At a road intersection in Bhawanigarh, a small town in Sangrur district of Punjab, Head Constable Satpal Singh is busy directing traffic. But a close look at his uniform tells you he is no ordinary traffic policeman. On his shirt, he wears four rows of medal ribands, including one that’s half blue-half orange. The Vir Chakra.
Twenty years ago, Satpal Singh was a Sepoy, battling Pakistan Army’s counter-attacks on Tiger Hill in which he killed Captain Karnal Sher Khan of the Northern Light Infantry and three others — Sher Khan was later conferred the Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest gallantry award, on the recommendation of the Indian brigade commander who vouched for his bravery on the icy heights.
He was part of the 8 Sikh team of two officers, four JCOs and 46 ORs (other ranks), tasked to help the 19 Grenadiers capture Tiger Hill.
Eighteen personnel, including three JCOs, died while beating back Pakistani attacks on Helmet and India Gate positions on Tiger Hill. Most who survived the battle were wounded, including the two officers Major Ravindra Parmar and Lt R K Sehrawat.
“We had reached out position by the evening of July 5, 1999. It was bitterly cold and all we had with us were the clothes we were wearing. Either we could carry extra woollens or extra arms and ammunition. The choice was obvious,” recalls Satpal, now 46.
The first Pakistani counter attack came early July 7, pushing back Indian troops. “The attacks came one after another. We would beat one and then there would be another. The Pakistanis had a good officer leading them.” With the officers and JCOs wounded, Subedar Nirmal Singh, among the injured, retained command and remained in touch with the brigade commander, Brig M P S Bajwa, on the wireless.
“Before he was killed with a direct hit to the head, Subedar saab told us to shout our jaikara ‘Bole So Nihal Sat Sri Akal’, rush the enemy and the officer leading them. I took four bullets as I fired my LMG (light machine gun). There was hand-to-hand combat. I pounced on this tall, well-built man dressed in a tracksuit. He was leading the Pakistani troops. There was chaos all around, both sides hurling abuses at each other as they fought. I managed to kill him,” he said.
Glad to report that Punjab CM @capt_amarinder has just announced that Head Constable Satpal Singh, Vir Chakra has immediately been promoted Assistant Sub Inspector.@IndianExpress https://t.co/idpTIuj9H0
— Man Aman Singh Chhina (@manaman_chhina) July 26, 2019
He did not know then that the man he had killed was Capt Karnal Sher Khan. “I killed four of them — the officer, his radio operator and two jawans providing him close cover.” The death of the officer left the Pakistanis in disarray. “We could see him (Sher Khan) leading his troops, using the fire-and-cover method to attack us again and again. He fought well,” he said.
Brigadier Bajwa, Satpal’s former brigade commander, said: “I recommended Satpal’s name for Param Vir Chakra given his exceptional bravery on Tiger Hill. He was awarded Vir Chakra.”
After completing his service in the Army, Satpal was discharged in 2009. He joined Punjab Police the following year. “May be I made a wrong decision. I did not get any weightage for my Vir Chakra. I joined under the ex-servicemen quota. I am a Head Constable now.”
“Sportspersons winning medals are also given higher ranks… I killed a man who was awarded Pakistan’s highest gallantry award. Anyway, God is kind. He kept me alive. I just feel bad for my unemployed post-graduate son,” he said.
However, on Friday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh announced that Satpal was promoted from Head Constable to Assistant Sub Inspector.
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