This realisation steeled their will further. “Do or die” became their war cry.
By R K Murthi
It was October, 1962. Assam looked exotic. The plains were decked with flowers of myraid shades. The upper regions wore the crown of white. The peaks of the Himalayan ranges sparkled with ice caps. The morning Sun poured through the colours, into the ice. The colourful display had a strong tinge of red.
Red is the colour of blood. It has a distinct shade. The region received an added touch of this shade when the Sino-Indian War broke out.
Pressure began to build up. The Chinese surged in waves, eager to sweep down the hills, on to the plains. They had the advantage of prior planning, of numbers. The odds were in their favour.
The Indian soldiers were fully aware of the grimness of the situation. This realisation steeled their will further. “Do or die” became their war cry.
Subedar Joginder Singh was commanding No 11 Platoon of D Company of l, Sikh Battalion. The Platoon had been assigned the task of defending the position, along a ridge. The ridge lay in a strategic spot. It overlooked the trisection of three possible approaches to the district headquarters of Tawang. (These approaches are Lum La, Bum La and Kherzamane Somalso).
Nobody could predict when the unit would be hurtled into the thick of action. However, Subedar Joginder Singh and his men were vigilant. They kept round-the-clock watch. They were determined to defend their position, at all costs. The Chinese won’t take them by surprise. They would be ready to counter any attack.
Occasionally, the sentry would mumble, “Wahe Guru da Khalsa, Wahe Guru de Fateh.” That was the mantra. (“Yours, oh Lord, is the Crown. Yours is Victory too”). That was a prayer seeking the protection of the Divine Spirit.
The sentry pulled the overcoat tighter, as the cold wind wafted around. The dawn of October 20,1962, lay a couple of hours away.
Suddenly, his ears perked up. He heard the eerie sound that rushed through the hills. Then his instincts gave him the cue. The Chinese were readying for an assault. He warned Subedar Joginder Singh.
“So, the time to fight has come. How I long for action,” the Subedar mumbled.
His men echoed the same sentiments. They collected their weapons.. rifles, grenades etc. They cocked the rifles, tested them, once again. The bayonets gleamed in the darkness.
The Chinese came, shouting and screaming. They were about 300 strong. They assumed they could over run the Indian post easily. How long could the small band of Indians withstand the avalanche of attacking Chinese?
Here, they were wrong. For the fusillades and the shots fired by the Indians, from their vantage post, decimated the Chinese. The attacking party suffered heavy losses. At least a hundred were killed. It was a severe blow.
The Chinese withdrew. The Indians thanked the Divine Spirit for breathing such strength into them.
Their relief, however, was short-lived. Within an hour, came another attack. The attacking party had drawn more men. The Chinese were confident of seizing the post this time. They were unaware of the steely will of the men under the command of Subedar Joginder Singh.
The Chinese advance was arrested by continuous shots. The rifles spat out fire, every time the Indians puled the trigger. The bullets gored through the enemy ranks. Many of the Chinese soldiers died. The rest ran, pell mell, unable to withstand the heavy shell and mortar firing.
The Indians too suffered heavy casualties. Subedar Joginder Singh was hit in the thigh. He grimaced as the pain racked him. For a moment, he stumbled. His hands encircled the wounded spot. Blood squirted out even as he pressed hard to arrest the flow.
“Sir, you must now rest,” suggested a jawan. “Two of us can carry you out to safety.”
“Safety! Where is safety when the nation is facing danger? It is our duty to provide safety and security to the nation. The danger is not yet over. The Chinese will attack again. I can’t leave you, leaderless. I stay here, with you. I fight unto the very last. Understand?” the Subedar replied.
The jawan said, “Hukum, Saheb.”
“Check what equipment and ammo we have. How many of us are fit to operate the rifles and the guns? I have a hunch. The Chinese have enough men to spare. Enough men to offer as cannon fodder,” Subedar Joginder Singh joked, suppressing the pain which ran down his leg.
The jawan got into action. Others joined him. They pulled the dead among them to one side. They dressed the wounds of the injured. They checked the available equipment, and ammunition.
“Everything is in order, Sir,” a Jawan responded when Subedar Joginder Singh hobbled over, to assure himself that his men were ready to give the Chinese hell, if they dared to attack again. “Sir, you should not strain yourself. You’re badly hurt.”
“Forget it. I shall man the LMG. I am not crippled. I want to give the enemy a good drumming, if there is yet another attempt to take this post, so Guru ji be pleased,” he replied, the glint in his eyes reflecting the man’s grit and determination.
As predicted, the Chinese came in once again. It was the third assault. The Indians watched, with bated breath. They did not fire till the Chinese came quite close. Then the guns boomed. The birds fluttered, making raucous notes. The shrieks of the men, of the attacking force, hit by the shots, echoed around…
Subedar Joginder Singh stood behind the Light Machine Gun. He kept up the pressure by firing shots continuously into the enemy ranks. The odds were against him. His face turned grim when the Chinese rushed in, in waves, even as Indians ran out of ammunition. Now, the shots from the Indian post were sporadic. The Indians had almost exhausted their ammunition.
The Chinese smelt victory. Subedar Joginder Singh also sensed the doom. He turned to the handful of men with him and told them, “This is it. We have nothing now to fight with except bayonets. Can’t we run into the enemy and kill as many as we can. One thing is certain. We won’t live to see another dawn. So why can’t we die fighting till the very end?”
The Chinese madly scrambled up the slope. They thought they had no more resistance to overcome. That made them a little less watchful. Subedar Joginder Singh and the dozen men under him pounced on the Chinese. The bayonets did the rest. The Indians killed many enemy soldiers before they were felled. Such courage had rarely been witnessed in any battle. The citation, honouring Subedar Joginder Singh, with the Param Vir Chakra, spoke of his `inspiring leadership and courage of the highest order.’
This teen story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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