Monday, October 29, 2012

Brave men who were instrumental in Liberation of Kashmir

The first Indian troops enroute to Srinagar in Oct 1947

by Lt Col Mukhtiar Singh 

October 27, is very close to the hearts of Kashmiris. The day is also significant for Indian Army, as it marked its first call to arms after Partition and Independence. In the historic defence of Srinagar, the first contingent of Indian Infantry, 1 Sikh landed at Srinagar airport and saved it from falling into the hands of the marauding tribesmen sent by Pakistan. In this fight, the people of Jammu and Kashmir stood shoulder to shoulder with the soldiers and made supreme sacrifices.

After attaining Independence, the State of Jammu and Kashimir did not accede to the rest of India. It was an independent province. This encouraged Pakistanis to usurp this state owing to its muslim predominant population. The Pakisthani attack commenced on October 21/22, 1947, in the Muzzaffarabad-Uri sector, after the two Muslim companies of 4 Jammu and Kashmir Infantry, defending Muzzaffarabad, had deserted to join the invaders. Muzzaffarabad, thus, fell without a fight.

The ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh had not exercised the option to join either of the two dominions fearing the consequences. Attack on Muzzaffarabad forced the Maharaja to seek India's help to save his people, who were being brutally raped, killed and looted by the Pakistan raiders. He agreed to the accession of his state to India to rescue his people from the raiders.

After coming to know the fall of Muzzaffarabad, Maharaja Hari Singh deputed Brig Rajinder Singh and a small force of 100 men to proceed towards Uri. As soon as the alarming reports of the raiders' progress towards Uri reached Srinagar, the Brigadier was ordered by the Maharaja to take personal command of the Uri sector. On October 23, the first encounter took place at Garhi where he inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. This bold and determined action of the Brigadier alerted the enemy, which forced him to delay his advance to Uri.

Maharaja Hari Singh, realising the gravity of the situation, issued the historic order to Brig Rajinder Singh, to hold the enemy at Uri at all costs and to the last man. Accordingly, Brig Rajinder Singh held out steadfastly even at the cost of sacrificing his life. Thus, he saved Uri and the entire state from falling into the hands of the raiders. He is, therefore, truly called the saviour of Jammu and Kashmir, for which he was awarded the first ever gallantry award of independent India, Maha Vir Chakra, posthumously.

Brig Singh's action delayed the enemy long enough to enable Maharaja to complete accession proceedings. It also enabled the Indian Army to mobilise the units to fly to Srinagar after the accession was over.

A Dakota aircraft carrying the first Indian Army contingent, comprising one company of 1 Sikh landed on the dusty airstrip of Badgam in Srinagar at 9.30 AM on October 27. At this stage, no one was sure about the state of affairs in the Valley. The Commanding Officer, 1 Sikh had orders to turn back and land at Jammu if the Srinagar airfield was found to be occupied by hostile forces. Fortune favoured the brave and 1 Sikh landed safely without a mishap. On this day, Dakotas of the Indian Air force undertook as many as 30 sorties to airlift 1 Sikh from New Delhi.

The 161 Infantry Brigade, which was constituted at Srinagar airfield on October 29, fought the battle for liberation of Kashmir. By the third week of December, the only land route into Valley over the Banihal Pass was snow bound and the brigade had to fight for next few months, completely isolated from the rest of the Indian Army.

There is no other campaign in military history, in which an infantry brigade, hurriedly assembled in bits and pieces with units and subunits, having their leaders removed and replaced by others who were strangers to the men and without full complement of weapons, had been pitch, forked into a serious battle.

During the operation, Indian Army lost 76 officers, 31 JCOs and 996 other ranks. The wounded totalled 3152 including 81 officers and 107 JCOs. In addition to these casualties, Jammu and Kashmir State Forces lost approximately 1990 officers and men. The small Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) lost 32 personnel, including nine officers. The enemy casualties were definitely many times more than that of Indian Army. By one estimate, the enemy suffered 20,000 casualties, including 6000 killed. The gallantry and skill of all ranks of the Indian Army are amply borne out in the various accounts of these operations. The Army won five Param Vir Chakra, 47 Maha Vir Chakra and around 280 Vir Chakra.

Along with the men-in-uniform, civilians played a crucial role in liberating the Valley. Very few know that a washerman, Ram Chander, won Maha Vir Chakra for rescuing an officer wounded during an ambush and for shooting down several enemy troops in the process. It was this Indian spirit and valour that saved the Valley. The dedication and skill of the civilian pilots who flew to Srinagar in October 1947 matched with their counterparts in the Royal Indian Air Force. Thirtythree civil Dakotas were used for sorties, many of them even did a double trip to Srinagar on a single day.

On the night of October 27, when the savage raiders descended on Baramulla to pillage and plunder, St Joseph's Convent also bore the brunt of the attack. The brutally wounded and ailing personnel remaining in the hospital were evacuated to Rawalpindi by Miss Mumtaz Shah Nawaz, a member of the Pakistan Women's Voluntary Service and her assistants.

The legendary figure Mohammed Maqhool Sherwani played a pivotal role when the tribals of North-West Frontier ravaged the border town of Baramulla. Sherwani and his supporters had misled the enemy about the presence of Indian Army, which gave precious time to prepare the battleground at Shalateing. Sherwani was caught, nailed to a post through the forehead and chest and was brutally killed by a volley of 14 bullets.

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