Salutations to seniors and comrades have been a unique and integral part of army tradition practiced universally, and passed down over centuries. The latest form of greeting, “Jai Hind Sir” prevalent intermittently earlier, but enforced top down with vigour in the Indian Army recently, is a welcome step. After initial hesitation, and some reservation it has quickly permeated across all ranks of the army and has now found ready and enthusiastic acceptance. It comes in place of the commonly used “Ram Ram Saab” and its myriad regimental variations as a form of greeting, and also replaces the traditional English salutation of good morning etc, in use hitherto . Hand salutes to senior and superior officers are also a well established, distinct and respected army tradition with a somewhat uncertain historical origin. One school of thought believes it originated in the middle ages by warring knights. It is suggested that knights in full armour when face to face made this hand gesture to each other by raising their visors to facilitate facial recognition. This explanation seems a bit farfetched as the traditional coat of arms displayed prominently on the breast plates of the warring knights was by far a much better form of identification.
The second school of thought suggests that an open handed gesture with the weapon hand demonstrated the absence of a weapon and thus peaceful intention of the person, which later mutated into a salute with the open palm. The naval salute with the palm facing downwards is widely believed to have been modified to avoid offence by showing the open palm which was more often than not soiled due to oil or grease stains while working on the ship. But by far the most accepted and credible version relates to the wearing of hats and the tradition of removing them formally with a mild bow as a mark of respect and to acknowledge superior officers. Over time the headgear of soldiers became more complex with chinstraps, like the conical hats with elaborate straps of the Grenadiers. The Guards favoured the bearskins and golden skull fitting helmets. Orders where then passed that hats would not be removed by soldiers but instead a gesture to formally touch (pat) the brim of the hat should be done to imitate the same. This gesture then evolved over time into a formal salute. It is due to this reason that saluting in the army is not required when without a headgear or beret. Similarly saluting is not required indoors as normally one removes his beret or hat when inside. Thus in the army saluting was directly linked to headgear. It is due to this that civilian officials are not expected to salute formally. Saluting was also reserved for commissioned officers as the commission was granted by the sovereign .The salute therefore was a mark of respect to the sovereign or the President in case of India, who had conferred the commission. It was also imperative by the recipient to acknowledge and return the salute on behalf of the sovereign /head of state.
The gun salute also has its origins from the early days when firing a gun rendered the ship temporarily ineffective and disarmed it. Thus needless and symbolic firing of a gun demonstrated respect and trust, signifying an absence of hostile intent. Guns fire across the bow of ships and from ramparts of forts became a form of respect and salutation. Guns were always fired in odd numbers. In earlier times ships gave a 7 gun salute and forts with more guns and gun powder gave a 21 gun salute. This tradition of gun salute continues till date. Salutation and formal salute is thus an integral part of army ethos and way of life. with the heavy weight of fire still bearing on us caused quite a lot of confusion and additional casualties. The mine field was 300yds deep with a density of three anti personal and one anti tank mines per yard of front. By the time we had reached midway we had approx 25 more casualties and there by reducing my attacking strength to a mere 20 (my third platoon having got lost). By about 0520 hours we managed to get across the mine field when we crossed the single strand of wire. By now our strength was a bare 11to 12 men. We quickly rushed the first line of trenches and bunkers shouting our war cry. The Pakistani troops panicked and started evacuating the trenches in a hurry to other trenches in depth little realizing that we were by then only 7 men. We chased them and by about 0535 hours we had managed to cover about half of the objective. My total strength at this time was only 7 men. At this juncture two events took place:-
(a) One Pakistani medium machine gun was causing us considerable anxiety and proving quite effective in stopping our advance from a point blank range. At this time L/Hav Tek Bahadur crawled towards the medium machine gun bunker and lobbed a grenade inside. He silenced the gun but could not prevent it from cutting him to ribbons in the four seconds it took for the grenade to burst. In fact from his section of nine men only one survived the attack.
(b) At about this time, by the light of a flare we saw the enemy lined up in a trench approx. 30yds away. They were firing and shouting their war cry. It appeared to be the beginnings of a local counter attack. That was when I ordered all the 5 men with me to throw grenades immediately and also started shouting for a fictitious ‘A’ company to surround the area from the left and ‘D’ company from the right. At the same time the six of us got up and started our war cry, lobbed grenades and fired every weapon we had. This action apparently turned the tide of the battle as the enemy got confused and panicked and started running back. As you are aware I could not afford to chase them considering my depleted strength but we caught three tail – enders and merely helped the rest on by firing and yelling. I thus merely sat down in the middle of the SANDDUNE and fired off our success signal. The time was 0550 hours ie just in time. We had managed to run the Pakistanis off the objective, and captured 3 soldiers alive, one of whom later succumbed to his wounds. In addition we had captured all six medium machine guns and many other weapons and tons of ammunition.
We then held on to the objective despite their trying to scare us with use of tanks, till reinforcements arrived approx ½ an hour later. In this operation the Battalion suffered a total of 81 casualties. Two gallantry awards , a MVC and a VrC were bestowed on the unit down the line. It was later learnt that our opposition was 36 Frontier Force (36FF) an outstandingly tough battalion of the Pakistan Army.