Three lesser known acts of bravery from India’s military history

The history of our jawans is filled with lesser known tales. While some are lost in the pages of history, others went unnoticed and don’t have shining medals to associate with. We bring you three such tales of bravery.

When 21 Sikhs defended a military post against 10,000 Afghan invaders

The Battle of Saragarhi is the tale of incredible valour of 21 soldiers who remained unconquered even in death. A tale of bravery in the records of military warfare unfolded when a group of 21 Sikh soldiers defended a vital North-West Frontier post against 10,000 Afridi and Orakzai attackers. During the British Raj, 36th Sikh troops had stationed 21 of their soldiers at Saragarhi under Havildar Ishar Singh to keep watch. The Afghan tribes saw this as an opportunity, and on September 12, 1897, attacked Saragarhi. Their strategy was to destroy the post quickly, and capture fort Lockhart and Gulistan deeper into North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), now in Pakistan. The-NRI reports how Saragarhi was a makeshift post of stones and mud walls with a wooden door. After sending off radio signal against the invaders, Havildar Singh and his men knew well that Saragarhi would fall, but decided to defend the post until reinforcements could arrive at Fort Gulistan. At Saragarhi, the Afghans made numerous attempts to break open the gate of the post but the brave Sikhs kept battling the onslaught. The Afghans could not breach in, to their shock and pain. The sky rang with Sikh battle cry – “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal (Victory belongs to those who recite the name of God with a true heart).” The Sikhs, knowing very well what their fate would be, held out against some of the most unfavourable odds for many hours. When repeated attacks failed, the Afghans set fire to the surrounding bushes and two of the tribesmen, under cover of smoke, managed to make a breach in the wall. The Afghans soon captured Saragarhi. Having destroyed Saragarhi, the Afghans turned to Fort Gulistan. But the Sikhs won even in death. Reinforcements had arrived and the Afghan invaders were defeated. The 21 Sikh soldiers had done their duty. After the Afghan uprising was suppressed, the British Army recaptured Saragarhi. They found 600 bodies – 21 of them were Sikh men in uniforms. It is believed that 4,800 Afghans were wounded in the battle. For this extraordinary act of bravery and valour, the 21 Sikhs were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, which was the highest gallantry award given to Indians at the time, reports Business Standard. The Battle of Saragarhi remains the only instance when an entire body of troops has been given the highest award for the same battle. On September 12, 1987, members of the British Parliament rose to give a standing ovation to the valorous soldiers — all of them Indians, all of them Sikhs. The British Armed Forces in the UK still commemorates Saragarhi Day every year as the greatest ‘last-stand battle’ in their military history.

When three Indian pilots’ performed a historic prison break from Pakistan in 1971

During the 1971 war, the Pakistani army had taken 16 Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots as war prisoners and held them captive in a camp near Rawalpindi. Three of them undertook the most dangerous prison break in the history of the IAF. This is their story. During the war, 16 IAF pilots were taken as Prisoners of War (PoW). One of them, Group Captain Dilip Parulkar, then Flight Lieutenant, decided to make it the adventure of a lifetime, inspiring two more prisoners, Flight Lieutenant M S Grewal and Flying Officer Harish Sinhji, to join him. Although the war had ended, they were still held PoW. Dilip Parulkar believed that ‘a war is not over until you are back home,’ and started looking for ways to escape. Meanwhile, a Pakistani PoW was gunned down in India and the fear of a retaliatory response was slowly gripping. He and his prison mates dug a hole across the wall and fled. They reached Peshawar in a few hours. If they had headed back towards India, they would have had to wriggle past two armies shooting at each other. It was better to head north. While inspecting a map in Peshawar, it struck them that the town Torkham on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was only 34 miles away. They believed, as reported by Rediff, that if they were quick enough to reach Jamrud, they will cross the border and reach Afghanistan uncaught. They had saved their PoW allowance along with their salary in India, and were able to buy enough supplies to sustain them. They took a bus and later a tonga to hit the Jamurd road. Adventuring through Pakistan’s ‘wild west’, facing hardships and deceiving many, their life was not to become easy. Their map deceived them. The three pilots kept asking for Landi Khana, a railway station that was closed by the British back in 1932. Many around knew that. Had they not raised suspicion, the trio’s plan to breathe in freedom would have been successful. They were soon caught and brought to the local Tehsildar. “So I told the Tehsildar we are airmen from the Pakistan Air Force station in Lahore, and that I wanted to talk to the ADC or to the chief of air staff. We told him we are on 10 days’ casual leave and we are going up to Landi Khana as tourists, just trekking, sightseeing. He said no, we are going to lock you up,” Dilip Parulkar recalls in an interview with The Indian Express. The three prisoners, insisting on their disguised identity, continued to push for call to ADC Peshawar. Reluctantly, the Tehsildar agreed. The prisoners called the ADC and complained. Parulkar recalls, “He was aghast. He said, ‘Dilip, Dilip, what are you doing there in Landi Kotal?’. I said ‘Sir, we just took a little casual leave, and that’s how we are here, and look at this…’. He said, ‘Give the phone to the Tehsildar’. I gave him the phone. He very calmly told him, ‘Ye hamare aadmi hain (These are our men)’.” The ADC, although convinced, did not want to take any risk. The three pilots were held captive until complete identification. Soon, they were identified as IAF pilots. The three brave jawans were caught only five miles from their freedom, and taken back to Peshawar. Three months later, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then premier of Pakistan, addressed the PoWs and declared their repatriation. The returnees received a hero’s welcome at the Wagah border on December 1, 1972. Their prison break story had reached home before them.

When an Indian RAW agent served as a major in the Pakistan army

Ravinder Kaushik was born in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan in 1952. He was a famous Punjabi theater artist, and won many hearts through his performances. That’s when members of the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, spotted his talent. “It was probably his mono-act in college in which he played an Indian army officer who refused to divulge information to China that caught the attention of intelligence officers,” Ravinder younger brother Rajeshwar Kaushik told Hindustan Times in an interview. Ravinder was offered the job of an undercover agent of India in Pakistan. After receiving extensive training for two years, in 1975, he was flown to Pakistan. He landed in Pakistan with a fictitious name of Nabi Ahmad Shakir, and got himself enrolled in LLB course in Karachi University. After finishing his graduation, Ravinder joined the Pakistan Army as commissioned officer and got promoted to the post of Major. He even married a local girl and became a father of a girl. Between 1979 and 1983, Ravinder passed valuable information to RAW that helped in framing the strategies of the Indian defence forces. The spy would have gone on to live forever, but in 1983, an Indian agent called Inayat Masiha, who was caught by Pakistan as he was crossing the border, blew Kaushik’s cover. Ravinder was arrested on charges of espionage and was thrown into a jail in Multan. Ravinder was soon given death sentence, which was later commuted to a life term by the country’s Supreme court. He remained in jail for the next 18 years. On 21 November 2001, he succumbed to pulmonary tuberculosis and passed away. He was buried behind the Multan jail. Rajeshwar regrets how his brother’s sacrifice has been ignored, both by the government and the people of our country. The meagre pension they received stopped after both his parents passed away in deep despair. According to Daily Bhaskar, in one of his many secret letters which he magically managed to send home, Ravinder had written, “Kya Bharat jaise bade desh ke liye kurbani dene waalon ko yahi milta hai?” (Is this the reward a person gets for sacrificing his life for India?) References –……………
Sankalp Unit
Patrika Section