"How can a man die better
than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his father's
and the temple of his Gods”
While war is an extension of the politics of a nation, it ultimately falls to the lot of the soldier to face combat on the ground. Though some of the soldiers' deeds of valour are rewarded, there are some that leave you impressed, moved and above all else, inspired. Schooled in the culture of 'Service before Self', soldiers of the Indian Defence Services take their challenges head-on, turning adversity into opportunity, overcoming impossible situations with a smile. Their stories need to be remembered.
Capt. Vikram Batra
The name Vikram Batra, from 13 J&K Rifles, is synonymous with the Kargil war. He led one of the toughest war operations in Kashmir, and was also called Sher Shah (in the intercepted messages of the Pakistani army). He was instrumental in recapturing Peak 5140, which is located at an altitude of 17,000 feet. During this mission, Batra was seriously injured but still managed to kill three enemy soldiers in close combat. After capturing Peak 5140, he went on yet another difficult mission to recapture Peak 4875 on July 7, 1999.
Batra made a call to his father before he left and told him about the crucial mission. This was to be his last call home. It was one of the most difficult missions the Indian army attempted because the Pakistani forces were sitting above the peak at 16,000 feet and the climb gradient was 80 degrees. On their way up, one of Batra’s fellow officers was severely injured. Batra set out to save him. When a subedar tried to help him save the officer, Batra pushed him aside, saying, “You have children, step aside.” He saved his fellow soldier but was killed while clearing enemy positions. Batra’s last words were “Jai Mata Di.”
Subedar Yogendra Singh Yadav
This brave soldier has the double honour of being the youngest recipient of the Param Vir Chakra, receiving the award at the age of 19 for his actions on July 4, 1999, during the Kargil war. Born in 1980, in Aurangabad Ahir village, Uttar Pradesh, Yadav showed immense courage during the war in 1999. He volunteered for the task of capturing three strategic bunkers on Tiger Hill, which were situated at the top of a vertical, snow-covered, 16,500 feet high cliff face.
He was climbing the high cliff with the help of a rope when the enemy bunker started rocket fire. Yadav was hit by three bullets in his groin and shoulder. Despite being severely injured, Yadav kept climbing and finished the remaining 60 feet to reach the top of the cliff. Though in immense pain, Yadav crawled to the first enemy bunker and lobbed a grenade, which killed four Pakistani soldiers and set back the enemy fire. This gave the rest of the Indian platoon the opportunity to climb up the cliff face. Yadav continued to fight and destroyed the second bunker too, with the help of two fellow soldiers. In fact, he also engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy and killed four more Pakistani soldiers. By the time the rest of the Indian platoon arrived, Yadav had already neutralised the enemy attack. This gave Indian soldiers the upper hand and they managed to accomplish one of the toughest missions of the Kargil war – the capture of Tiger Hill.
During the second part of the fight, a few more bullets hit Yadav. Some say he was hit by 16 bullets, some say less, but he survived it all.
Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat
Words fall short when it comes to telling this brave man’s story. A hero of the 1962 Indo-China war, Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat of the 4th Garhwal Rifles Infantry Regiment is the only soldier in the history of the Indian Army who has risen through the ranks after his death. He was ‘promoted’ to the rank of Major General 40 years after his death, and is still believed to ‘command’ troops guarding India’s eastern frontiers with China.
During the 1962 war, soldiers were ordered to vacate their posts as soon as possible due to heavy casualties against the Chinese at the Battle of Nuranang. But Jaswant did not leave his position and continued to fight even after the other soldiers had left.
Rawat was helped by two Monpa tribal girls named Sela and Nura. The trio set up weapons at separate points and maintained a volume of fire to make the Chinese believe they were facing a huge battalion. Rawat successfully managed to fool them for three days. But the Chinese found out about the set up through a man who used to supply rations to Rawat and the two girls. At this point, Rawat chose to shoot himself rather than be captured by the Chinese forces. The Chinese were so furious on learning that they had been fighting a single soldier all this time that they cut off Rawat’s head and carried it back to China.
The post that Rawat held to repulse the Chinese troops has been renamed Jaswant Garh in recognition of his courage. A small shrine to Rawat has also come up at the battle spot. All army personnel who pass by this route make sure to pay their respects to him here.
Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra posthumously. Filmmaker Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra is preparing to make a biopic on Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat.
Lt. Navdeep Singh
Lieutenant Navdeep Singh was a Ghatak Platoon Commander of 15 Maratha Light Infantry regiment in the Indian Army. He led an operation to ambush 17 well-trained and armed terrorists who infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir state. On receiving information about the infiltration of a group of terrorists at about 00:30 hours on August 20, 2011, Lieutenant Navdeep Singh gauged the likely route of the terrorists and laid an ambush at the appropriate spot. When the terrorists were spotted, the ambush was sprung by the officer himself. An exchange of intense fire ensued.
Leading from the front, the officer eliminated three terrorists at close range. On seeing another terrorist approaching their position, with utter disregard to his personal safety, the officer swiftly changed his firing position. While doing so, he got hit by a bullet on his head. He nevertheless managed to eliminate the fourth terrorist. Further, displaying utmost bravery and comradeship, he pulled an injured fellow-soldier to safety and kept firing till he became unconscious due to excessive blood loss. He killed 4 of the terrorists and brought an injured team member to safety before succumbing to fatal injury from close range. He was posthumously conferred the highest peacetime gallantry award of India Ashoka Chakra by the President of India on the 63rd Republic Day. Lieutenant Navdeep Singh displayed his indomitable spirit, determination and exceptional bravery while putting down the terrorists and making the supreme sacrifice for the nation.
Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon
Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon, PVC (July 17, 1943 – December 14, 1971) was an officer of the Indian Air Force. He was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military decoration, in recognition of his lone defence of Srinagar Air Base against a PAF air raid during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon is the only Indian Air Force warrior to be decorated with the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest award for gallantry.
During the 1971 war he was deployed with no. 18 squadron, ‘the flying bullets’ of IAF, flying the Gnat’s aircraft based at Srinagar. Just two days before the war came to an end, Srinagar airfield was attacked by six Pakistan Sabre jets. As soon as the first aircraft attacked, he rolled for take-off no 2 in two gnat formation. Meanwhile, the Pakistan jets kept firing. Nirmal could not take-off at once due to the cloud of dust raised by another aircraft, which had just taken off.
In the ensuing battle, Sekhon hit one aircraft directly and set another ablaze. He was advised to return to the base as he was outnumbered and hit. His ejection proved futile. The wreckage of the aircraft was found in a gorge.
Despite many search operations his body was never found. The pilot who shot him, Wing Commander Salim Beig, has praised him in his article. He said, “The Indian pilot Flg Off Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon put up a brave fight and was awarded Param Veer Chakra.”
Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was only 28 years when he gave up his life for the country and is the only Air Force Pilot to have received Param Veer Chakra.
Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey
Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey is one of the finest examples of exemplary courage, leadership and dedication towards the country. He is called the "Dark Knight" of Kargil.
This is how Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey inspired a crucial reclamation that led to India’s victory during the Kargil War
Why do you want to join the Army?” “I want to win the Param Vir Chakra.” That’s what was asked to Capt. Manoj Kumar Pandey in his SSB interview. And he remained true to his word! Part of the 1/11 Gorkha Rifles, on June 11, 1999, during the Kargil War, he led his men to capture the Jubar top, besides a narrow, treacherous ridge towards the backstabbing enemy, now in bunkers on the Indian land.
Pakistanis fired on Capt. Pandey’s men; demonstrating great daring, he gushed ahead of his troop and hailed the enemy with bullets and a loud battle cry. Wounded by bullets on leg and shoulder, he killed two men in the first bunker in hand combat and urged his men to clear all bunkers and collapsed in the final bunker. On July 3, as part of Operation Vijay, advancing to Khalubar, he was asked to clear off the enemy positions amidst heavy shooting. Audaciously striking the first enemy position, he killed two enemies and destroyed the second position by killing two more. While clearing third, bullets thrashed his shoulder and legs. Undaunted, he continued to lead the assault on the fourth, which he destroyed with a grenade and then, a shot penetrated his forehead. ‘Na chhodnu,’ ‘Don’t spare them,’ were his last words. This daredevil act and motivation led to the capture of Khalubar. His character was immortalised on screen by Ajay Devgn in the film LoC Kargil.
Naib Subedar Bana Singh
During June 1987, the 8th Jammu & Kashmir LI, was deployed in the Siachen area. The Pakistani intrusion had taken place at a height of 6,500 metres, the highest peak in the Siachen Glacier area. Naib Subedar Bana Singh led his men through an extremely difficult and hazardous route. He and his men crawled and closed in on the adversary. Lobbing hand-grenades, charging with a bayonet and moving from trench to trench, he cleared the post of all intruders. For this dedicated act of his, He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, The peak that he captured was renamed Bana Top in his honour. At the time of the Kargil War, he was the only PVC awardee who was still serving in the Army.
Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Ian Cardozo
Born in 1937, Cardozo graduated from the National Defence Academy with unprecedented laurels – the only cadet to win both a gold and silver medal – for being the best all round cadet and for being first in order of merit. He was commissioned in the highly decorated Regiment of the 5th Gorkha Rifles in its 1st Battalion in 1958. His moment of truth happened during the 1971 war in Sylhet. In a swift military offensive, India defeated Pakistan within 13 days, liberated a region and led to the creation of Bangladesh. Incidentally, it was also the Indian army’s first heli-borne operation behind enemy lines. A mine blast injury shattered his left leg. The heavy artillery shelling had left the Indian troops minus medical aid. That meant no morphine, anaesthesia or surgical instruments. It also meant, as Cardozo puts it “lifeless or leg-less”. Cardozo did the unthinkable. Pulling out his Regiment’s weapon, a khukri dagger, the 34-year-old Major chopped off his own leg, telling his batman, "Now go and bury it somewhere!" Just like that.
The incident in Sylhet did not deter Cardozo from going on to serve his country. He was even offered a good disability pension, a plot of land, a petrol pump to run and even free education for his sons – offers tempting enough for him to hang his boots. Cardozo refused to be the one-legged soldier of the fairy tale – sitting prettily on a mantelpiece. Not one to give up at all, let alone concede an inch, he kept himself in peak physical condition by walking, running and swimming regularly – all with his prosthetic limb.
Through sheer willpower and determination, he continued to perform his duties as a soldier and became the first disabled officer in the Indian Army to command an infantry battalion and a brigade. In spite of not being physically at par with other officers, he defeated many ‘two-legged’ soldiers to emerge victorious in many fitness tests during his stint in the army. Major General (Retd.) Ian Cardozo, AVSM, SM, went on to command an Infantry Brigade, an Infantry Division and retired in 1993 from his office as the Chief of Staff of a Corps in the Eastern Sector. At 80, Cardozo has merely shifted his battleground and continues to fight for the disabled as well as for the honour that every soldier so deserves.
Cardozo has written quite a few books including Param Vir – Our Heroes in Battle and The Sinking of INS Kukri - Survivors Stories. It is a combination of grit and sense of service because of which Cardozo also participates in marathons. He has been a familiar face at the Mumbai Marathon where he is a regular member of the contingent sent by War Wounded Foundation that more than just inspires.
Second Lieutenant Arun Khaterpal
During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, a bridge was constructed across Basantar river so that the soldiers could crack the enemy mine field. But halfway through, the enemy raided the bridge. The sufficiently armored Pakistan regiment, attacked the Indian troops, which were outnumbered.
Therefore, the commander of Squadron sought assistance from Arun Khaterpal. As soon as he got the message, he got into the enemy’s neck and captured many soldiers. Meanwhile, Pakistan blew India’s second tank. Arun Khaterpal single-handedly destroyed 4 tanks of Pakistan. In return, Pakistan wrecked the other two tanks, one of which was Arun Khaterpal’s. He didn’t accept defeat and continued to fight even in his flaming tank. The commander of his troop ordered to abandon his tank, but Khetrapal replied, “No Sir. I’m not going to abandon my tank. My gun is working and I’ll get these bastards.” And because of this gallant soldier, Pakistan couldn’t enter the Indian soil.
Major Ramaswamy Parameshwaran
Born in Mumbai, Maharashtra, Parameshwaran is yet another braveheart who died at the age of 41 in 1987, in India’s Sri Lanka operations. He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, posthumously.
It was late night when Parameshwaran was returning from search operations in Sri Lanka, when his column was suddenly attacked by a group of militants. He did not panic and showed great presence of mind by encircling the enemy from the rear and surprising them with an unexpected attack. During the hand-to-hand combat, a militant shot him in the chest. Undaunted, Major Parameshwaran snatched the rifle from the militant and shot him dead.
Barely able to stand now, he continued giving orders to his men and inspired them to fight till his last breath. The Indians managed to kill five militants and recovered three rifles and two rocket launchers from the militants.
This is our list of a few bravehearts of the Indian armed forces, but there are countless more who fought for the nation, Please share more stories of the gallant soldiers we owe our freedom to, in the comment section below.
Also, here's a list of beautiful and strong women from Indian history, who were brave enough to conquer the world.
With the Independence Day coming up, let's see what these youth icons' thoughts on India are.