In the serene hills of Dagshai, lies a scenic Army cantonment in Solan district of Himachal Pradesh that is home to the battalion Fifth Gorkha Rifles (5/5 GR). Here, a four-legged soldier of the Indian Army is often seen grazing in the green pastures.
His horns painted green and black, in the colours of his unit, he is escorted by two of his colleagues, who ensure that “Naik Chinta Bahadur” eats only fresh, green grass. Chinta Bahadur is a sheep.
“He is a part of our unit. His current rank is Naik. He is a rank above me,” says a Lance Naik of the 5/5 GR, who accompanies Chinta Bahadur for his evening walk at the jail museum.
From reporting for the morning physical training (PT) sessions to attending formal Army ceremonies and functions, Naik Chinta Bahadur, is considered a soldier an integral part of the Army, to the point of getting promotions in the Indian Army.
Chinta Bahadur, also lovingly called ‘Chintey’ by his fellow unit soldiers, is a male sheep, who is a member of the Fifth Gorkha Rifles, quite literally so.
However, for the soldiers of 5/5 GR, Chinta Bahadur is not a ‘sheep’, but an incarnation of their colleague, Rifleman Chinta Bahadur who went missing in 1944 during World War II operations at Burma (now Myanmar) fighting for the British.
The story of how a pre-independence incident — when the British Indian Army troops fought at Burma in World War II, is keeping this unit emotionally attached to a sheep—is even more fascinating. They now call Chintey their “lucky mascot.”
“The World War II operations at Burma in 1944 was one of the most fiercely fought battles for our regiment. Rifleman Chinta Bahadur was one of the brave soldiers who went missing in Burma in 1944. After days of search, he could not be located. But a sheep appeared there and started following our unit. Since then, a sheep with the same name is raised by our unit in memory of Chinta Bahadur. The sheep gets a proper rank, attends PT sessions in morning and his attendance is marked. He is well taken care of by the entire unit. For us, he is not merely a sheep but the incarnation of a colleague who was never found,” said a senior Army officer, formerly posted with 5/5 GR.
“A sheep named China Bahadur is now our lucky mascot,” he adds.
Currently, Chinta Bahadur has the symbolic rank of a Naik, meaning he is a ‘do-feeta’ solider who wears two rank chevrons. “Knowing that a sheep usually lives for 8-10 years, Chinta Bahadur mostly reaches the rank of a havildar (three-rank chevron), and when he dies, we get a new sheep, who gets the name of Chinta Bahadur and becomes a part of the unit. This tradition has been going on since 1944. It is our way to keep Rifleman Chinta Bahadur alive in our unit,” said the officer.
Chinta Bahadur’s latest promotion came on June 23, when he was promoted as “Naik” from Lance Naik, on the Battle Honor Day of 5/5 GR, held at Dagshai. On this day in 1944, the two veterans of this Regiment were awarded the highest British India Army honor– the Victoria Cross– for the Burma Operations during World War-II.
“Every year June 23 is celebrated as Mogaung Day (Battle Honor Day) because it was on this day that Captain Michael Allmand (posthumous) and Rifleman Tul Bahadur Pun from the battalion were awarded the highest pre-Independence British Army honor, the Victoria Cross, for the Mogaung operation in Burma on June 23, 1944. Chinta’s promotion as Naik was announced during the function recently on June 23 at Dagshai in front of the entire battalion,” said the officer.
Over a month now after earning the glorious distinction of getting promoted as Naik, Chinta Bahadur despite not being a war soldier in the true sense, gets all the attention and is also expected to do the least he can being a part of the unit— a Lance Naik escorts him for his grazing and walk sessions, Chinta also reports for morning Physical Training (PT) sessions where his attendance is marked, and on special Army ceremonies and functions, the animal is attired in a special shrug designed in his unit colors.
The 5/5 Gorkha Rifles was raised on October 1, 1940, as 3/6 Gorkha Rifles, and was re-designated as 5/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) on January 1, 1948. The regiment is known for its valour in World War II battles and India-Pakistan skirmishes of 1965 and 1971. The unit is made up of a majority of soldiers who have Nepali origins.
How Chinta Bahadur has become a cynosure of eyes for the unit is evident from the care and attention he gets, not just from his unit colleagues but also the locals of Dagshai who identify him as a part of the Army.
“At least two people always accompany him when he goes for a walk every morning and evening. He gets a little cranky sometimes on seeing outsiders. But otherwise he is very friendly. Everyone lovingly calls him ‘Chintey’ and his horns are always painted green, which is our unit’s colour, so that he can be easily identified even if he gets lost. He is a part of us,” says his colleague, whose duty is to take care of his senior ‘Chintey’.