A Soldier Never Gives Up…You Can Only Die Once, So Make Sure It’s Worth It

You can only die once, so make sure it’s worth it.

For a long time I have wanted to write about the bravery, never say die attitude of our soldiers. Two movies actually pushed me to start the process – American Sniper and Baby. Both these movies brought home the truth that there is something about a soldier that inspires, motivates and propels us along. George Patton said, “The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The Soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.”

I am sharing with you stories of those brave hearts who bore arms for India, fought to protect her and us, allowing us to enjoy our freedom today.

The First Braveheart – Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai

A Pakistani historian wrote, “Two tricks of fortune conspired to cheat Mohammed Ali Jinnah of Kashmir – the loss of a day and half of pillaging in Baramulla and the reckless bravery of one Indian army officer, who…made an attack on the invading forces as if he had the whole Army Division at his support.”

That Indian officer was Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai, the first Commanding Officer (CO) of 1 Sikh, who became a trail blazer in our first war with Pakistan.

Prior to the accession, Maharaja Hari Singh had realised that Pakistan had no intention of honoring the Standstill Agreement he had signed with them. October 1947 saw a revolt by deserters of J&K State Forces, aided by the Pakistani Army and the tribesmen from Northwest crossing the border into Kashmir. Pakistani raiders

Raiders killed people mercilessly.

Raiders killed people mercilessly.

captured the border town of Uri, Mahur and started pillaging Baramulla. The looting was beyond human imagination.

It is this attack on the people of Baramulla that distracted the Pakistani raiders from their objective of capturing Srinagar. That the situation was grim became an understatement. A country that had fought for independence from the British, was now fighting internally to save her citizens and territory. The acceptance of accession came with the responsibility to protecting people & property of J&K. The Instrument of Accession was signed on 26th October 1947 and the Indian Army landed in Srinagar on 27th October 1947.

Challenges that the Army faced were enormous:

1. Shortage of time and resources – mobilising & moving Army Units long distance in a short span of time was the first hurdle.

2. Difficult & unfamiliar terrain – Jammu & Kashmir was unfamiliar and difficult terrain for our troops. Unfamiliar because they had never battled there, difficult because it was winter and the severe cold climate had adverse effects on men & weapons.

3. Pressure of war – Indian Army did not have any time to prepare for a war of this kind. We had gained independence two months prior to this and were still sorting out internal political, social and economic issues. This was a firefight – either we fight now or we have nothing left to fight for was the message.

Under such circumstances, 1st Battalion Sikh Regiment (1 Sikh) was chosen to be air lifted & inducted into the burning

Troops landing in Dakotas.

Troops landing in Dakotas.

Valley. Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai was the CO who was ordered to take his Battalion from Gurgaon to Srinagar. His briefing at Army HQ prior to departure included just two points –

1. Uri was captured by the Raiders & Baramulla was being pillaged by them.

2. 1 Sikh was to protect the city of Srinagar and facilitate subsequent landing of Indian Army units at the airport.

Never in the history of warfare had such an airlift taken place…with so little notice and planning. 30 Dakota aircrafts with men, weapons and equipment landed. Reliable communication or intelligence was wishful thinking at that time and Lt Col Rai had to prioritise his tasks and devise methods of executing also.

Baramulla when pillaged by the enemy.

Baramulla when pillaged by the enemy.

Some wise man had said a long time ago, “Fortune favours the bold.” The CO took the bold decision of seeking, fighting & destroying the enemy in and around Baramulla, away from Srinagar city and airport. This tactical engagement of the Raiders was to earn more time for our troops to land. Adequate men were left behind to protect the air field and the rest of 1 Sikh moved to Baramulla on 28th Oct.  Lt Col Rai chose to occupy a delaying position between Patan & Baramulla to prevent the enemy from advancing towards Srinagar. A fierce battle ensued between 1 Sikh and the Raiders…more than a thousand Raiders against approximately 180 – 200 Indian soldiers. These bravehearts fought with disregard to their own safety and delayed the enemy movement towards Srinagar.

In this conflict, the Raiders presumably spotted the CO and a few men moving from one position to another and fired incessantly on them. The CO and those few men with him were all killed.

Indian soldiers fighting to save the Valley.

Indian soldiers fighting to save the Valley.

The courageous Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai inspired his men to give their best in the wake of enemy attack, even when they were out numbered. This “reckless bravery” helped us gain more time and allow more troops to land in Srinagar. As a result, we were able to protect the city also. Lt Col Rai became the first Commanding Officer to land in J&K after the accession, the first CO to achieve martyrdom and to be decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra.

His valour and sacrifice have inspired all ranks of the Sikh Regiment and the Regiment continues to be one of the highest decorated regiments of the Indian Army, with 72 Battle Honours, 15 Theatre Honours and 5 COAS Unit Citations besides two PVCs, 14 MVCs, 5 KCs, 67 Vir Chakras and 1596 other gallantry awards, The history of the Regiment spanning 154 years is replete with heroic deeds of bravery and courage which have few parallels if any.

 

Fallen But Not Forgotten…A Tribute To Our Unsung Heroes!

Lonely I was when I stood staring at the sky Our heroes

Had a gun in my hand, was too afraid to cry

Fought bitter battles and never lived to tell

How at the altar of freedom, my body fell

My soul searches for reasons as to why I died

Did I save my people, had I tried?

Do they remember me, my deeds, my name

Are they proud of me or did I bring them shame 

My battered body stood testimony to my fate

My heart had stopped in a battle brought about by hate

I had screamed in pain, and shivered with fright

But before I died, I did put up a fight 

Remember me, my beloved country

It was I, my men, who brought you victory

I fought to the last bullet in my gun

I was a soldier, I was your son.

fallen but not forgottenThe dead soldiers do not speak…yet they are heard in the still houses of people who care for them. They are shrouded in a silence that speaks for them, a silence that mocks us…the living. This silence talks to me…what does it tell me? It says they have done what they could but until it is finished it is not done. The silence says they have given their lives but until it is finished no one can know what their lives gave. The same silence throws at me the truth that their deaths are not theirs, they are ours and they will mean what we make them. Whether their lives and their deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing they cannot say. It is you and I who must say this. Finally, the silence says they were young, they died young, so remember them.

Remembering them was exactly what happened last weekend in Bangalore. Amidst the election fervor and Samarpanacampaigning, Samarpana,a social initiative by a group of students of PES University paid tribute and homage to the fallen soldiers of the Indian Army. Samarpana is the brainchild of students from PES College of Engineering and was started after the 26/11 bombing in Mumbai. The thought behind starting this social initiative was very noble. The founders felt very strongly about the martyred soldiers who died protecting the citizens of this country…their question was, “What happens to the families of these soldiers?”

A seed was sown in 2009/2010 with the students taking the ownership of making this a success. In the last four years more than 60 families have been identified and felicitated for the sacrifice they have made. The project works on facilitating basic documentation processes, helping them get connected to medical facilities, children’s scholarship, employment or self employment opportunities for the widows or parents of these unsung heroes.

This year I had a chance to interact with 16 families who had made the supreme sacrifice. It was an emotional two days where I got to hear from various family members the heroism of their fallen soldiers. I also saw the ugly side of what happens to the families thereafter, especially if they are in remote rural places. Samarpana works to ease the pain of neglect.

World war IIA one of it’s kind project, Samarpana is poised to grow and touch more & more lives across India. It’s a shining example of how selflessly the human heart can give if we as individuals decide to. I had the privilege of meeting an old lady whose husband had died serving the Indian Army in World War II. She had been married less than a year whenshe lost her husband. It was also very emotional to interact withanother lady who lost her husband in Kargil, the highest battleground in the world.She also was married for just two years when tragedy struck their family. What was heartening to see was that these people were given the basic support from their families & government.

What they need today is also social acceptance at multiple levels, to become part of a community that recognizes their agony, can empthasize with them.

My dream & heartfelt prayer is to see such initiatives in other colleges and institutions across our country.

I was also forced to think about how many people in our country actually
even think of our armed forces. I know the stereo typical impression
civilians have about the armed forces and the life they live. It never
ceases to amaze me about how these impressions have carried on for years.
It also shows how much awareness is created about our defence services. This needs to be a collective effort from all concerned – the government,
the defence forces themselves and people like us who are closely
associated with the armed forces.

As we continue to enjoy our freedom, our borders that are guarded by these unsung heroes remain intact. We sleep
well at night only because of the security we have. For those who find it hard to believe, you should talk to
people of war ravaged countries about freedom and value of security. After all, what is expected of us…

When you see a soldier
Be sure to shake his or her hand,
And let that soldier know you’re grateful
For the protection the military affords our land

But most of all express your thanks
For every soldier’s personal sacrifice.
In order to serve our country,
They risked their entire lives.