C Company were cremated. There, inscribed on a white marble block, are the names of the martyrs of Rezang La and the lines by Lord Thomas Macaulay.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Major Shaitan Singh’s supreme courage, leadership and exemplary devotion to duty inspired his company to fight almost to the last man.”
Indo-Pak War of 1965
- Company Quarter Master Havaldar (CQHM) Abdul Hamid (Khem Karan Sector, Punjab), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for his supreme sacrifice in the face of the enemy after destroying 7 enemy tanks by the Recoilless (RCL) gun mounted on a jeep.
“For the first time in military history, a battalion with only RCL guns at its disposal has fought off an armoured division.”
Abdul Hamid was born on 1 July 1933 in Dhamupur village of district Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh Hamid was 20 years old when he was recruited at Varanasi into the Army. After undergoing his training at the Grenadiers Regimental Centre at Nasirabad, he was posted to 4 Grenadiers in 1955.
Abdul was a proud man. Once, the zamindar of a nearby village offered big prize money to anyone who would shoot down a particular bird which he himself had not been able to do. Abdul borrowed his friend’s gun and shot the bird, but refused to go to the zamindar for the prize money. His friend went there instead and when the zamindar asked for Abdul to come to collect the prize, Abdul refused, saying, ‘I might be poor, but I don’t go begging to people’s houses.’ The zamindar later had the prize money sent to his house.
When he was to leave for the war, his family and neighbours had tried to stop him after witnessing three bad omens while he was leaving. His bedding unfolds and spills the contents, the chain of his bicycle breaks, and he even misses the train he was supposed to leave on.
Since his citation was sent on 9 September, it did not count the three tanks he destroyed the next day; he was killed in action during the last fight with the seventh tank.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “His complete disregard for his personal safety during the operation and his sustained acts of bravery in the face of constant enemy fire were a shining example not only to his unit but also to the whole division and were in the highest traditions of the Indian Army.”
- Lieutenant Colonel Ardeshir Burzorji Tarapore (Buttar Dograndi, Pakistan), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for leading his armoured regiment (Tanks) to capture Phillora, Wazirwali, Jassoran, Buttar Dograndi, and Chawinda, deep inside Pakistan territory, getting mortally wounded in the last attack.
In the four assaults led by Lt. Col. Tarapore, Pakistan suffered 60 tank casualties and India only 9.
Ardeshir Burzorji Tarapore, lovingly called Adi by his friends, was born on 18 August 1923 in Mumbai. He had his heart set upon joining the armoured regiment after leaving school. His dream was fulfilled when he was transferred from Infantry and posted to the 1st Hyderabad Imperial Service that became 17 Poona Horse after the merger of the Hyderabad State with the Union of India.
Tarapore is remembered by all his men and officers for his fearlessness and for being a hands-on CO. No task was too small for him. He often surprised soldiers by personally helping them load ammunition on to tanks, something that most other officers did not do. Once, some guests had arrived at Lt Col. Tarapore’s house while he was out. When he came back he apologetically told the group that his jeep had got stuck in the Gurari Nala, a stream that then flowed outside Babina. His uniform was dirty because he had helped his men push it to get it out of the slush. The guest, who was quite enamoured of Lt. Col. Tarapore’s rank and status, expressed shock that despite being the CO of the regiment, Adi had to get into the water to push the jeep. The normally gentle and polite Adi stiffened at that and retorted: ‘I am not made of sugar and salt that I’d get washed away. Anything my men do, I do with them.’
Government of India Citation excerpt: “The valour displayed by Lieutenant Colonel A.B. Tarapore in this heroic action, which lasted six days, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Indian Army.”
Indo-Pak War of 1971
- 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal (Battle Of Basantar, Shakargarh Sector), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for relentlessly fighting and destroying 5 superior enemy Patton tanks with outnumbered and inferior centurion tanks.
After studying at the Lawrence School Sanawar, Arun had decided to become an Army officer and had joined the National Defence Academy in 1967. He was commissioned into 17 Poona Horse, an armoured or tank unit of the Indian Army. He had been in the Army six months when the war broke out. He was called back from an incomplete Young Officers course.
When he left for war, he packed his golf kit and ceremonial blue patrols. When asked why he replied, “I plan to play golf in Lahore. And I’m sure there will be a dinner night after we win the war so I’ll need the blue patrol”.
“Your grandfather was a brave soldier, so was your father. Fight like a lion and don’t come back a coward.” Her mother had said to him.
In the course of the battle of Basantar, Khetarpal is severely wounded. He is asked to abandon his tank but he realizes that the enemy is continuing to advance in his sector and if he abandons his tank they would breakthrough. ‘No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My gun is still working and I will get these bastards,’ is what he famously says on the radio on being asked to fall back.
Bleeding profusely, all he can whisper hoarsely to his gunner Sawar Nathu Singh, who is imploring him to climb out of the tank, is: ‘I won’t be able to do it.’ With that, Khetarpal collapses, guts spilling out of the bloody wound in his abdomen. It is around 10. 15 a. m. The date: 16 December 1971. Khetarpal, breathing his last, is 21. Arun Khetarpal is dead, but he has by his intrepid valour saved the day. The enemy cannot get the passage that it is so desperately seeking. Not one enemy tank gets past Khetarpal.
“Deeply regret to inform that your son IC 25067 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal reportedly killed in action sixteenth December. Please accept sincere condolences” read the letter that arrived at the Khetarpal house informing them of their son’s demise.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal had shown the best qualities of leadership, tenacity of purpose and the will to close in with the enemy. This was an act of courage and self-sacrifice far beyond the call of duty.”
- Major Hoshiar Singh (Basantar Nala, Pakistan)
He was awarded the PVC for capturing an enemy locality at Jarpal and then defending it against four counterattacks, refusing to be evacuated even after being seriously wounded until the ceasefire was declared.
Major Hoshiar Singh was born on 5 May 1936 in a small village called Sisana in Haryana’s Sonipat district. A senior officer of the Jat Regimental Centre noticed his excellent game in volleyball at a match and implored him to join the Jat Regiment, which he did. He was enrolled into 2 Jat and later commissioned into 3 Grenadiers. He was a big favourite with his jawans and JCOs. He would always be by their side, constantly monitoring and supervising what they were doing. He also did not like punishing his men; he preferred to correct them with genuine affection. He knew his troops very well and could tell exactly how each man would behave in a particular situation. He went on to become a full colonel and died of a heart attack on 6 December 1998.
The 3 Grenadiers, Major Hoshiar’s regiment, had put up a board after capturing strategically important territory in Pakistan. It said: ‘You are now entering Pakistan. No passports required. Bash on regardless.’
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Throughout this operation, Major Hoshiar Singh displayed most conspicuous gallantry, indomitable fighting spirit and leadership in the highest traditions of the Army.”
- Lance Naik Albert Ekka (Gangasagar, Eastern front), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for attacking a well-fortified enemy position and continuing to fight alongside his comrades even after being injured, and finally performing the supreme sacrifice while silencing a Medium Machine gun.
Lance Naik Albert Ekka was Born and brought up in a village in Bihar. He came from an adivasi tribe in Ranchi and was a devout Christian. From the time when he was a little boy Albert was fond of hunting and like all adivasis was an expert at tracking and hunting animals, often using his bow and arrow. He was also good at games. His love for adventure and his hunting skills made him an excellent soldier. When Albert grew up he was very keen to join the Army since it appealed to his sense of adventure and action. He was recruited into the Brigade of the Guards.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “In this action, Lance Naik Albert Ekka displayed the most conspicuous valour and determination and made the supreme sacrifice in the best traditions of the Army.”
- Flying Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon (Srinagar air force base), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for beating back an attack by 6 hostile fighter planes and defending the Srinagar air force base on his Gnat fighter plane against the superior Pakistani Sabres.
Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was born in RurkaIsewal village of Ludhiana, Punjab, on 17 July 1945. Sekhon was commissioned into the Air Force on 4 June. He was posted to No. 18 Squadron (Flying Bullets) in October. He was twenty-six years old when he died and had been married for just a few months, most of which he had spent on duty in Srinagar.
When chasing Pakistani Sabres, Sekhon had said to the Air traffic control, “I am behind two Sabres, I won’t let the bastards get away.” He was successful in chasing the Sabres away, after taking off in the dense fog. His plane was also hit and he ejected. His parachute however did not deploy fully and died after falling to the ground. After the rescue, his plane was found to have 36 bullet holes.
He is the only person outside the Army, to have received the Param Vir Chakra.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “The sublime heroism, supreme gallantry, flying skill and determination above and beyond the call of duty displayed by Flying Officer Sekhon in the face of certain death have set new heights in Air Force traditions.”
- Naib Subedar Bana Singh (Saltoro Ridge, Siachen)
He was awarded the PVC for leading his men through an extremely difficult and hazardous route to clear an enemy intrusion at a height of 21000 feet.
When his company was attacking the enemy position, his company commander told Bana Singh to try and capture the enemy alive, to which Singh shook his head and famously replied: ‘Sir, these bastards are not my cousins!’
71 now, Sub Maj Bana Singh, PVC, was born in Ranbir Singh Pora tehsil of Jammu and Kashmir on 6 January 1949 in a Sikh family.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Nb Subedar Bana Singh displayed the most conspicuous gallantry and leadership under the most adverse conditions.”
Operation Pawan, Sri Lanka, 1987-90
- Major Ramaswamy Parmeshwaran (Battle of Kantharodai, Sri Lanka), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for inspiring and commanding troops after being ambushed by a group of guerillas of LTTE.
Major Ramaswamy Parmeshwaran was born on 13 September 1946 in Bombay. In 1971, when India was fighting Pakistan, he joined the Officers’ Training Academy in Chennai and passed out on 16 June 1972. He was commissioned into 15 Mahar and served there for eight years. Major Parmeshwaran was handpicked for 8 Mahar, which was the first unit of the Indian Army to land in Sri Lanka as part of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force because he could speak Tamil. He was raring to go.
Parry, as Maj Parameswaran is affectionately remembered by his men, was a devoted and committed officer, who liked to lead by example. Jawans who served under him remember his considerate but firm command and quick forgiveness. He was an approachable man, who the soldiers could easily confide in. He would never humiliate a man by punishing him in public, but if someone was wrong, he would not let that go unchecked either.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Major Ramaswamy Parameswaran displayed the most conspicuous gallantry and thought nothing of dying at his post.”
Indo-Pak War, Kargil, 1999
- Rifleman Sanjay Kumar (Mushkoh Valley, Kargil)
For volunteering to be the leading scout of an attacking column and killing three intruders in hand to hand combat, getting seriously injured in the act.
Sanjay Kumar was born on 3 March 1976 in Bakaingaon near Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, a small village with a population of 650, where the forces are a popular career choice. In January 1996, he got selected at a recruitment rally in Jabalpur and was enrolled in the Army as a soldier and sent to 13 JAK Rif.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Rifleman Sanjay Kumar displayed most conspicuous gallantry, cool courage, and devotion to duty of an exceptionally high order in the face of the enemy.”
- Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav (Tiger Hill, Kargil)
He was awarded the PVC for rising in raw courage to silence enemy machine guns and bunker positions after the leading team of his Ghatak platoon had lost its commander and two of his colleagues, getting critically injured in the act.
Yogender Singh Yadav was born in Aurangabad Ahir village near Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh. Halfway through his class 12, when he was just 16 years old, Yogender Singh was recruited into the Army. He was 19 when he went to fight in Kargil. The Param Vir Chakra was announced for Yadav posthumously, but it was soon discovered that he was recuperating in a hospital, and it was his namesake, who had been killed in the mission.
When the Kargil War started, Yogender Singh Yadav had been on leave. It had barely been a fortnight since he had married Reena, and her pretty, smiling face was still on his mind when he joined his battalion in Dras on 22 May. That very day they had their first casualty.
Every Republic Day, he comes down to Delhi, puts on his number one uniform, pins his medals on his chest, and leads the parade down Rajpath from an open jeep with the other two living Param Vir Chakras – Capt. Bana Singh and Hav. Sanjay Kumar – by his side. How does it feel to see thousands of fellow citizens cheering for him? ‘I feel humbled and grateful,’ he says. ‘I am a soldier, it was my job to fight yet, I have been decorated with the highest gallantry award of my country for completing a task that was given to me. Any soldier would have done the same.’
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Grenadier Yogendra Singh Yadav, thus, displayed the most conspicuous courage, indomitable spirit, grit and determination under extremely difficult situation beyond the call of duty.”
- Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey (Batalik sector, Kargil), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for performing a singular daredevil act to destroy four enemy positions enroute Khalubar top getting mortally injured in the act.
On a warm, sultry summer afternoon, a thin boy with a side parting in his hair and shiny new leather shoes walked down for his service selection board interview for National Defence Academy. He was trying to keep his mind off the bite in his toes, the sting of the cheap elastic in his socks, and the guilt he had felt asking his poor father for money to buy them. He reminded himself that he was the best NCC cadet in his state and desperately hoped that his basic knowledge of English would not desert him during the interview. ‘Why do you want to join the Army?’ the interviewing officer was stern and abrupt and looking straight into his eyes. ‘I want to win the Param Vir Chakra,’ he replied returning the stare, hoping the sentence was grammatically correct. The interviewing officer looked at the others on the board and exchanged a smile. Sometimes, they say, there is magic in the air and we must be careful about what we say because it will come true. Not only did young Manoj Kumar Pandey from Sitapur district in Uttar Pradesh get into NDA, but also won the Param Vir Chakra, the Armed Forces’ highest gallantry award. Unfortunately, he hadn’t said he wanted to wear it live.
Lt Pandey had been sent on an assignment to bring back the dead bodies of soldiers who had not returned from a mission. “You bloody dogs, I’ll throw you out of my country”, he had promised the enemy, shouting out in anger and had then used all his strength to drag a dead soldier back.
When Lt Pandey was leaving for his assignment at Khalubar, he knew not many of his team were expected to return but that didn’t bother him much. He remembered the emotional words he had once scrawled in the depths of a diary he had been maintaining since childhood: “Some goals are so worthy; it’s glorious even to fail.”
He can only watch as his arms let go of the rifle he has been holding, his fingers lose their grip on the trigger, his knees buckle under him and his neck slumps forward on his heaving chest. Blood courses down his face, blurring his vision. There is a spurt of light in his head, then stark darkness and silence. Finally, he has to close his eyes. Manoj Kumar Pandey of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles is dead; his blood-stained body tilts in an arch and falls gently to the ground in front of the fourth bunker of Khalubar. He is 24 years and seven days old.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey, thus showed most conspicuous bravery, indomitable courage, exemplary personal valour, outstanding leadership and devotion to duty of an exceptionally high order, in the face of the enemy and made the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Army.”
- Captain Vikram Batra (Point 4875, Kargil), Posthumously
He was awarded the PVC for capturing strategic point 5140 and then going on to capture point 4875 where he performed the supreme sacrifice saving a fellow soldier.
Captain Vikram Batra was born in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. When she was blessed with twins after the birth of two daughters, Captain Vikram Batra’s mother would wonder sometimes why she had been given two sons when she had asked for just one. ‘Now I know. One of them was meant for the country and one for us,’ she would later say. He joined the army and was commissioned into the 13th JAK Rifles.
When he was leaving for point 5140, his Commanding Officer asked him what his radio signal would be to convey his victory to which he had famously replied, “Yeh Dil mange more!” (The heart wants more)
After capturing point 5140, he was given the assignment to capture point 4875. While at point 4875, a fellow soldier was injured in the crossfire and was lying in the open. Captain Batra went ahead to rescue him, not letting a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) do the job by saying: ‘You have a family and children to go back to, I’m not even married.’ The moment Batra bent to pick up the injured soldier’s head, a sniper shot him in the chest. The man who had survived so many bullets killed men in hand-to-hand combat and cleared bunkers of Pakistani intruders, fearlessly putting his own life at stake so many times, was destined to die from this freak shot.
Dimple, Vikram Batra’s girlfriend is a pretty, smiling 40-year-old, who works with a Punjab State Education Board school in Chandigarh. She teaches social studies and English to the students of classes 6-10. She confesses that in the past 14 years, not a day has passed when she has not thought of Vikram. Chandigarh is full of his memories for her, she says. From the bus stop to Panjab University to Nada Sahib Gurudwara to Pinjore gardens, every place reminds her of him. At Pinjore gardens, she remembers how before going to Kashmir he took a blade from his wallet, cut his thumb, and put a streak of blood in her parting to dispel all her insecurities about whether he would marry her or not.
Sometimes when she accidentally looks at the clock and it shows 7. 30 p. m. on a Wednesday, or on a Sunday, Dimple’s heart still misses a beat. For nearly four years, till he went to war from where he did not return, that was the scheduled time for Vikram to call her without fail, irrespective of where he was and she would always stay around the phone so that she could pick it up before her father did. The telephone no longer rings for her at that allotted time and, even if it does, that familiar voice is no longer there. He would have called but they don’t have telephone connectivity where he has gone now.
Even in his death, Vikram Batra had kept the promise he had made to a friend casually over a cup of tea at Neugal Café in Palampur, on his last visit home. When his friend had cautioned him to be careful in the war, Batra had replied: ‘Either, I will hoist the Tricolour in victory or I’ll come back wrapped in it.’
A few years later, the then Chief of Army Staff, General Ved Prakash Malik would sit in Captain Vikram Batra’s house and tell his parents that if Vikram had not been martyred in Kargil, he would have been sitting in his office one day. It would make Mr. Batra’s chest fill with pride in spite of the tears threatening to spill over.
Government of India Citation excerpt: “Captain Vikram Batra, thus, displayed the most conspicuous personal bravery and leadership of the highest order in the face of the enemy and made the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Indian Army.”
These were the stories of 21 men who performed supreme acts of raw courage and inspired their fellow comrades to fight the enemy regardless of their personal safety and defend their nation’s honour. However, the list of war heroes is quite long covering 218 Maha Vir Chakras, 1322 Vir Chakras, and many more AVSMs, YSMs, VSMs, SMs among others.
I had finished reading this book just today, and every story gave me goosebumps at the kind of courage these 21 displayed in the face of the enemy. It was so appealing, that I decided to write this write-up on this book. These short excerpts in no way do justice to the actual portrayal of their valour in the book, much less the actual events. I implore every respected citizen of India to read this book, or the stories of these 21 men (if they haven’t) from a source of their choice, lest our war heroes should be forgotten.
“Soldiers don’t die when bullets pierce their hearts and heads through their olive-green shirts and woolen balaclavas. They don’t die when they fall before an enemy onslaught, or even when they get buried in trenches, staining the earth with their warm crimson blood. It is only when we forget their acts of bravery that soldiers die.” (Rachna Bisht Rawat)
Sourav Kumar Sharma
*image credits: Government of India