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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Battle of Tololing Hill & Knoll - Capt Vijayant Thapar

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over,
the martyr dies and his rule begins”
..Soren Kierkegaard

"It is better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep."- Italian proverb

Here’s the saga of a 22 year old. He lived his one day as a lion. And what a story he left behind. Captain Vijayant Thapar (Robin) of 2 Rajputana Rifles, was awarded the Vir Chakra posthumously. His grandmother received it. Capt Thapar was the son of an Army officer and his grandfather too had served in the Army as an officer!

Vijyant after getting commissioned on the 12th Dec'98, joined the 2 Rajputana Rifles at Gwalior. The Battalion stayed barely for a month before they moved to Kashmir to check counter insurgency. Before being inducted he was given some training in an Army establishment then moved to Kupwara where he was involved in two fierce encounters. While talking to his mother on telephone he described how he lived through a live encounter in which about thirty bullets were fired at him. While still involved in this counter insurgency tasks, orders were received for the unit to move to Drass to evict the enemy who had occupied Tololing, Tiger Hill, and adjoining heights. Vijyant moved under the command of his CO, Col. M.B. Rabindernath, VrC and his Company Commander Major P. Acharya. The Battalion was then given the task of capturing Tololing. This was a God sent opportunity for Vijyant as he was an officer always looking for action. After the initial assault by Major Mohit Saxena was held up, on the night of 12th June'99 Capt. Vijyant Thapar led his platoon to capture Barbad Bunker. His diary notes shows how in the close combat he killed two militants and his disappointment at not being able to capture two enemies alive.

Battle of Tololing Knoll and Three Pimples
2 Raj Rif was given the task of captaining Toiling Knoll, Three Pimples. In this actions Robin fought like a man and true soldier. These forbidding heights were held by enemy Northern Light Infantry (NLI) . They had well constructed fortification very well stocked, well sited, dominating the narrow ridge line on which 2 Raj Rif had to attack. During this Battle Vijyant captured a Pakistani position called Barbad Bunker Pt. 4590. Tololing was the first victory for Indian Army on 13th June 1999 and has gone into history as a turning point in the war.
Atop Barbad Bunker position

After the successful capture of Tololing he spoke to his mother on V-Sat telephone and proudly said "Mama we have captured Tololing". Later on 28 June, 2 Raj. Rif. was given the task of capturing Three Pimples, Knoll and Lone Hill area. The attack started with Vijyant's platoon leading on a full moon night along a razor sharp ridge with no cover to offer. There was intense and accurate artillery shelling and heavy enemy fire. He lost some of his dear men and some more were injured causing the attack to be disrupted. However with his indominable spirit and tremendous urge to capture Knoll he got together, the remenants of his men and moved through a ravine to face the enemy. It was a full moon night . Moreover this was an impossible position to capture. The troops of 6 Northern Light Infantry had all the advantages. Strongly prepared positions, one narrow knife edge ridge, with precipitous slopes on both side, ravines thousands of feet deep, devoid of cover and almost vertical climbs at places.

At 8PM the attack commenced with a thunderous shatter as 120 guns opened fire, rockets hit up the sky. Shells, own and Pakistani covered the whole area mixed with lethal machine gun fire. Into this inferno 2 Raj Rif moved with Capt. Vijyant Thapar leading the attack. Among the first to fall in this rain of death was sepoy Jagmal Singh, Vijyant's very dear orderly.

While the exchange of fire was going on, full of excitement, Vijyant reached his Company which had already secured a foothold on Knoll. By this time his Company Commander Major P. Achrya had been killed. At this news Vijyant's anger was explosive. He surged ahead with his colleague Naik Tilak Singh. Both of them started engaging the enemy merely 15 mts. away. There were two enemy machine guns firing towards them. After about an hour and a half of fierceful exchange of bullets and abuses Vijyant decided that he had to end the enemy. As he moved up to do so a burst of fire struck him on his head. He fell in the arms of his comrade Naik Tilak Singh. A brave son of India had fallen. It was after that the men of his company charged and fully captured Knoll. The victory at Knoll on 29 June 1999, is a saga of bravery unmatched, and unbounded grit and determination. Courage alone and unflinching faith in almighty God alone turned a tactically impossible situation into a victory.

And this is the last letter he wrote to his family

Dearest Papa Mama Birdie and Granny,

1. By the time you get this letter, I'll be observing you all from the sky enjoying the hospitality of Apsaras.

2. I have no regrets, in fact even if I become a human again I'll join the Army and fight for the nation.
3. If you can, please come and see where the Indian Army fought for your tomorrow.

4. As far as this unit is concerned the new chaps should be told about this sacrifice.I hope my photo will be kept in the 'A' Coy mandir with Karni Mata.

5. Whatever organ can be taken, should be done.

6. Contribute some money to orphanage and keep giving 50/- Rs to Ruksana per month and meet Yogi Baba.
7. Best of luck to Birdie, never forget this sacrifice of these men. Papa you should feel proud. Mama so should you, meet ________ ( I loved her). Mamaji forgive me for evrything wrong I did.

Ok then its time for me to join my clan of the Dirty Dozen. My assault party has 12 chaps.

Best of luck to you all
Live life kingsize

Yours, Robin

I’m weeping like a fool here, my nose and eyes streaming. I have no composure! And I have this deep sense of loss…to lose a man who had such purity of thought! To know that one could die, and to run forth to embrace that death willingly! At 22!! This was an exceptional person. And he makes me feel so proud! Till the time India breeds soldiers of such mettle, we are safe in the face of any danger. Yet the mind rebels…how can men sacrifice themselves so willingly for us, their countrymen and we sit back and take it as our due? What do we give back? And how? Senator Robert F. Kennedy said "It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. That ripple builds others. Those ripples - crossing each other from a million different centers of energy - build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice."

Khushnaseeb hai wo jo
Watan pe mit jaate hai
Mar kar bhi wo log
Amar ho jaate hai
Karta hoon tumhe saalam
E-watan pe mitne walo
Tumhari har saans mein basta
Tirange ka naseeb hai

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Hero of Batalik - Maj Sarvanan

After serving with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka for a couple of years, Lieutenant Colonel A Mariappan was finally returning home. But he could not make it to his family. Enroute, he died in a road accident in Bangalore.

His oldest son, Sarvanan, was only 14.

Saravanan, now a Major in the Indian Army, was also coming home. His body was being brought in a coffin draped in the Indian tricolour. The 27-year-old officer had died defending the peaks of Batalik in the Kargil war. His body had lain in the snow for a whole month, caught in a no-man's lands between Indian and Pakistani positions.

"Every time we go to recover the body, the Pakis open fire and if one of their men tries to claim the body, we open fire. That is why his body remains where it is," a senior army officer had then said.

Major Sarvanan's mother had lost her husband and now her only son.

"My son was the first to fall and the last to return," she said remembering him in her home in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu.

Pictures of Major Sarvanan in his home; inset, his father Lieutenant Colonel Mariappan.

Major Mariappan Saravanan was born on August 10, 1972 on the island of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. His father Lieutenant Colonel A Mariappan was a doctor in the army. After completing his schooling in various places -- Belgaum, Kannoor, Gurdaspur, Jorhat and Bihar, he joined St Joseph's College in Tiruchi which was founded in 1844.

"After college he tried to get into the National Defence Academy and landed up in the Officers Training Academy," says his closest friend Amalraj. He graduated from the OTA in 1996 and joined the First Bihar Regiment as a Lieutenant. He was made Captain the following year and Major in 1999.

"I was training with the Army in Assam, his unit was there so we managed to meet, from there they went straight to Kargil," says Amalraj in palpable grief. They were a bunch of three friends -- Saravanan, Karthik and Amalraj. A few years ago, they had made a trip to Kanyakumari. On the way, their bus driver fell asleep on the wheel and crashed headlong into an incoming lorry. "Seven people died on the spot and many were injured. We students were in a shock. But not Saravanan, he was cool. He went about checking the dead. Then he helped the injured into passing vehicles and took them to hospital. It was his Army background that made him react to an emergency so calmly and resolutely." Amalraj is an IPS officer now and the Superintendent of Police in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu.

St Jospeh's College, Tiruchi; Major Sarvanan as a child.

'There was this Sippy theatre in Tiruchi. It used to show English movies," says the other friend Karthik, "We never missed even one. Saravanan was a bike freak. We even planned to take part in a Scissors rally. We could not find a sponsor and the plan fizzled out." Karthik is now a businessman in Theni and recounts the college election as if it were just yesterday. "In our college, the Chairman was always a member of some political party or a very rich kid. We changed that. We decided to make Saravanan the Chairman in our final year and succeeded. It was the first time the college had an intelligent chairman in a long time."

Major Sarvanan with his mother.
Sarvanan's mother Amithavalli Mariappan was very sad the day I met her. It was her son's birthday. He would have been 32. Her daughters -- Chitra, a doctor in Chennai and Revathy, a software engineer in the US -- would call. Her son was so industrious, she said. Always fixing his bike or other electrical items in the house. He hardly ever sat still. He was a good son who came home every year for his holidays and called her almost each day.

When he had told her that he wanted to join the Army, she never discouraged him even after losing her officer-husband.

"He came home before the Kargil war. He had to attend a friend's marriage and stayed with us for one-and-a-half months. The last time he called was to tell us his unit was shifting. He never told us he was going to Kargil, we thought it was one of the regular postings." Sarvanan told her he would call. He didn't call for 15 days after that.

The First Bihar Regiment was in Assam when the Kargil war broke out. They were ordered to move to Kargil, Jammu & Kashmir. From the heat of Assam to the cold of Kargil wasn't an easy change. There wasn't enough protective weather gear.

On the night of May 28, 1999, Major Sarvanan was assigned the task of capturing a well-fortified Pakistani position at 14,229 feet in the Batalik sector. He and his men launched an attack at 0400 hours. Despite intensive firing from the enemy with artillery and automatic weapons, they charged into a volley of bullets. Saravanan fired a rocket launcher into the enemy position

that killed two enemy soldiers. During the combat, he was hit by a splinter and injured but the Major continued fighting. His Commanding Officer ordered him to retreat because too many Indian soldiers had been injured.

'Ghenghis Khan fall back,' came the order.
'Not today sir, we are very close to the objective,' replied Sarvanan who was codenamed Ghenghis Khan. He killed two more invaders but this time he was hit by a bullet in the head.

Major Sarvanan fell defending his country, his body nestled in the snow. As if mother nature had held her child close to her bosom and kept him fresh. He died at 6.30 am.

A friend in Bangalore called his mother and told her Saravanan had died in Kargil. "We switched on the television and saw it in a news bulletin."

Two days later, the official telegram arrived. "He was the first officer to fall and the last one to come back. Almost as if he did not want to leave the border till the enemy was thrown out," says his mother.

Major Sarvanan's body was recovered on July 8, 1999, 41 days after he died. The entire town of Tiruchi turned up to attend the funeral. "It was a fitting tribute to him," says Father John Britto, his College principal.

Had he lived, the family would have celebrated his wedding in June -- just a month after he passed away. They had liked a girl and sent her picture to him. Major Sarvanan had agreed to marry her.

The funeral in Tiruchi

Major Saravanan's unit was the first to find out that the Pakistanis up there were heavily armed. Before that it was thought they were only armed with light weapons. His sacrifice brought out the extent of the weaponry of the enemy and his deed did not go unrecognised. A grateful Indian Army gave him the title 'The Hero of Batalik.' The Tamil Nadu Government has introduced a Chapter in class VII called -- 'They brought home the hero dead,' which is a true inspiration to the children who read it.

The President awarded him a Vir Chakra for his admirable courage. His Commanding Officer came for Major Sarvanan's funeral and told his mother: 'You are not Saravanan's mother alone, you are a mother to the nation.'

"She is a very courageous lady," says Father Britto, "we invited her to a few functions after his death and she spoke very bravely. Probably the army background makes her strong."

His mother receives the Vir Chakra from President K R Narayanan.

In Major Sarvanan's home, the prayer room has photos of his father and him, both revered like the other gods in that room. "His name was Saravanan but we used to call him Saro," says Karthik, "Today I have named my daughter Saro after him."

When Major Sarvanan's funeral pyre was lit by his uncle, a retired army man, a multitude of people stood there in grief. They were friends, relatives and many others who did not know him while he lived. They had come to honour a soldier who had died defending his country and theirs.
"We tell his story to students as an example of bravery. He is an icon for them. They all want to be like him," says Principal Britto. On the College notice board is a colourful poster beckoning young people to join the Indian Army. Some inspired by Saravanan, have joined.

Eleven years ago, Major Sarvanan was martyred but he still lives on in the hearts of those who loved him. In the name of his friends' child, and in the annals of a grateful nation.

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa Rao, Kargil hero

The first of the Kargil War Heroes and their tales!

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa Rao
.....We are proud of you Nachiketa!

Let's begin with a timeless tale, one that has been passed down from generation to generation in the great land of India. The hero of this tale is a young man by the name of Nachiketa. According to Indian history, he is the youth who goes to Yama, the Lord of Death, in order to discover the true meaning of Life. The dialogue between Nachiketa and the Lord of Death is contained in the immortal work, the Katha Upanishad. This work explains the most timeless question of all existence, "What lies beyond Death"? And it was Nachiketa who had the courage to confront even Death in his pursuit of the answer. In India, the mere mention of Nachiketa's name is instantly recognized as synonymous with the feeling of indomitable spirit, spiritual bravery and insurmountable courage in every human being.

It is no coincidence that the brave young soldier who is currently in the clutches of our enemy, holds the same name; Nachiketa. ( Nachiketa was released from Enemy captivity on 4th June 99)

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa Rao turned 26 today. He had no fatherly blessings, sisterly hugs or sweetmeats to celebrate the event. Nachiketa probably spent his birthday in a dark and dangerous Pakistani prison, mocked by jeers of Jihad and insults. He is probably remembering the moments before he crashed onto Pakistani ground and felt the clammy grip of Pakistani fingers as they held him down.

It was a gloomy day when Nachiketa had set out with his squadron to carry out another air strike against the Islamic terrorists who were holed up in the treacherous snow-clad terrain of India's Kashmir. The landscape is littered with dangerously rocky ridges and shadowy valleys, which greatly hamper maneuverability and ease of flight. The objective was simple; to repulse the attempt by Pakistani troops lurking on the mountains along the Line of Control. For almost a week they had been trying to infiltrate into sovereign India's territory. As he flew over the mountains an ominous mist surrounded his plane and Nachiketa realized that he was right on the edge of the Line of Control. As he began veering his aircraft back towards Indian territory a sudden sputtering clued him to the fact that his engine had died out in a burst of flame as his MiG-27 combat Jet developed mechanical failure. Was it mechanical failure or Pakistani fire that had disrupted the engine? Who knows...

The last words that his colleagues heard before he faded out were: " Nachi - engine flame-out, relighting.... Nachi ejecting now." and then an ominous silence. As Nachiketa parachuted down the dark ragged edges of the snow-clad mountains, the sky was lit a brilliant red by the giant explosion of his hapless aircraft. And then suddenly as he landed on the rocky surface, Nachiketa observed a speck in the sky. It was his fellow pilot, a daredevil Squadron Leader by the name of Ajay Ahuja, hovering over in his MiG-21 straining his eyes to catch sight of the landing area of his colleague.

Suddenly an explosion reverberated across the horizon, as Nachiketa recoiled in horror. A missile from the Afghani Mujahideen stockpile found its mark and hit Ahuja's plane. Ahuja frantically radioed his team leader Hercules One, "missile hit" his voice crackled and then again a deathly silence.

Nachiketa must have watched in anticipation as Ajay parachuted out of his aircraft to escape the flames. There was a resounding crack as Ajay broke his left knee during the fall, and then all of a sudden menacingly dark shadows dressed in Pakistani Army uniforms, were lifting their guns and shooting Ajay at point blank range. They fired not once but twice straight through his head and heart. As Ajay and the rules of the Geneva Convention lay in a pool of blood, Nachiketa raised himself to his feet and put all his strength into a break for escape. When the menacing outlines of the Pakistani soldiers started looming closer in pursuit, he drew out his 9-mm pistol and fired eight straight rounds at them with unfailing accuracy. How the Jehadi blood must have boiled at this intolerable insolence! There were far too many to run from and Nachiketa must have steeled himself to accept his fate with determination as the rough callused hands of the Islamic Jehadis grabbed him.

He was thrown into the dank confines of a Pakistani prison. On Friday, the Pakistanis in a venomous display of cruelty paraded him in front of journalists, including representatives of international news channels like BBC and Voice of America. As the obscene parade continued, he was not allowed to speak to the reporters as Pakistani army personnel kept him at least at a distance of about 30 feet. "There are certain procedures which have to be followed," the Pakistani officials told journalists, who waved at the Indian pilot. He was touted as a "Prisoner of War" regardless of the fact that no war had been declared. Journalists observed a huge large red welt deepening across his forehead as Nachiketa faced them with calm serenity and strength etched into every line of his face. "He is being treated well and taken care of" sneered the Muslims as the journalists' attempts to communicate with Nachiketa were rebuffed by them. Pakistan's Information Minister Mushahid Hussain 's face wore the same sneer as he commented on how Nachiketa was "safe and sound" and being treated according to "Islamic traditions of hospitality". Indeed the same traditions of Islamic hospitality must have been aroused in Pakistani breasts as they shot Ajay Ahuja at point blank range, in an act of utmost cowardice and depravation.

It is these same Islamic traditions of hospitality which translate into cruel extremes of torture and inhuman treatment. Was it not Prophet Mohammed who set the standard for these traditions when he had killed and murdered millions of Jews and Pagans taken prisoner by his terrorist army? But remember it is no coincidence that the young man who is in Islamic custody right now is named Nachiketa in the tradition of that ancient brave soul of India. Just as that Nachiketa walked calmly into the jaws of death and walked out unscathed, so too will this warrior.

The incident is described clearly in the Katha Upanishad. As Nachiketa asks Lord Yama the secret of death, he sees the brilliance inherent in the youth and replies in a voice filled with wisdom.

"The wise, realizing through effort
The Timeless Self beyond all perception,
Hidden in the cave of the heart,
Leave pain and pleasure far behind.
Those who know they are not mere body or mind,
But the infinite Self, the Divine
The essence of existence, they discover the source
of all joy and live in the truth of it forever.
I see the doors of joy are opening
for you, O Nachiketa...."

So too have the doors of joy and fame immemorial been opened for our brave Nachiketa of the Indian Air Force. So too have the doors of joy opened for Ajay Ahuja who gave up his life in the Supreme sacrifice for his motherland. The name Ajay means "undefeatable" and even in his death Squadron Leader Ahuja has shown us the true meaning of this word. He was cremated with full military honors in a cremation ground in village Kili Nihal Singhwala near Bisiana Air Force Station. His brave four year-old-son Ankush helped by his relatives lit the funeral pyre in the presence of his widow Alka and a large number of Air Force personnel and civilians.
His memory will spur us on to punish those cowards who try in vain to usurp our territory!

Lest WE Forget

26th July is Martyr's Day. It marks 10 years since the Kargil War...a war that no nation other than India recognises! A war that threw up daily acts of such raw courage that had we been a nation where the brave are feted, we would have run out of accolades. A war that would have had disastrous results had the Indian Armed Forces not proved itself to be one of the best in the world. A war that happened because we treated Pakistan and the threat it poses lightly. A decade later, we saw ‘Operation Kasab and his gang’ and the havoc they created in the heart of India ’s financial capital.

The heroes of Kargil are long gone, their work done. Each of their stories reads like a drumroll of honour. Men who were little more than boys and who turned into legends! I have not forgotten Capt. Vikram Batra, Capt Anuj Nayyar, Lt Vijayant Thapar, Lt Saurabh Kalia, Maj Ajay Jasrotia, and the countless others …their tales of valour must be read out to our children. We cannot afford to forget those who protected us at such odds!

There is a war still being fought in Kashmir where a young 25 year old Major fights with fifteen bullets in him and takes down three fidayeen down with him. We read about these men and turn the page. It is time to stand up and acknowledge our debt to the Armed Forces, time to realize the danger India is in, time to take action.

I do not know how to mark 26th of July. I do not know how to make it special. I would take my son to Amar Jawan Jyoti in Delhi and tell him the stories of these brave men. I also weep, mostly from pride! I might donate blood. Pretty futile gestures but they make me feel a little lighter!

I write this mail in the hope that all of us mark Martyr’s Day in any way we can. A nation is only as great as its heroes!