The way JASWANT SINGH RAWAT ensure his place in history
How much time does it take one to ensure his or her place in history and catapult to everlasting fame. Well, a difficult question to answer, I suppose! 15 minutes! Yes, that is all the time it took in the case of the person, I am talking to you about, where providence took him out of relative obscurity and skyrocketed him into everlasting fame-deeply etched in our memory.
Friends, allow me to take you into flashback – 54 years back to be precise.
The year is 1962 and the date is 17 November. The place is 10 Kms North-West of the formidable Sela Pass in the rugged mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. The person here is a young man of eighteen, who has been in military service for over a year. His name is Rifleman (Rfn) Jaswant Singh Rawat.
Hailing from the Garhwal region, Jaswant Singh Rawat was the eldest of four sons of Guman Singh Rawat and Leela Devi. He had joined the 4thBattalion of the Garhwal Rifles Regiment of the Indian Army in 1961.
Little did Rfn Jaswant Singh and his two fellow soldiers – Lance Naik (L/Nk)Trilok Singh Negi and Rfn Gopal Singh Gusain know that they were going to create history through their sheer undaunted courage. Achieving everlasting fame may have been the last thing on their minds on the morning of 17 November 1962 when the three volunteered to destroy a Medium Machine Gun (MMG) of the Chinese, which with its relentless volley of bullets was creating havoc on the Indian position. All they wanted was to successfully complete this perilous mission.
To put things in perspective, 4 Garhwal Rifles which had been fighting a series of skirmishes and battles since the beginning of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, had taken up defences in the heavily wooded and treacherous slopes of the sharply rising mountains at Nuranang – about 10 Kms North-West of Sela Pass. Having decided to give a bloody nose to the advancing Chinese, the indomitable Garhwalis dug down, and created a strong defensive system with whatever limited resources they could muster. At 0500h on 17 November, as the dawn was breaking out, the Chinese launched their first attack of the day – their fronts-men, dressed as Monpas, the local tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. They rained heavy mortar bombs on the defenders, simultaneously spraying lethal bullets from automatic weapons – MMGs & LMGs (Light Machine Guns). The trained Garhwali marksmen took them on with cool resolute courage and the attack was beaten back within half an hour.
The Chinese launched another attack – this time more vicious than the previous. This too was beaten back with the Garhwalis allowing the enemy to come close & than blowing them to smithereens – lobbing hand grenades. Not short of expendable manpower, the Chinese launched yet another attack – third one of the day – this time more determined and more vicious. Using relentless fire, the Chinese managed to bring an MMG very close – within 30-40 meters of the Indian forward defences and started spraying a volley of lethal bullets on the Garhwalis’ bunkers. It was under this situation that 2/Lt S N Tandon, the Company Commander asked for volunteers to destroy the Chinese MMG. With bullets zipping by, Jaswant Singh alongwith his two comrade-in-arms started crawling towards the MMG. Making use of the nooks, crevices and folds on the mountain slopes, they reached a tiny mound – just 15 yards away from the enemy MMG. Here, as L/Nk Trilok Singh covered with his sten-gun fire, Jaswant Singh and Gopal Singh lobbed grenades on the enemy MMG. Springing to their feet, they charged on to the MMG position – killing the two Chinese soldiers and snatching the MMG from the third who was wounded. Not wasting another moment, the trio started crawling back towards their trenches. The enemy noticing their now silenced MMG, opened up a heavy volley of fire from their other weapons on the trio. Almost within reach of the safety of their trenches, a hail of bullets from enemy automatics riddled Trilok Singh while another bullet pierced the head of Jaswant Singh. He collapsed, but continued to tightly clutch the captured Chinese MMG in his hand. Seeing his buddies succumbing to their injuries, Gopal Singh, also wounded, and the lone survivor of the trio, managed to crawl back to the trench, dragging the enemy MMG: Their mission was accomplished.
The entire action took just 15 minutes but the unflinching courage of these men changed the course of the battle. The Garhwalis coolly and resolutely broke up waves of enemy assaults, deftly employing their depleted resources – firing their rifles and automatic weapons, lobbing grenades from open trenches, and showering a hail of mortar bombs.
By four in the evening as the shadows started lengthening, the Chinese finally gave up and withdrew. The battlefield lay strewn with almost 300 Chinese – dead or wounded while the Garhwalis had suffered two dead and eight wounded. The myth of Chinese invincibility had been blown.
Jaswant Singh alongwith his comrade-in-arms Trilok Singh achieved martyrdom on 17 November exactly 54 years back. Little did they probably know then, that they would be sowing the seeds of a legend through their undaunted courage and going beyond the call of duty. Legendary stories abound – how Jaswant Singh single handedly fought the Chinese attackers supported by two local Monpa girls Nura and Sela who worked as porters, holding them at bay for three days. It was only after three days the Chinese realised the post was being held by a lone Indian soldier and captured it.
Legendary stories are far more impressive and have a powerful effect on the people. I don’t know how the legend of Jaswant Singh was born and have no intention of shattering it. After all, the place where he fought was named after him – Jaswant Garh and a memorial built to honour him. Now I gather a film is also planned to be made to immortalize him on screen.
As one descends from the Sela Pass and negotiates two sharp hair pin loops on the narrow road, s(he) is face to face with the Jaswant Garh memorial. The Bronze Bust of Jaswant Singh stands guard at the entrance of the memorial and his belongings including a well made bed for him are laid inside with respect and devotion. The visiting tourists are welcomed with a hot cup of tea and snacks by the Indian Army Jawans, who are then taken on a tour of an actual battle field still replete with its bunkers, trenches and command posts.
Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat was awarded the `Mahavir Chakra (MVC)’ and L/NkTrilok Singh Negi and Rifleman Gopal Singh Gusain were awarded the `Vir Chakra’ each for their conspicuous acts of gallantry. 4 Garhwal Rifles received the Battle Honour – Nuranang – the only one given for operations in erstwhile NEFA in the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962.