The Indian Air Force (IAF) Garud Commando Corporal Jyoti Prakash Nirala has been posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra, the country’s highest peacetime gallantry award, for his role during a counter-terrorist operation in Jammu and Kashmir where he single-handedly gunned down two militants and injured two others. He is the first-ever IAF airman — the equivalent of a jawan in Army — to get the gallantry medal for a ground combat operation.
Although IAF officers have won the highest gallantry awards of the country, Param Vir Chakra and Ashoka Chakra, no airman has won an Ashoka Chakra, that too for a ground operation.
Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon, a Gnat pilot, was posthumously awarded Param Vir Chakra for his gallantry during the 1971 war. Flight Lieutnant Suhas Biswas received the Ashoka Chakra in 1952 for the successful bellylanding of an aircraft following an engine malfunction, while Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma received the Ashoka Chakra for becoming the first Indian astronaut in 1984.
Nirala hailed from Balwadih village in Rohtas district of Bihar. He was the only son of Tej Narayan Nirala, a farmer, and has four sisters, one of them married. The family has just one bigha of cultivable land. Nirala’s father said: “Though we had been called to Chandigarh and later to Delhi, we were not told about the purpose. It is surely a moment of pride for all of us that my son has won Ashoka Chakra. We want people to share our grief and pride as well”. He added that his son had been supporting the education of three of his sisters.
Nirala was part of a detachment of IAF Garud Commando unit that was attached to a Rashtriya Rifles Battalion under the aegis of ‘Operation Rakshak’ in Jammu & Kashmir. This was part of On the Job situation training for the IAF commandos. On November 18, 2017, based on specific intelligence, an offensive was launched jointly by the Garud detachment and Rashtriya Rifles Battalion in Chanderger village of J&K’s Bandipora district.
The Garud detachment, Nirala’s citation states, covertly approached the target house where the suspected terrorists were hiding and laid a close quarter ambush. Nirala, displaying exceptional battlecraft, positioned himself close to the approach of the hideout, thus cutting off all possibilities of an escape by the terrorists, it said.
While the detachment laid in wait, six terrorists hiding in the house rushed out, shooting and lobbing grenades. Nirala, disregarding personal safety and displaying indomitable courage, retaliated with effective lethal fire and gunned down two militants and injured two others, the citation said. In this exchange of fire, Nirala was hit by a small arms fire. Despite being critically injured, the IAF Commando continued with retaliatory fire. He later succumbed to gunshot wounds.
The attachment of IAF Garud commandos with Rashtriya Rifles was started as part of a training following the terror attack on Pathankot airbase in 2016.