Colonel Santosh Mahadik, Sena Medal, Commanding Officer, 41 Rashtriya Rifles (RR), succumbed to fatal injuries following a fierce gun battle with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists on 17 November 2015, in Kupwara district. Fourteen years ago, in 2001, in the same district, Santosh, then in 21Para Special Forces (SF), formerly 21 Maratha Light Infantry), whose radio call-sign Santo became his nick-name, was awarded the Sena Medal for eliminating four terrorists also of LeT.

It was in Sainik School, Satara that Santosh became a good boxer and horse-rider. Following his graduation, he was selected to join the Indian Military Academy. With his kind of temperament, sports achievements, doggedness, drive etc, it was not surprising that he got commissioned into 21 Para (SF), in December 1998. Apart from being an accomplished paratrooper, Santo added a coveted special forces qualification of becoming a clearance diver. Having spent 6 of his almost 18 years of service fighting Pakistani terrorists in J&K, he had participated in several operations.

In August 2014, Colonel Santosh Mahadik took over as Commanding Officer, 41 RR, one of the four RR battalions of Maratha Light Infantry, raised in the mid 1990s and since deployed in Kupwara. On 13 November 2015, 41 RR launched an operation to flush out suspected LeT terrorists, hiding in the dense forest of Haji Naka-Manigah in Kupwara district, near the LoC. Col Mahadik’s team had been in hot pursuit of the terrorists, who had fled deep into the forests. In an encounter on 17 November 2015, the fourth day of the operation, he was grievously wounded and succumbed to his injuries in hospital on the same day. General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command Lt Gen. DS Hooda expressed condolences saying “We owe a deep debt of gratitude to officers like Santosh who lead from the front and are willing to pay the ultimate price in the fight against terrorism.”

Born in a humble family surnamed Ghorpode, at Pogarwadi, in Maharashtra’s Satara district, where his father was a dairy farmer, Santosh was adopted by his maternal grandfather, whose surname Mahadik, became his also. In 2003, Santo married Swati, a specialist educator of differently abled children and shortly later adopted his niece, who after a number of years of schooling, joined her parents. Swati’s and Santo’s own children are daughter, Kartiki, born in 2004 and son, Swaraj, born in 2011.

Col Mahadik’s mortal remains, escorted by officers and men of RR/Maratha Light Infantry were brought to Pogarwadi for the last rites, where a huge crowd of mourners from surrounding villages as well as senior serving officers and veterans had already converged to pay their last respects. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar re-adjusted hisschedule to attend the funeral at Pogarwadi. Chants of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai… Santosh Mahadik Amar Rahe” filled the air as Santo was laid to rest with a 21-gun salute and full military honours at Pogarwadi’s Zilla Parishad school ground. Every inch of the primary school premises was filled with mourners. It was a poignant moment when Col Santosh Mahadik’s 11 year old daughter Kartiki, escorted by an officer and two soldiers from the Maratha LI, in ceremonial uniform, went up to the flowerdecked coffin and through her tears, proudly saluted her father. A little while later, the body was laid on the funeral pyre. Col Mahadik’s five-year-old son, similarly escorted, then lit his father’s funeral pyre and a brave soldier was finally laid to rest. While for his grandfather, now over 100 years of age, bedridden, but mentally alert, Santosh’s death came as a rude shock, for his mother it is worse as his father died over a year ago. Swati, who is dealing with her grief as a Veer Naari(war widow), has expressed her strong desire to join the Army, in which case, with her qualifications, she may be a great asset to the Army Education Corps.

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