It’s really hard to describe the bravery of our Indian Soldiers. Our Indian soldiers have set an example to the world, in the year 1962, during the Indo- Sina dispute.
The Indo- Sina battle is a lesser-known battle in the Indian war history, which the Indian Army never boasted about and the Chinese army never admitted. But the obvious signs like the ceasefire on the very next day and the topographical advantage the gallant Ahirs of Charlie Company of 13 Kumaon had provided testimony to the hell 120 Indians had unleashed on the Chinese.
Here is why we all must know about the Indo- Sina battle. The battle Rezang La is one such front in Ladakh sector of Jammu and Kashmir where 120 Indian Jawans led by a fear by fearless Major Shaitan Singh killed over 1200 Chinese within a battle of six hours or even less.
IndiaTimes met the 78-year-old Honorary Captain Ramchander Yadav and Havaldar Nihar Singh, who were among the six survivors of Rezang La War and tried to relive those six hours of action during that bone-chilling night of November 17-18.
Beginning of the battle:
“We landed at Rezang La, a three-kilometre long ridge facing the Chinese side on October 23. We were told to take the position there. Therefore, we started digging and made bunkers. We made the ridge battle ready by the first week of November. We knew Chinese will come since the radio bulletin would tell us daily that how easily Chinese ran over us in NEFA today known as Arunachal Pradesh,” told Ramchander who was the wireless operator of Charlie Company accompanying Major Shaitan Singh like his shadow.
On November 15, the Brigade headquarters located roughly five kilometres down the hill had asked them to vacate the post and retreat because the Chinese attack in other theatres was too fierce. But the gallant jawans refused to vacate when Major Shaitan Singh put this question before them.
Soldiers on position:
“We the 118 Ahirs led by a Rajput Major divided the Rezang La ridge into three positions and put nearly 40 soldiers each platoon and we gave them numbers 7, 8 and 9 which were stationed at the distance of a kilometre each,” added Nihal Singh who was handling Light Machine Gun (LMG) while showing scars of the wounds.
How the attack began:
While the Operational Post (OP which operates during the day) and Listening Post (LP which operates at night) of Indians were keeping a tap on Chinese movement in the area, the Indians knew that Chinese attack will take place.
The first attack, repulsed:
“It was roughly 3:45 am, the LP was out to listen to the Chinese movement when it gave information that 8 to 10 Chinese are doing Recce of the area near the position of Platoon 7, the LMG of Naik Hukum Singh silenced them,” recalled Ramchander who kept Major Shaitan Singh stationed at Platoon 8 informed about each development.
“This irked the Chinese and nearly 400 Chinese with artillery support at the back rushed toward platoon 7. But Naik Hukum Singh’s LMG filled the Nala or ditch between the Chinese and us with bodies of over 250 Chinese,” added Ramchander.
The Second attack:
By then the Chinese had realised it’s not going to be easy as it had been till now. The heavy bombardment was unleashed to destroy the positions occupied and kill as many soldiers as it could without exposing the Chinese soldiers to Indian LMGs. The heavy mortars destroyed the bunker of platoon 8 but luckily no one died, since it fell in vacant place.
The second attack came at 4:45, 8 platoon and despite heavy bombardment, no one was even injured. Chinese approached us and my LMG silenced nearly 150 Chinese,” added Nihal Singh.
The Chinese encircled all the three platoons:
Chinese had the advantage of numbers and if Ramchander and Nihal’s estimates are to be believed there were roughly 3 to 4 thousand Chinese taking on 120 Jawans.
“We were encircled by Chinese and knew that they will unleash the attack on all three platoon in one go. We too were ready because now there was no way out,” recalled Ramchander who maintained communication between three platoons.
But before unleashing an all-out attack, the Chinese once again tried to attack Platoon 7 and this time LMG didn’t let them even retreat. “I remember it as it was yesterday. It was 6:30 am and the platoon 7 LMG killed nearly 400 Chinese and the white snow carpet turned red,” added Ramchander.
And an all-out attack that turned the tide:
Heavy casualties frustrated the Chinese. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they witnessed Chinese soldier getting killed in heaps. They launched an all-out attack and they could do it because numbers for them didn’t issue at all. All three platoons got engaged in one go and soon the law of averages chipped in.
Hukum Singh at platoon 7 was hit by a bullet and he died. Nihal Singh was handling LMG at Platoon 9 received bullets in both his hands. He could do much later. “I was helpless, but still summoned my strength and dissembled the LMG and threw it parts so that enemy doesn’t use it. Suzaram too perished while Harphool was hit in the knee,” added Nihal Singh.
Major Shaitan Singh got hit:
“At 6:30 am Major Shaitan had received a shell in his shoulder. I tied a cloth there to stop bleeding. But when Harphool got injured, Major Sahab took his position and started firing. And there he got hit in the abdomen,” recalled Ramchander who was immediately asked by Major Singh to run to Brigade headquarter because he knew that people down there would never believe that 120 jawans killed many Chinese.
Sangram Singh and the hand to hand combat:
Soon Chinese entered the bunkers and a hand to hand battle ensued between the troops.“It all began with bayonet fight between us and the Chinese. But Chinese were wearing heavy clothes and bayonets wouldn’t pierce their clothing. Therefore we used the butt of the gun to hit the Chinese,” recalls Nihal Singh.
Sangram Singh, 6 feet tall soldier who was a wrestler too killed nearly 30-40 Chinese with his hands.
“He broke necks of many and smashed the heads of a few against the rock by lifting them like the sack of grain. The Chinese had to shoot him in his head. But they paid respect and put his helmet on his chest and his weapon near him show the respect for the slain soldier,” recalled Ramchander.
Major Shaitan Singh breathed last:
“It was over soon and I decided to take injured Major down. I lifted him and tried to get down the hill. After moving barely 50 feet downwards, I kept him down and watched time in his wristwatch. It was 8:15 am and suddenly the watch stopped. I knew Major was dead because his watch was pulse watch,” said Ramchander.
Ramchander left the body of Major there and made some marks and signs around it to identify the spot when he would return to collect the body later.
Nobody believed Ramchander:
It speculated by Major Shaitan Singh, none believed Ramchander and his story about the last stand of Rezang La where 120 gallant soldiers killed nearly 1300 troops of the enemy. Nevertheless, Ramchander was called for an inquiry in Army headquarters in Delhi in January. “When I narrated the story, they lambasted me, threatened me of court marshal. None believed that he could unleash a hell on Chinese,” recalled Ramchander.
But all cried when team went to Rezang La in February:
Chinese had collected their bodies the very next day. But Indians waited until February despite ceasefire on November 20. When they went at Rezang La, my narration of the events came before their eyes. Major Shaitan Singh’s body was there in the same position. Every soldier had the bullet in the chest, even Dharampal Dahiya, the Nursing Assistant who was there to help the injured soldiers. He had the bullet in the chest and an injection in his hand. All started cries in one go including our commander Brigadier TN Raina. The officer who had scolded me in Delhi cried the most,” added Raina.
After the inquiry got over, the Rezang La heroes got one Param Vir Chakra, five Vir Chakras, and four Sena medals
How a dog helped Nihal escape Chinese custody:
While Ramchander had managed to escape with Major Singh on his shoulder, Nihal Singh with bullet injuries was taken prisoner by Chinese. But there was a dog that became his saviour. “This dog accompanied us from base camp when we first landed here. We used to feed him with whatever we were eating which included meat at times. I was taken a prisoner and was kept hungry throughout the day. At night on November 18, he wanted to escape but had no direction to go. Then suddenly this dog appeared and I followed,” said ecstatic Nihal.
“We managed to pass the Chinese soldiers standing as guards at night. Hiding behind the stones that dog and I managed to find our way through the dark night and reached our base camp after 7 hours of walk. I was lucky that Chinese didn’t follow me perhaps they are apprehensive about a counter-attack which never happened.”
But the Ahirs still don’t have a regiment:
Ramchander and Nihal Singh tell their story with proud, yet their heart cries because despite literally turning the tide of the battle, the Ahirs don’t have any regiment for them
“We get inducted in Kumaon and some other regiments, but unlike Rajputs and the Jats, we don’t have a regiment dedicated to us. Are we any less brave? Time and again we have raised this demand, but it has always fallen on deaf ears,” said an emotional Ramchander while Nihal Singh was lost somewhere in his own thoughts.