Mon, Dec 5, 2016 | updated 10:10 PM IST

Remembering the Battle of Rezang La

Updated: Nov 22, 2016 08:49 IST

By I. Ramamohan Rao

New Delhi, Nov.22 (ANI) The Kumaon Regiment observed the anniversary of the Battle of Rezangla during the week-end.

My thoughts go back to the year 1963 when, I had the opportunity to cover the inauguration of a war memorial constructed in honor of the jawans of the Charlie Company of the 13th battalion of the Kumaon Regiment, which was led by Major Shaitan Singh, who held the Rezang La feature overlooking Chushul literally to the last man and the last round.

While people knew of the reverses the country suffered in the Eastern Sector, not much was known about the brave resistance put up by the Indian Army in Ladakh. The jawans of the Kumaon Regiment held their ground at Rezang La and stopped the progress of the Chinese towards Chushul.

The Chinese Army carried out a massive assault on November 18 at Rezang La, which is located at a height of 5,180 meters after an artillery barrage. The Kumaon Regiment only had mortars to respond. They decided to respond to the attack the Chinese Army with their rifles and with their war cry "Dada Kishan Ki Jai'.

Only nine jawans of the Company of 118 survived. Major Shaitan Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously.

Asked to cover the function, I flew to Leh from Jammu where I was posted and proceeded by road to Chushul. It took me two days to reach Chushul by jeep from Leh. I had to travel along the banks of the River Indus and turn westwards from Dungti towards Pangong Lake.

After resting the night at Chushul, I reached the site of the memorial an hour earlier to cover the inaugural ceremony. Going around, I noticed the cover of a candy box with a picture of Lord Krishna on the barbed wire of the memorial.

The Junior Commissioned Officer who was in charge of the location mentioned to me that all the soldiers of the company were Ahirs who worshipped Lord Krishna. He told me that when he went to collect the bodies of the jawans, each one of them had either a rifle or a mortar. The cover of the candy box was in the hand of one soldier. He said the jawan must have taken the candy cover from his haversack to offer prayers in his last moments.

I took a picture of the candy cover with the memorial at the back with my Rolliflex camera. The memorial was inaugurated early in the morning by Major General Budh Singh, then GOC of the 3rd Division.

Following the inauguration, I requested Major General Budh Singh whether I could accompany him in his helicopter to Leh, as I wanted to go to Delhi to release the picture. He agreed.

In an hour we reached Leh. I boarded a C-130 cargo aircraft operated by the US Air Force between Delhi and Leh. By noon, I was at Delhi airport.

Those days we had to get the photographs taken in forward areas cleared by the military intelligence directorate before releasing them. The military intelligence officer refused to clear the picture, even though I told him that the site of the memorial was visible to the Chinese through their binoculars from their location near Rezang La.

I rushed to the Director of Public Relations, G.G. Mirchandani. He gave me the clearance to release it.

Next morning, the photograph got a front page display in almost all Delhi newspapers and outside.

I also got a call the next day from the Director of Military Intelligence. I was afraid that I , a young army captain, would be facing punishment. I was surprised when he complimented me and said that in future, if I had any problem, I could approach him.

And the next time I visited Leh, Major General Budh Singh invited me into his office, offered me a cup of tea, a rare honour for an army captain.

Incidentally, a suggestion to include the story of the battle has been made by Gaurav Sawant, whose father Brigadier Chittaranjan Sawant became a colleague and was in charge of the broadcasting section. The then Human Resources Develepment Minister promised to consider the request, but nothing seems to have happened. One hopes that the Government would take up the issue , which would be a honour to the Jawans who laid down their lives in the epic battle.

Mr. I.Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached on his e-mail: raoramamohan@hotmail.com. (ANI)