Stories of fidelity to the oath, loyalty to comrades : The Tribune India

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25 Years Of Kargil War

Stories of fidelity to the oath, loyalty to comrades

Lt Barshilia was awarded the Sena Medal for his dedicated leadership and gallantry.

Stories of fidelity to the oath, loyalty to comrades

Battlefield: It is in the nature of warfare that every soldier in battle enjoys in equal measure the grace of angels and the dictums of destiny. Tribune file photo

Lt Gen Baljit Singh (Retd)

Military Commentator

READING exhaustive narratives of the Kargil War in The Tribune over the past month, I was reminded of a phone call that came one morning in the summer of 1999. Even before I could say hello, an excited voice said: “Jai Hind shaab, aap aur memshaab theek hain?” The voice did seem familiar, but to avoid embarrassment, I asked: “Aap kahan se bole rahey ho?” His response, with a controlled chuckle, was: “Shaab, main Som Bahadur STD booth Kargil main hoon. 3/3 GR (Gorkha Rifles) ne peak capture kar liya, shaab!” He was on cloud nine, but much to my disappointment and his helplessness, the connection snapped all too soon.

Back in 1981, when my brigade, inclusive of 3/3 GR, was moved to establish a permanent presence in north Sikkim, Lance Naik Som Bahadur Punn was my affable sahayak. And it had been an article of faith ever since for this comrade-in-arms to get in touch every year. By 1999, he was a battle-blooded, proud havildar.

Som Bahadur’s call reminded me of the legend of Pheidippides from 490 BC, when the Persian army had invaded Greece. Outnumbered 10 to one, the Greeks sought help from the neighbouring Sparta, but to no avail. However, their deity Pan so spurred the soldiery to “...take heart, laugh Persia to scorn, have faith in the temples and tombs...” that they inflicted a crushing defeat on the invading Persians. And Pheidippides, a champion runner, set out on 40-km non-stop run from the battlefield of Marathon back to Athens. When he reached there, he informed anxious fellow citizens gathered at the Acropolis: “Rejoice, we have won!”

Another Kargil narrative came from Lt Sanjay Barshilia of 286 Medium Regiment, who on

June 7, 1999, after two nights of a gruelling climb, had teamed with a detachment of 4 Jat atop Point 5299 (17,385 ft above sea level) to commence the interdiction of enemy reinforcements and logistics by artillery fire. A narrow horizontal niche cut into an ice-face about 50 metres below that hilltop, where four men could curl up at any one time, was their sole communal sleeping shelter. But sleep remained elusive because the sleeping bags tended to be damp due to frequent sleet sprays and the night temperature dipped below 10°C. Cooked food and water were supplied by night ferries daily, but were sufficient only for one meal a day.

However, this young man had a job at hand and the vantage hilltop proved an excellent perch for directing artillery fire on enemy locations with a telling effect. It was not long before the enemy retaliated in equal measure, best narrated by Sanjay thus: “You fire a round at him, and sure enough, you can expect him on your location in precisely one minute. The game was dangerous, but all of us enjoyed it immensely... It was a tremendous feeling for all of us at the post, more so for myself, who had the fortune of experiencing combat at a young age and from such a close distance. It was a dream come true.” Befittingly, he was awarded the Sena Medal on August 15, 1999, for his dedicated leadership and gallantry.

In November 2023, I had an unbelievable chance meeting with a veteran of two wars — he was part of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in October 1987 during the Sri Lankan civil war and also present at Kargil in 1999. On an errand to an establishment, the gatekeeper greeted me with a smart salute, but with his left arm, and that prompted me to enquire about his antecedents. Within minutes, it emerged that this Napoleon-sized Suraj Lama was a veteran from the elite 10 Para Commando and was among the first members of the ill-fated heliborne mission to land upon the Jaffna University stadium, where they received a horrendous reception by LTTE combatants.

However, born under a lucky star, Lama survived not just the Jaffna onslaught but multiple battles till the cessation of the war across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka. Much as I admired and respected his unique combat experiences, I was driven to a guarded cross-examination. But the moment he mentioned that he was part of that platoon of 13 Sikh Light Infantry battalion which had perished within minutes of touchdown upon mother earth to the last man but one, it was my turn to shake hands and salute Lama.

It is in the nature of warfare that every soldier in battle enjoys in equal measure both the grace of angels and the dictums of destiny. So, Lama sailed through three bloody years with the IPKF in the Lankan war, but on the penultimate day of the war in Kargil, in the blink of an eye, he was knocked out cold, airlifted to Leh Military Hospital and regained consciousness three days later.

For five-and-a-half years, he remained bed-ridden and partially wheel-chaired at the Army Hospital (Research and Referral), Delhi Cantonment; AIIMS, New Delhi; and the Command Hospital, Chandimandir, where his service as a havildar was terminated with 100 per cent disability pension. His left leg and right arm were severely damaged, but undaunted he drives a scooter and a car confidently. He cannot climb up steps, salutes with his left hand and clicks heels at attention in a ramrod posture — always with a broad, infectious smile.

And that brings me to the classic A Matter of Honour by Philip Mason, which opens with the unwritten credo of the Indian Army: “Fidelity to an oath, loyalty to comrades and calm under crises, without which qualities an Army is nothing…”


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