Written by Sumedha Sharma
For Chandigarh resident Karanvir Singh Sibia, producer of ‘The Saviour – Brig. Pritam Singh’, the documentary is a labour of love. ‘’The film is a tribute to a man who is worshipped in the town of Poonch but has never got his due in the state where he was born,’’ says Sibia, chairman of the Akal Group of Institutions, who also organises the Sangrur Literary and Heritage Festival.
Sibia grew up listening to tales of the heroism of Brig Pritam from his late father Gurbaksh Singh Sibia, a former power and irrigation minister of the state. ‘’The Indian Air Force has made two documentaries on Air Commodore Baba Mehar Singh, who helped in lifting the Poonch seige, but nobody knows about Brigadier Pritam. I want to right that wrong,’’ he says.
In Poonch, Brig. Pritam is known as ‘Sher Baccha’ (son of lion). He earned the title when he defended the town from marauding tribals in a year-long siege that lasted from November 1947 to November 1948. Singh, who was then commanding 1 Kumaon, quickly organised the defence of Poonch town and recaptured the hills around it that had been taken over by tribals. Under siege from all sides, he chose to stay put. For a whole year, he was not both military commander and administrator of the area. Locals say he ensured communal harmony and ration for the 50,000-strong population.
Brig. Pritam also laid an air strip that paved the way for landing of IAF Dakotas, which helped in lifting the siege. Paramjit Kattu, director of the film, says they travelled to Poonch to capture the testimonies of his soldiers who are now in their 80s and 90s. ‘’They told us how Brig. Pritam, then a Lt. Col, stopped the Hindi-Muslim riots.’’
Another recounted how, when a Pakistani officer strayed into the town, Pritam asked him whether he wanted to stay or go back. When the latter said he wanted to return, he was escorted across the border. “Locals say he was a lion of a man who would say, ‘there is no bullet with my name on it’,’’ says Kattu.
The court martial
The documentary dwells on the court martial against Brig. Pritam. ‘’We have documentary proof that we will release on Tuesday. The brigadier was courtmartialled on trivial charges and dismissed. General Thimmaya, who was a defence witness, famously said, ‘Without Pritam, there would have been no Poonch…why are you prosecuting him?’” says Kattu.
‘’He died heart-broken in 1975,’’ adds Sibia.
Sitting at his house in Panchkula, Brig. Pritam’s son, Col. DP Singh (retd), also from 1 Kumaon, says, ‘’Karanvir is deep into it…I am glad. Brig. Pritam will be happy. He used to say, ‘I have done my duty to India and one day the truth will come out.’”