A civilian’s salute to the Indian soldier
Stories of wars including Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 were an integral part of my growing years. Tales of valour and martyrdom fascinated me. Similarly, leaders from that period influenced me majorly. For instance, Lal Bahadur Shastri who famously said ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, and Indira Gandhi, who motivated the Indian armed forces to win the Indo-Pak war of 1971, thereby creating a new nation, Bangladesh, were huge inspirations.
As a youngster, I used to devour the newspaper for stories of the ongoing war. Even today, whenever I come across stories of martyrdom of our jawans, I am moved. Not surprisingly, the sacrifices of our brave soldiers who fought valiantly during the Kargil War of 1999 and those who continue to fight at the Line of Control (LC), instill a sense of patriotism in us all. And when one experiences a soldier’s bravery from close quarters, it leaves one with an entirely different perspective on life. I had such an experience during a trip to Leh.
The day we landed in Srinagar, there was curfew in the city due to an agitation against an earlier army action against militants. We could see armed soldiers every 50 metres on the road with army vehicles patrolling the city. Unable to visit Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, we had to leave the town and head straight for Leh. On our way towards Sonamarg on NH1, we were surprised to see soldiers with loaded guns standing at almost every 200-300m. At every turn of the mountainous road, we could see a group of two or three soldiers diligently keeping an eye on the road. This, I learnt was the road opening drill to ward off threats of militant attacks on convoys. It was quite an experience to see the soldiers standing in strict vigil. I tried to imagine the hardships they face performing their duties and the constant shadow of death over them.
As we drove on, I was puzzled by the numerous military bunkers overlooking the roads when there was no war going on. Later, I got to know that these were made to protect the army from anti-social elements who hate the Indian Army. These people support the militants who in turn attack the soldiers. It is unimaginable how tough it is to work under such stressful situation.
The next day we were to visit Dras and Kargil, the actual battlefield of 1999 Kargil conflict. I was so anxiously looking forward to the visit that even the beautiful landscapes of Sonamarg could not distract me. While driving on the highway from Sonamarg to Dras my mind was trying to visualise what must have happened there. We reached a war memorial site at Dras where we were welcomed by a smart officer in full military uniform. He had participated in the actual battle at Dras. He pointed his finger towards a peak which was standing out from the Himalayan mountain range. It was Tiger Hill; I could not believe my eyes that I was actually looking at the Tiger Hill — the scene of the battle I had only read about. That feeling cannot be described in words. The temperature recorded at Tiger Hill in May 1999 was sub zero! It was indeed one of the harshest battle conditions in terms of weather and terrain.
The officer recreated the war as it actually happened. We were standing at the very place from where our soldiers were launched to reclaim our territory, braving continuous enemy firing from the top of the hill. Our artillery Bofors guns were befittingly giving them fire for fire. The move to climb the hill failed three times due to intense frontal fire, before air power was launched. The Indian Air Force (IAF) started its strikes with MiG 21 fighters and destroyed some of the Pakistani posts which helped our soldiers to once again attack Tiger Hill. It was later learnt that a lady officer of the Pakistani Army disguised as a civilian of Kargil town hid in a mosque and transmitted all information of our forces, gun positions and ammunition dumps to her headquarters. It is believed that the turning point of the war was when the Indian Army neutralised her including many other informers. The Tiger Hill was recaptured but India lost many of its brave young men.
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