118 years of Trust THE TRIBUNE

Saturday, August 22, 1998
This above all
regional vignettes



The valiant Jat soldier
By Padam Ahlawat

THE Jat soldier has more than 200 years of glorious military service behind him. Raised in 1795 as the ‘Calcutta Native Militia’, the unit was converted into a regular infantry battalion in 1859 and redesignated as 18 Battalion of Bengal Native Infantry. However, the bulk of recruits to the 18th battalion were Mussalmans of Rohtak district.

Despite having an impressive reputation as soldiers, Jats were not extensively recruited into the Bengal Army before the mutiny of 1857. The 14th Murray’s Jat Lancers were raised in 1857, and General Murray obtained a large number of his best recruits from Badli and its neighbourhood. However, towards 1890, the British rule began to enlist these yeomen from south-east Punjab. It was then that 6 Jat Light Infantry and 10 Jat Infantry were raised.

Though Rohtak district had never had a cantonment since the Nawab of Jhajjar’s untimely end in the mutiny, the district became the chief recruiting ground not only for Hindu Jats but also for Mohammadan Rajputs.

The bulk of the Jat recruits came from the unirrigated villages of Rohtak district. The demand for agricultural labour was too great to tempt many men from the canal tracts. Despite this the quota of Jat recruits from Rohtak district alone exceeded that of all other districts of Ambala division in 1910. That is to say it exceeded that of the rest of the present Haryana.

Though no regiments or battalions had been raised entirely from Rohtak alone, several had an intimate connection with the district. The Ist Duke of Yorks Own Lancers, more popularly known as Skinner’s Horse was raised in this neighbourhood, with most of the recruits being Muslim Rajputs. Jats formed the bulk of the recruits for 14 Lancers (Murray’s Jat Horse), 6 Jat Light Infantry, 10 Jat, 12 Pioneers and 48 Pioneers. It was the Muslim Rajputs of the district who formed the bulk of recruits for Skinner’s Horse, 7 Hariana Lancers, 17 Infantry and 18 Infantry.

Ever since the battle for Bharatpur, the Jat soldiers enjoyed a reputation for being the finest soldiers in defence, who would, when cornered, fight to the last man.

Lord Lake recalled how the walls of Bharatpur fort could not be breached as the soldiers fought tenaciously, until a large gun from above fell, crushing the defenders and so making a breach possible.

Other British officers recalled, "Generally speaking the Gurkhas were very very fine mountain soldiers. The Sikhs were very tenacious, very brave and would carry out orders to the letter. Then came the Indian troops from further south.

The Jat, very heavy, solid and wonderful in defence, very similar in outlook, speech and every thing else to the Norfolk man". The Jat soldier is recruited into various arms and regiments, including cavalry, para, guards and grenadiers. But, it is the Jat Regiment that draws the bulk of Jat recruits.

The Jat soldier it was said was as ready to leave military service as he was to enlist. This is probably as true today as it was 200 years ago.

Despite an impressive record of four battle honours, seven Maha Vir Chakras and 34 Vir Chakras, the Jats lament the fact that the Param Vir Chakra has eluded them.

Every year the 3 Jat celeberates the Dograi Battle, which was the Infantry’s finest offensive battle of the 1965 war.The old 10 Jat, redesignated as 3 Jat,was under the inspiring leadership of Lt Col D.E. Hayde (later Brigadier). They led the advance of 54 Infantry Brigade, successfully crossing the Ichhogil canal and reaching Batapore, on the outskirts of Lahore. Unfortunately, they had to turn back without making any effort to capture Lahore as the supporting elements had been unable to keep up with the swift advance of 3 Jat.

3 Jat along with 13 Punjab were then asked to capture Dograi, a small suburban town located on the G.T. Road on the eastern bank of the Ichhogil canal. The withdrawal of 3 Jat had enabled the enemy to fortify the town with a minefield and strategically place medium machine guns and anti-tank guns. Besides, the town was defended by Pakistan’s 16 Punjab along with a tank squadron.

The attack opened on September 21, with 13 Punjab launching an assault along the Grand Trunk Road axis. Despite the bravery shown by the Punjabis, the intense artillery and tank fire pinned down the troops barely 600 yards from their target. Depending on their success, the Jats were to launch the attack on Dograi from the north-east. Despite the failure of 13 Punjab, Colonel Hayde decided to go ahead with the assault plan. On the night of September 22, the Jats opened attack with each company assigned to capture one part of the town. The enemy shifted their artillery and tank fire on the Jats, but the Jats continued to push on relentlessly with speed and ruthlessness. It was a bloody fight at close quarters and every street, house, pillbox and entrenchment had to be cleared. By dawn, the enemy began to crumble and the town fell to the onslaught of the Jats.

Hardly had the town been captured, when the roles were reversed. The attackers had turned defenders of the town.

The Jats had participated in the battle with a small battalion of 520 men, confronting twice the number of Pakistani soldiers.

Now with many casualties they would face soldiers from 3 Baluch and 12 Punjab, supported by artillery, tanks and air power. Pakistani air force, artillery mortars and tanks began to blast every corner of Dograi. Having softened the target the enemy closed in with men of the 3 Baluch and 12 Punjab with close support of tanks.

During the next six hours of battle, the Jats defended their position with such grit and determination, despite the heavy odds, that Dograi became an infantryman’s battle. Subedar Pale Ram led the charge to silence a machine gun post. For the soldiers, it seemed as if it was certain death.

Pale Ram received six bullets in his chest and stomach from the machine gun, but he continued fighting till the enemy bunker fell. Despite such serious wounds Pale Ram survived. Lance Havildar Randhir Singh silenced an enemy MMG pillbox, blowing up the enemy inside. But in the process he could not survive the heavy fire power.

The battle was so fierce that the enemy lost 300 men, while 108 were taken prisoners, including the commanding officer of 16 Punjab. The Jats lost four officers and 59 men. Destroyed tanks lay strewn all over the town, while 15 in perfect condition lay abandoned near the canal. For his courage and leadership, Colonel Hayde was awarded the Mahavir Chakra.

The road to ruin

The Kulu-Manali stretch is in bad shape and needs immediate attention

By Ajay Banerjee

THREE years after the 1995 floods, numerous schemes and a host of promises later, the approach road to Manali — the jewel in the crown of the money-spinning Himachal Pradesh tourism network — is in an atrocious state.

At several places the 50-km stretch of the national highway between Kulu and Manali has been reduced to no more than a kutcha pathway littered with stones.

Since the floods in 1995 swept away vast portions of the national highway, it has never been completely repaired. Now work carries on at a snail’s pace, with no modern machines. Only a few labourers with "pre-historic" implements "attempt" to repair the damage.

A bulldozer is requisitioned to clear the road only when boulders fall off the mountainside or landslide occurs. A visit to the place last month revealed that arainfall could block the road for at least a day, causing trouble and harassment to visitors.

It could even be fatal to travel on the road during the rains as the fast-flowing Beas spills over to the road at certain places.

Besides, the rains also trigger mud slides off the mountain slopes that have been denuded of trees at certain places. Flood waters have also washed away trees, resulting in soil erosion. About 7 to 8 km short of Manali, boulders fall off the mountains at intervals. One has to be lucky and drive with an eye on the mountains.

From Ropar to Kulu, the road is wide and very smooth and all precautions have been taken for the security of travellers. The nightmare starts once one crosses Kulu. At many places like a section near Raisen village, a kutcha pathway with stones makes up for the road. The same story is repeated at several places. The worst is as one is about to enter Manali.

At several places on the stretch between Kulu and Manali, the road is badly damaged.

The shock absorbers of the vehicle get a good pounding and could make up for a durability advertisement for the manufacturer. If it is raining, the vehicle is likely to get stuck in the slush and if the weather is dry, the dust does not settle down, such is the irony of the route.

As a result of the floods, the river changed its course at many places and now it hits the edge of the road at right angles. The repair teams have tried to build a wall of big stones and cement to keep the water at bay but the repair work needs a more scientific approach that will restore the road back to its old glory.

At several places, the edges of the road have caved in and the road has been narrowed. Still further, at a point the road and river run virtually at the same level.

Driving along the road one loses count at how many places just one vehicle can pass at a time. A vehicle has to be reversed to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass. This could be risky if one is not careful. Even where the road has been repaired, a big vehicle and a small vehicle like a car cannot pass each other without one of them getting off the road and onto the berm. The plight of the drivers and passengers can be imagined if two buses happen to cross each other.

Apart from the national highway, almost all road connection between the right bank and the left bank have been severed. Locals and supplies, including fruit — a major cash crop in the area — are ferried from the left bank to the right bank in primitive hand-pulled trollies.

The authorities need to look into this aspect as the poor condition of the road will definitely affect the visits of tourists to the area.Top

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