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Placing honour before enmity

CHANDIGARH, JUNE 11: Reports of the torture and subsequent killing of an officer and five jawans of 4 Jat who went missing in the Kargil ...

CHANDIGARH, JUNE 11: Reports of the torture and subsequent killing of an officer and five jawans of 4 Jat who went missing in the Kargil sector, which have been returned by Pakistan, have caused widespread consternation in the country. The anger is understandable, because it goes against not only human behaviour but also the basic rules of warfare. Since time immemorial, troops have been shown due courtesy by the enemy once felled or captured in battle.

However, this sort of behaviour is not new in the case of Pakistan. The body of Jemadar Nand Singh of 1 Sikh, one of the most decorated Indian soldiers, was disgraced during the 1947-48 operations. Nand Singh won his Victoria Cross during World War II in Arakan, where while leading his position he had single-handedly charged and captured a Japanese position, bayonetting the occupants. Since he had done his bit only a few years earlier, he had been left out of the Battle of Bhatgiran fought on December 12, 1947 after Baramulla in J&K had been captured.Bitterly disappointed, Nand Singh had followed the Battalion up onto the feature. He was allowed to join his platoon in battle as a `one-time only’ special case by the Commanding Officer.

There, a patrol led by Jemadar Nand Singh was ambushed and, in a hand-to-hand fight, Nand Singh was among those killed. The enemy recognised Nand Singh’s body by the VC ribbon he was wearing. They took the body to Muzaffarabad, where his body was tied spread-eagled on a truck and paraded through the city with a loudspeaker proclaiming that this would be the fate of every Indian VC. Instead of being cremated with full military honours, Nand Singh’s body was later thrown into a garbage dump.

Contrast this with the treatment given to prisoners of war taken by our troops or to enemy soldiers killed, best illustrated through an incident during the 1971 operations against Pakistan in the Shakargarh salient at the Basantar river.

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The 3rd battalion of the Grenadiers found themselves under attack from a Pakistani infantrybattalion. It was a textbook manoeuvre led by a tall man, holding a carbine, well out in front. The Grenadiers stood their ground and opened heavy and sustained fire, which eventually decimated their assault. The tall leading man fell at the edge of the Grenadier’s forward defended locality.

The battle over, a Pakistani officer came over under a white flag to ask that he might be allowed to recover the body of his Commanding Officer, Lt Col Mohammad Akram Raza, of the 35th Frontier Force Regiment. The Pak CO need not have led the way he did, but did so as it was a desperate situation.

Lt Col Ved Prakash Airy, the Grenadier’s CO, not only returned the body with full military honours but handed over to the regimental bearer party a citation for gallantry in the name of their fallen Commanding Officer. That citation was honoured and Col Raza was given a posthumous award of Pakistan’s highest military honour, the Nishan-e-Haider.

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Even the Chinese, not noted for kindness, have shown respect to the dead. Inthe battle of Chushul in 1962, Major Shaitan Singh and his men of the 13 battalion of the Kumaon Regiment were killed after a valiant fight. Three months after the battle, the Chinese granted permission, through the International Red Cross, for the Chushul battle dead to be collected. When the Kumaonese officers and men went to collect their dead, they found that the bodies lay exactly as they fell. In an unusual mark of respect, the Chinese had covered their bodies with blankets.

(Amarinder Singh is the author of the book Lest We Forget).

First published on: 12-06-1999 at 12:00:00 am
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