Palra: Joining the Army is a tradition here
This little-known village of Haryana, made famous by its most famous son, Subedar Major Umrao Singh, VC, continues to maintain its strong links with the Indian Army, finds
is one of the
countless nondescript villages that dot the landscape of
Haryana. Despite being just 60 km from Delhi, development has
still to reach this village.
anyone in Haryana, especially a serving or retired Army man, if
he has heard of Palra in Jhajjar district and chances are that
he would know about the village. After all, not many villages in
India can boast of one of their men receiving a Victoria Cross,
the highest wartime gallantry award given to British soldiers.
Palra and Subedar
Major and Honorary Captain Umrao Singh, VC, are synonymous with
each other. Subedar Major Umrao Singh passed away on November
21, 2005. While for any other area the passing away of such a
renowned figure could have resulted in the end of its
relationship with prestige, but not for Palra.
Palra has another
claim to fame. It is a rare example of a village where almost
each family has at least one member serving in the defence
services. Villagers say there are over 1,100 persons from a
total of over 900 families currently serving in the forces,
mainly the Army. Every year, a number of youth from the village
join the Army.
serving in the armed forces is a tradition that our village
follows diligently. When our children grow up, the first job
that we want them to try for is with the Army. If they, for some
reason, cannot make it, only then do they look at other
options," says a resident of the village.
In December last
year, following the death of Subedar Major Umrao Singh, the Army
held a special recruitment drive for the village youth. The
drive was held on the orders of the Chief of the Army Staff,
General J.J. Singh, who had attended the last rites of the brave
son of the soil.
Such was the
enthusiasm for joining the Army that even though the Army
authorities had announced that they would select only 25 youths,
over 200 youngsters turned up at the recruitment centre.
Hony Capt Om Prakash with a picture showing him with former President R. Venkataraman
Nobody knows when
the village’s affair with the Army began. All that the
old-timers remember is that the honours that came to Subedar
Major Umrao Singh after he received the Victoria Cross for
exemplary courage in World War II had a major impact on the
minds of the youth.
another village, Palra became the village. Senior government
officers and journalists from other parts of the country as well
as abroad started visiting Subedar Major Umrao Singh. All this
influenced the village youth, who wanted to join the Army and
follow in the footsteps of Subedar Major Umrao Singh. At least,
that was what I had dreamt of when I chose to join the
Army," says Om Prakash, a retired JCO.
new recruits of this Ahirs-dominated village prefer to join the
Artillery — the arm of the Army to which Subedar Major Umrao
Singh belonged. If the new recruit is unable to join the
Artillery, he opts for Infantry’s Kumaon regiment.
There are some
families in the village, which have not allowed their link with
the Army to break through generations — with the grandson
serving the country just as his father and grandfather had done
There is ex-Subedar
Brahma Nand, who joined the Army in 1957. His three sons were
also in the Army, while one of his grandsons has recently
received his Commission.
I joined the Army in 1957. My three sons are also in the Army, while one of my grandsons has recently received Commission. There have been very few cases of eligible, fit youths from our village being turned down by the Army.
— ex-Subedar Brahma Nand
|My father, who was in the Army, married all his daughters to Army men. My grandson has now become an officer in the Army. He has made the entire village proud.
— Santra Devi
|After retiring from the Army, I’ve settled in my house in the village. My three brothers were also in the Army. The village has produced three colonels, two of whom have retired and are settled outside the village.
— Hony Captain Bhagwan Yadav
He admits he is
unable to pinpoint what drives the village youth to join the
Army but adds, "I can assure you that when we go for a job
in the Army and tell the officers that we are from Palra, we get
special treatment. There have been very few cases of eligible,
fit youths from our village being turned down by the Army,"
he states with a dash of pride.
He also discloses
that one of his uncles had received a grant of 350 acres of land
near the village from the British for exemplary courage shown in
Apart from ex-Subedar
Brahma Nand’s uncle, the village boasts of two other "murraba-holders
also. A murraba-holder is one who received a grant/gift of 350
acres from the British for courage shown in a war.
India-China war of 1962, the village lost a native, Rattan
Singh, who achieved martyrdom. Five of his brothers also joined
the Army, and one them still serves as a Colonel. Villagers
proudly say that the Colonel’s son has also cleared the
"exam" and will soon don the uniform of the Indian
Army as a Lieutenant.
Kartar Singh, one of the five brothers of Shaheed Rattan Singh,
"What else could we do? Earlier, when we were young,
getting good education was not easy. Also, we were enamoured of
the Army. It was as if we had been born to serve the nation
through the Army. The perils of joining the Army never even
occurred to us. But, now with quality education easily
available, our children are not so interested in the Army."
There are many in
the village who agree with him. But despite that they miss no
chance of reminding you that Palra is the village of faujis.
Bhagwan Yadav, who now leads a retired life in his house in the
village, says his three brothers were also in the Army.
He discloses that
the village has produced three full colonels, with two of them
having retired and settled outside the village.
But, villagers rue
the lack of development in the village. Despite its fame, the
village has not seen much development. So much so that the
majority of the villagers don’t have access to potable water.
Instead, they are forced to buy water for a hefty sum from a
contractor, who supplies it through his tubewells.
There are no
proper lanes and bylanes in the village. "If you want to go
from one corner of the village to another, you will have to wade
through foul-smelling water. We have made so many requests to
the local administration but nothing has been done,"
laments Hony Capt Om Prakash (retd), a nephew of Subedar Major
point out that the Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh
Hooda, who had come to the village to attend the last rites of
Subedar Major Umrao Singh, had announced that Palra would be
developed into a model village. "Is this what a model
village should look like," asks Om Prakash.
Hooda had also directed the Deputy Commissioner, Jhajjar, to
prepare a project for the planned and swift development of the
infrastructure of the village. Nobody knows if that project has
seen the light of day.
difficulties, locals are sure of one thing: they will not let
their link with the Army snap.
Santra Devi, who lives in the village, proudly says that her
father, who was in the Army, married all his daughters to Army
has now become an officer in the Army. He has made the entire
village proud," she says, adding that she would like each
family in the village to maintain the tradition of sending at
least one male member to the Army.
has it that in December 1944, when World War II was on,
Subedar Major Umrao Singh, fighting for the British in
the Kaladhan valley in Burma, was seriously injured with
little chances of survival. Around him lay bodies of 10
Japanese soldiers, whom he had killed single-handedly
before being wounded. For this act of supreme bravery,
he received the Victoria Cross.
death on November 21, 2005, Subedar Major Umrao Singh
remained a popular man, often seen exhorting boys of the
area to join the Army.
people tried to get close to him for reasons other than
respect and affection. During his lifetime, he received
at least three offers to sell his Victoria Cross. The
money that he was offered ranged from Rs 5 lakh to 50
lakh, the last offer was made less than a year before
each time, he would refuse the offer, saying that the
medal was not his alone; every citizen of the country
had a share in the medal. Among those who have been
openly coveting the medal is a British collector, who is
said to have taken it upon himself to own all the
Victoria Crosses that have been awarded so far.
Subedar Major Umrao Singh’s death, his family has
received two more offers for parting with the medal in
lieu of money, with the money being raised to Rs 70
told the agents that there was no way we would part with
the medal. We have kept the medal and everything related
to it in a bank safe so that there is no danger of it
being stolen," says Vijay Singh, the elder son of
Subedar Major Umrao Singh.
after reports appeared in a section of the media that
the family was planning to sell the medal, senior
officials of the British High Commission in India as
well as the Indian Army met the family to offer
assistance, including cash, so as to discourage them
from selling the family’s treasure.
we told them that there was no intention whatsoever on
our part to sell, they were surprised. They agreed that
the news reports were attempts to lure us to sell the
medal. Thereafter, we decided to enter into an agreement
that stated that unless the entire family agreed, the
medal couldn’t be sold," says Ved Prakash Yadav,
the younger son of the late Umrao Singh.
present, the family has another worry: there is none
from the family serving in the Army.
younger brother’s son is studying hard and will soon
take the entrance test. We are sure soon we will have
one from the family serving the country," Vijay
Maneesh Chhibber and Deepinder