Born on July 15, 1912 at Bibipur into a prominent family of today’s Azamgarh district, Uttar Pradesh, late Brigadier Mohammed Usman, MVC, was the first son after three daughters of Khan Bahadur Mohammed Farukh, a widely regarded police official. Two more sons were born after Usman. As city Kotwal in Varanasi, Usman’s father played a sterling role in diffusing a potentially combustible situation arising out of a communal dispute. His fairness was widely appreciated by both communities involved in the stand-off. Such traits were bound to have impact on his children and it was hardly surprising therefore, that the spirit of patriotism and secular credentials would dominate young Usman’s personality. Usman and his younger brothers Subhan and Gufran were educated at Harish Chandra Bhai School, Varanasi. At the age of 12, he had jumped into a well to rescue a drowning child.
Later, when Usman made up his mind to join the Army, despite limited opportunities for Indians to get commissioned ranks and despite intense competition, he succeeded in getting admission to the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Upon completion of his training Usman was commissioned into the Baluch Regiment. At the time of partition, Usman being a Muslim officer in the Baluch Regiment, was under intense pressure from the newly born Pakistan’s leadership to opt for Pakistan army. But so strong were his ideals of his motherland under the upbringing of his father, that even the ultimate bait of becoming the Pakistan Army Chief also proved unsuccessful in convincing Usman and he remained steadfast in his resolve to stay on in the land of his birth and serve the Indian Army.
When the Baluch Regiment was allotted to Pakistan army, Brigadier M Usman was transferred to the Dogra Regiment. But war had already been thrust upon India when Pakistan sent tribal irregulars and its soldiers into Jammu & Kashmir. Even as the situation in the Kashmir valley stabilised the threat continued to be serious in the Jammu region. Brig Usman, commanding 77 Parachute Brigade, was side stepped to command 50 Parachute Brigade, deployed at Jhangar in December 1947. On December 25, 1947, with odds heavily against him, Jhangar was wrested by the Pakistanis. Located at the junction of roads coming from Mirpur and Kotli, Jhangar was of strategic importance, but more compelling was Brig Usman’s fierce pride in his men and determination to restore their honour.
On that day the Brigadier took a vow to recapture Jhangar — a feat he accomplished three months later but at the cost of his own life. During the defence of Naushera against overwhelming odds and numbers, his fiery leadership had resulted in a major defeat of the enemy at and around Naushera with 2,000 casualties (about 1,000 dead and 1,000 wounded) while casualties of his troops were 33 dead and 102 wounded. That battle earned him the title Naushera ka sher (Lion of Naushera). In 1948, the same Pakistanis, who earlier tried to motivate him to join Pakistan Army and make him its chief, announced an astronomical sum of `50,000 as a prize for his head. Unaffected by praise or congratulations, the Brigadier continued to sleep on a mat laid on the floor as had vowed that he would not sleep on a bed till he recaptured Jhangar, from where outnumbered by a large force of infiltrators inducted by Pakistan Army, he had to withdraw earlier.
Then Lieutenant General KM Cariappa, who had taken over as Western Army Commander, brought his tactical headquarters forward to Jammu to oversee the conduct of two important operations, the capture of Jhangar and Poonch. The capture of Jhangar was of special significance for Brig Usman and 50 Para Brigade to avenge the setback suffered in December 1947. The operation commenced in the last week of February 1948. 19 Infantry Brigade advanced along the Northern ridge, while 50 Para brigade cleared the hills dominating the Naushera-Jhangar road in the south. Many fierce battles were fought during this twin thrust toward Jhangar. The enemy was eventually driven from this area, and Jhangar was recaptured. Pakistan brought its regular forces into the fray in May 1948. Jhangar was once again subjected to heavy artillery bombardment, and many determined attacks were launched on Jhangar by the Pakistan Army. Brig Usman however frustrated all enemy attempts to recapture Jhangar.
It was during this arduous defence of Jhangar that Brig Usman was, unfortunately, killed on July 3, 1948, by an enemy 25- pounder shell. His last words were “I am dying but let not the territory we were fighting for fall for the enemy”. For his inspiring leadership and great courage, he was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra posthumously. Brig Mohammed Usman, was then the highest ranking Indian Army officer who died fighting during the first Indo- Pak war 1947-48 and was given a state funeral. In a moving ceremony, which was attended by the then Governor General Lord Louis Mountbatten, Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, Union Minister Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Sheikh Abdullah, his body was laid to rest at Jamia Milia University, New Delhi. He was 12 days short of his 36th birthday when met martyrdom. A man of simple taste and a teetotaller, Usman remained a bachelor throughout his life.
He used to donate a large part of his salary to support poor children and pay for their education. After his death many of them felt orphaned and wrote to the Brigade HQ mourning the loss of their benefactor. Brig Usman was indeed an epitome of valour, a great patriot and nationalist. It is because of him that Naushera is an integral part of India. July 15, 2012 is Brig Usman’s 100th birth anniversary. In order to commemorate the event, functions were organised at Varanasi, Lucknow, J&K and New Delhi. There was a wreath laying ceremony at the Usman Memorial at Jhangar on July 4. A Paramotor Expedition was undertaken by 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade from Varanasi to Lucknow. Flagged off by Maj Gen NS Ghei, AVSM, ADG MO (special ops) at Varanasi on July 3, 2012, it was flagged off by the Army Commander Central Command Lt Gen Anil Chait, AVSM, VSM at Lucknow on July 10 , 2012.
It was followed by a commemorative function at Sainik School, Lucknow. On July 15, 2012 there was wreath laying at Jamia Millia University and a commemorative function at Manekshaw Centre, Delhi Cantt, attended by Vice President of India Dr M Hamid Ansari, Defence Minister A K Antony, Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju, Chief of Army Staff Gen Bikram Singh, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, ADC, other dignitaries and serving and retired Paratroopers. Brigadier Mohammed Usman set an example of personal courage, exceptional qualities of leadership and devotion to duty, keeping high the finest of traditions of the Indian Army.
— The author is the editor of Word Sword