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Millennium Post

Look back in anguish

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the war with China. The Indian soldiers had fought gallantly and barring the untimely withdrawal of the 4th Infantry Division the soldiers had never faltered. The nation acknowledged their sacrifice by laying a wreath, but is that enough to tell the tales of sacrifice and heroism of these brave men. Ladakh was an excellent action, although Rezang La did make headlines, but an equally important part played by the Gorkhas was not highlighted by anyone. Have we let the memory of these brave men down? That is a question worth considering. Organisations of ex-service men, various cells of political parties and the respective state governments from where these sons of the soil belonged hardly highlighted these men. Here in Uttarakhand, barring Tarun Vijay, this issue hardly interested any Gorkha organisation.

The brave action of 114 Infantry Brigade who successfully defended Chushul against all odd and its troops especially the First Battalion Eight Gorkha Rifles and 13 Kumaon that fought showing an indomitable spirit, was hardly acknowledged here in Uttarakhand both being this state-centric, so what if it was an Ahir company. The gallantry displayed by the Gorkhas over a period of three months was a sustained effort and not a single act of bravery. This was the action wherein each and every man came home a hero and excelled, by grit and power against all odds showing motivation of the highest levels.

Major Dhan Singh Thapa was a resident of Uttarakhand, and the various Gorkha organisations in Dehra Doon and elsewhere, have all stayed silent about him. It was only the proud battalion that celebrated its honour in the right spirit. Although the actions of all units that took part in Leh is a saga of unrelenting grit, determination and bravery it was the Gorkhas as well as the Kumaonis who stood out more because of four important battles, the first at Galwan post, the next at SrijapI and SrijapII, then at Gurung hill and Rezang La respectively.  The 13th Kumaon fought an excellent action at Rezang La.

In July Galwan post held by Subedar Jang Bahadur Thapa and his platoon was menacingly surrounded by the Chinese from all sides for a week.  The Chinese asked the Gorkhas to go back on loud speakers, as they stated it was not their war. This had no effect on the Gorkhas who remained steadfast in their resolve. This post was subsequently reinforced by a company of 5 Jat led by Major Hasabis. On the night of 19/20th October the Chinese pounded this post with artillery for a full day before overrunning it. Sub Thapa was amongst those killed and in a rare case was awarded the AVSM for his actions.

D Company was the guardian of SrijapI and Srijap II posts under the bold and fearless Major Dhan Singh Thapa. On 20 October this band of brave warriors beat back two attacks by the Chinese. The aggressor had superiority in manpower and launched his third attack. The Srijap Company suffered heavy causalities but remained undaunted killing more than 150 Chinese. They leapt out to meet the third assault, Khukris in hand, with the war cry of ‘Ayo Gorkhali’. The battle was lost but eternal fame was won.  Major Dhan Singh Thapa was awarded the PVC; Rifleman Tulsi Ram was awarded Vir Chakra for his bravery.  An extraordinary case is that of Naik Rabi Lal Thapa who is credited to have crossed the Pangong Tso Lake in a storm boat and was awarded the Mahavir Chakra. He not only got back valuable information but also evacuated some of the wounded under fire.

In the mean while the front stabilised as the Chinese too had suffered in the heavy fighting and 3 Infantry Division was raised at Leh while additional forces were being flown in, which included AMX tanks of 20 Lancers. Leh was to become Divisional HQ for 3rd Infantry Division commanded by Maj Gen Budh Singh. The 70th and 163rd Infantry Brigades along with 2 tank troops, a field artillery regiment, a heavy mortar battery and other supporting arms were all moved to Leh on aircraft. The next big action was around 18 November when the battle of Chushul commenced. The Indian artillery did an excellent job so did the tank troops.  It was a ding dong battle which saw Jemadar Amar Bahadur Gurung lead a Khukri charge to retake his position.

Another impressive battle was fought at Rezang La by Major Shaitan Singh and C Company 13 Kumaon.  They fought a most dogged and well fought action. In this action Major Shaitan Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra.

The number of soldiers is very high in the state of Uttrakhand. However, one cannot recall any action by the state government or any other organisations except an odd case of honouring the veterans of this war, and some mention of the actions at Rezang La. Surprisingly a month long war hardly drew any attention from vast sections of society. The attention of one and all was on the upset election result wherein, the Tehri Maharani had defeated the Congress candidate. There is a need to reach out to the youth and explain the heritage, as also, there is a need to explain the various battles to our fellow citizens.

C S Thappa is a retired brigadier
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