When A Ladakhi Shepherd Visited Rezang La Months After The 1962 India-China War
Kulpreet Yadav's The Battle of Rezang La records the valour of the Charlie Company which not only successfully stopped China’s advance, but also prevented a possible Chinese occupation of Chushul.
Here is an extract from the book.
The Battle of Rezang La. Kulpreet Yadav. Penguin eBury Press. 2021. Pages 304. Rs 260.
In the first week of February 1963, a Ladakhi shepherd happened to visit Rezang La. The temperature was still fluctuating between minus 10 and minus 20 degrees Celsius and it was too early for the predators to start hunting for food. The entire moonscape of Rezang La was as white and as frigid as it was on the morning of the battle on 18 November 1962.
This shepherd was the first Indian to witness the closing stages of the battle turned into a frozen tableau. Right in front of his eyes were the frozen bodies of the Indian jawans still standing in their trenches with their weapons pointed towards the east.
He quickly informed the Indian Army unit at Chushul. The information reached the headquarters in Delhi in no time and a search party was organized. Several officers and jawans of the Indian Army, including Brig. T.N. Raina, and Red Cross representatives were part of this search party that trekked to Rezang La from the base of Rezang La Pass, where once the Charlie Company’s administrative base was located.
One of the members of this search party was Capt. Kishori Lal. In an essay published in The Gods of Valour, he records his first impressions on arrival at Rezang La as follows: ‘We reached Rezang La on 10 February 1963. There we saw the brave sons of mother Bharat sleeping in eternal sleep. We saw there was a heavy bombardment that the Chinese had done to wipe them out. There were deep pits all around. We picked up blind bombs and weighed them. Most of them were over 80 pounds. Each body of our valiant soldiers there had over thirty–thirty-five bullet wounds. As many as fortyseven bullets had sunk into Jemadar (Naib Subedar) Hari Ram’s body. On one bunker shield, we counted 759 bullet holes.’
The following excerpt from the official account of the Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army provides more details: ‘No bunker in Rezang La was found intact, corrugated iron sheets were found in bits, the ballies (wooden poles/logs used for making temporary shelters) had been reduced to matchwood sticks, and the sandbags were just shreds. But there was no sign of panic or withdrawal. Every single jawan was found dead in his trench; each had several bullets or splinter wounds, still holding their weapons; broken light machine guns/rifles bore witness to the intensity of the enemy fire. Jemadar (Naib Subedar) Hari Ram was found with a bandage on his head. He had apparently tied it in a hurry while rushing from one of his sections to another and was killed there: the body, when received, was still in crouching position.’
The rescuers who visited Rezang La on 10 February 1963 were speechless.
Brig. T.N. Raina called his subordinate from the search party and said, ‘I want everything to be photographed. After that, make a list of the martyred jawans you can identify.’
‘We will cremate these bahadur jawans today itself.’
‘Yes, right here. This land belongs to us because of these brave patriots. And there should be a memorial here for every Indian to visit and pay his respects.’
That evening, the bodies of ninety-six soldiers of the Charlie Company were recovered from Rezang La and they were cremated with full military honours amid the chanting of Vedic mantras. Brig. T.N. Raina lit the combined funeral pyre of the soldiers with his own hands.
Those present recall that everyone had tears in their eyes. Brig. T.N. Raina, who would later rise to become the chief of army staff, got so emotional that he had to remove his prosthetic eye for relief.
The army had initially refused to accept the account of the survivors, who were merely following the last order of their commander, Maj. Shaitan Singh. But mother nature had preserved the last stand of the brave soldiers as it is. There were no more doubts in the mind of the senior officers now. There were no more threats about court martials. They had seen it for themselves and realized that every word that the survivors had spoken was true.
Maj. Shaitan Singh’s body was found at the same spot where his loyal soldiers had left him. He was still resting against the boulder, his entire body except his face covered in snow. It seemed as if the brave officer, outstanding tactician and admired leader, was taking a bit of rest before getting up and thundering with his command to destroy the Chinese.
Maj. Shaitan Singh’s body was sent to Jodhpur in a special Indian Air Force aircraft on the very next day. The CO, Lt Col H.S. Dhingra, accompanied the body and the gallant company commander was cremated with full state honours.
While Maj. Shaitan Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), the highest military decoration, Brig. T.N. Raina was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), the second highest military decoration. Lt Col H.S. Dhingra was later awarded with Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM).
All the three platoon commanders, Naib Subedar Hari Ram, Naib Subedar Surja Ram and Naib Subedar Ram Chander, were awarded Vir Chakras (VCs). Nk Ram Kumar, the section commander of the 3-inch mortar post, Nk Gulab Singh and L/Nk Singh Ram of platoon 7, and Nk Hukum Chand and Sep. Dharampal Dahiya (nursing assistant) of platoon 8 were awarded Vir Chakras too. In addition, CHM Harphul Singh, Hav. Jai Narain, Hav. Phul Singh and Sep. Nihal Singh were awarded the Sena medals. Naib Subedar Jai Narain’s name was Mentioned-in-Dispatches (M-in-D).
It will never be possible to recreate an exact account of this epic battle to remember and honour other brave jawans, but one thing that the nation will always do is to bow down their heads in respect and reverence at the war memorial at Chushul called ‘The Rezang La War Memorial — Ahir Dham’. The words inscribed on this memorial were personally chosen by Lt Col H.S. Dhingra, the battalion commander of 13 Kumaon.
These are from Lord Macaulay’s book of poems called Lays of Ancient Rome and they read:
‘And how can man die better Than facing fearful odds, From the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of the gods.’
13 Kumaon Battalion was awarded the battle honour Rezang La and theatre honour Ladakh. Today, 13 Kumaon’s Charlie Company is officially called the Rezang La Company.
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