The recent killing of two Indian soldiers along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistani troops was a disturbing news. What added to the grief was the way the body of one of the soldiers was treated, beheaded to have the head serve as a trophy. This took us back to the haunting incident of Ilyas Kashmiri, who had carried out the similar treatment of one of our jawans. He was killed by the US drones later. This piece of news was timed with my visit to the recently inaugurated Rezang La War Memorial in Gurgaon, and the visit turned out to be a balm that soothed me of the ill-effects of the news.
The location of the memorial is very true to the realities of life — around a mall and a hospital — where the former stands for good times the latter calls for a test of patience. Clubbed between the two is the tribute to the “bravest of brave” soldiers who fought at Rezang La during the Indo-China War, 1962. Lt Col HS Chaudhry was present to welcome me at his office just 1.6 km away from the Memorial, he said. “There comes a time when people make an unfortunate visit to the hospital. And the presence of this pillar shall remind them that we are not the only one’s suffering. Aur bhi logon ka dukh hai, jo hamare se zyaada hai. Someone died for our lives.” It was then evident that the mall, where people go for fun, will remind people that our soldiers are always there to guard our smiles.
The cannon faces the Rezang La Chowk, Palam Vihar, Gurgaon. One can see the mall on the other side, so that people who visit the mall know there is someone constantly taking care of our smiles. Putting these war ensembles on display at the crossing of regular life reminds us of the sacrifice of our soldiers
In the chapter of Indo-China War of 1962, we will find an episode of Indian victory hidden beneath the defeat. The fierce battle kept the Chinese advance under check. History says that a fierce battle was fought between “C” Company of 13 Kumaon battalion that was commanded by Late Major Shaitan Singh, PVC and battalion plus of Chinese Army at Rezang La, about 19 miles south of Chushul village they guarded south-east approach to the Chushul valley, which was important for India to hold Ladakh. The surveillance team sensed the build up by Chinese troops in the north and west of Rezang La. Chinese attacked first but the blow failed, and then they started shelling Rezang La Pass with artillery and mortar.
A war memorial is not built to glorify wars. Atleast not in modern times. It is an architectural hint to the effects that war has — loss and grief. Sometimes a war memorial is a building with a museum, literature on the war or epitaph. There are plaques that name the soldiers lost, most of the time in western countries the memorials have a soldier with a weapon.
It is said that the shelling was so strong that a cookhouse, located miles away, collapsed at Tsakala due to the shock waves. With bravery and courage, the enemy ingress was foiled beyond the Pass. The vir Ahirs didn’t move from their commitment to drive them off. It is believed that Chinese went back with the impressions of bravery and the brave who lived to the last bullet and the last man. 114 martyrs sacrificed their lives and to share their story Hindi Film industry captured their fight in the film Haqeeqat, government of India’s initiative, directed by Chetan Anand. What is truly surprising is the fact that Chinese advance with full artillery support while the Indian artillery couldn’t reach the jawans because of the huge mountain behind them. In that scenario they stayed put. The War memorial in Rewari states that 114 jawans killed 1,300 Chinese enemies that day. The ground was strewn with bodies.
Since government’s approval and other bureaucratic proceedings take time for any shahid smarak to be built the persuasion requires a lot of patience. The Rezang La War Memorial took four years to be built. Major TC Rao feels for the sacrifice of Ahirs of the battalion as they fought at the 17,000 feet above the sea level, their blood curdled even in the freezing temperature of -30 degree Celsius and never complained about having inadequate clothing and ineffective ammunition. Their spirit to fight is an ever inspiring example as they fought with hand when the machinery exhausted. This sacrifice made him put a request for the memorial. In 2008, he approached Dr AK Kidwai, the former governor of Haryana about the construction of Rezang La Chowk in Gurgaon, and also suggested that the road from the railway station Gurgaon to Delhi Border, Bijwasan be named as Rezang La Marg.
His efforts didn’t go waste. The foundation of the memorial was laid in 2011. Recently it was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The tears flowed again when 800 war widows and 2,500 exservicemen, freedom fighters and gallant soldiers attended the function. It was heartwarming to see the oldest soldier, freedom fighter among us. HS Dhingra, 96 years, came all the way from Chandigarh. He was the CO at the 1962 war of 13 Kumaon Battalion.
As a tribute to the martyrs, a souvenir was released, which carries the name of the martyrs and along with the picture of Major Shaitan Singh, PVC and seven Vir Chankras awardees of the battle. The tribute has messages from the President, Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minster of India, Manmohan Singh and Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit among others. On this occasion the the Charlie Company was re-raised as “Rezang La Company” by the Army Headquarters. While seeing me off Col Chaudhry uttered these lines by Joseph Drake “And they who for their country die Shall fill an honoured grave, For glory lights the soldier’s tomb, And beauty weeps the brave”
A take on memorials
Our history is replete with wars, retreats and victories. Our present sees the profusion of memorials to remember the martyrs. Not just in India but the world over. Some warmemorials in the world are The Motherland Call, Tugu Negara, The Arc de Triomphe and many more. Earlier these memorials were more about celebrating victories but the losses ofworld wars brought commemoration of sacrifices to the centre stage. Drawing a comparison between the warmemorials built in India and overseas Major Rao said, “West just shows a soldier with gun. In India there is a warmemorial in every district and on Vijay Diwas the government organizes a ceremony to pay a tribute to the martyrs.”
Rezang La Pass
The pass is over 3,000 yards in length and stretches over 2,000 yards. Being located at a height of 16,000 feet, it is a very difficult terrain to guard. It became the last stand of the 13 Kumaon, an all- Ahir company, during the Sino-Indian War in 1962. The memorial reads: How can a Man die Better than facing Fearful Odds, For the Ashes of His Fathers And the Temples of His Gods. This was built by All Ranks 13th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment.