Author Archives: kuldeepjha

A Militant-Turned Soldier Who Won Ashoka Chakra

In the early 90s, Nazir Ahmad Wani was a young boy who weaved Kashmiri carpets like an expert artisan for a monthly salary of few hundred rupees. Then, armed insurgency broke out in the Kashmir Valley and soon, like most of the villagers of this south Kashmir area, Nazir Ahmad Wani and his friends struggled to find work.

Nazir, instead of becoming a militant like many teenagers those days, joined a pro-government militia led by Javed Ahmad Shah, a notorious, government-backed commander of a private militia, in late 1994 out of his free will. It was the same time when three former militia groups merged and formed Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, a dreaded militia that evoked fear among people for their brazen and often deadly ways. The militia was created to break the back of the militancy. But in 2002, when Ikhwan was disbanded by the state government led by late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Nazir was among thousands of Kashmiri’s who struggled to find a livelihood. Two years later, he joined 162 Infantry Battalion of Territorial Army of Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry in 2004, like most of his friends.

The citation of the Medal read, “Since his enrolment in the Army, Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, SM, epitomised qualities of a fine soldier. He always volunteered for challenging missions, displaying great courage under adverse conditions, exposing himself to grave danger on numerous occasions in the line of duty. This is evident from the two gallantry awards conferred on him earlier.

Lance Naik Nazir, yet again insisted on being part of the assault team during Operation Batagund launched by 34 Rashtriya Rifles Battalion on 25 Nov 2018 post receipt of credible intelligence regarding presence of six heavily armed terrorists in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir. Tasked to block the most likely escape route, Lance Naik Nazir, moved swiftly with his team to the target house and tactically positioned himself within striking distance. Sensing danger, the terrorists attempted breaching the inner cordon firing indiscriminately and lobbing grenades. Undeterred by the situation, the NCO held ground and eliminated one terrorist in a fierce exchange at close range. The terrorist was later identified as a dreaded district commander of Lashker-e-Taiba.

Thereafter, displaying exemplary soldierly skills, Lance Naik Nazir closed in with the target house under heavy fire and lobbed grenades into a room where another terrorist was hiding. Seeing the foreign terrorist escaping from the window, the NCO encountered him in a hand to hand combat situation. Despite being severely wounded, Lance Naik Nazir eliminated the terrorist. Showing utter disregard to his injury, Lance Naik Nazir continued to engage the remaining terrorists with same ferocity and audacity. He injured yet another terrorist at close range, but was hit again and succumbed to his injuries. For displaying unparalleled bravery and supreme sacrifice in the line of duty, Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, SM is awarded “ASHOK CHAKRA (POSTHUMOUS)”. He is Kashmir’s first Ashok Chakra awardee.  It was love at first sight for Mahajabeen, wife of Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, when the two met at a school in South Kashmir around 15 years back. Nearly one-and-half months after Wani’s death, Mahajabeen, a teacher and mother of two, said, “His immense love for her and fearless persona are a source of motivation for her. “I did not cry when I was told he is no more. There was an inner resolve which did not allow me to cry,” she said after the government announced the Ashoka Chakra. “He always wanted to make his 162/TA Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry battalion proud. For him, duty was supreme. He was a source of inspiration for people in our area and community,” said Mahajabeen, who is in her late 30s. An army goodwill school in the Kashmir Valley was renamed “Shaheed Lance Naik AGS Wuzur” in memory of .Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani.

The Flight Attendant Who Sacrificed Her Life to Save 360 Lives

The day was 5th September 1986. The Pan Am Flight 73 was to depart from Karachi and fly to New York via Frakfurt. Neerja Bhanot was on board as the senior flight Attendant on Pan Am Flight 73 on that unfateful day. Four armed terrorists dressed as Karachi airport security guards boarded the aircraft at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. The plane was hijacked. When Neerja Bhanot tried to alert the cockpit crew, the terrorist held her by her ponytail. She still managed to shout out a warning through a secret code. The cockpit crew escaped at once, as per their mandate, so the aircraft couldn’t be flown forcibly.

The terrorists threatened to shoot Rajesh Kumar, a passenger on the flight, if the cockpit crew wasn’t brought back to the aircraft in the next 15 minutes. Rajesh was shot dead, and his body thrown out of the plane. The cockpit crew was gone and the only person who could have saved the day was Neerja. She took charge and fought on, not for herself but for the 360 people trapped inside the aircraft. The terrorists held the cabin crew at gunpoint and ordered them to collect passports of the passengers. Knowing they’d shoot the Americans among them, Neerja swiftly hid their passports, even disposed some off the rubbish chute. There were 41 Americans on board, only two died.

Seventeen hours later, the terrorists opened fire. They were armed with assault rifles, pistols, grenades, and plastic explosive belts. Neerja Bhanot put aside all fears and took charge. She used her presence of mind to get to the emergency exit. She stayed on the plane to help passengers escape, even though she could have been the first to leave.  She opened the emergency exit and helped the passengers evacuate the aircraft. She was shot to death while protecting three children. She took a bullet to protect other people. Twenty people died in that hijack. Neerja died so that 360 others could live, in no small part due to the actions of a 22-year-old flight attendant who chose compassion over cowardice and performed her duty till the very end.

For her actions on the day of the hijacking, Neerja Bhanot was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra. Even the Pakistan government bestowed her he Tamgha-e-Insaniyat Award for showing incredible kindness. She also posthumously received multiple awards for her courage from the United States government. A commemorative stamp was released in honour of Neerja. Visibly moved, her mother recounted the memories of her daughter, “I was scared when she did the hijacking course. I even told her to leave her job as I felt it was too dangerous for her. She told me that if all mothers were like me, what would be the fate of this country. When I came to know that her plane had been hijacked, I knew she would not come back. During her short life she managed to give us what not many children can give their parents, the privilege of being able to hold our heads high with pride. Today we are known as Neerja’s parents and we are proud of her.” Neerja Bhanot’s family suffered an unbearable loss when they lost their only daughter. Despite their irreplaceable loss, her parents, Rama and Harish Bhanot, soldiered on, and even found a fitting way to honour Neerja’s memory. With the insurance money that they received after her death and an equal contribution from Pan Am, they set up the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust. Through the Trust, they present two awards of Rs. 1,50,000 every year – one to an Indian woman who faces social injustice but overcomes it and helps other women in similar situations, and one to honour an airline crew member who acts beyond the call of duty. There could hardly have been a better way to keep Neerja’s memory alive.

The General Who Chopped Off Own Leg During Indo-Pak War

Several extraordinary war tales have undoubtedly emerged from the battle of Sylhet; from both the Indian and Bangladeshi fronts. However, nothing will come close to the bravado of Major General Ian Cardozo, who amputated his own leg after stepping on a landmine.

The year was 1971 and India was waging war with Pakistan to help expedite the liberation of Bangladesh. Cardozo was a Major at that time enrolled in a course at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, Tamil Nadu. Following the death of the officer who was the second-in-command of the battalion 4/5 Gorkha Rifles deployed in what was then East Pakistan, an immediate replacement was to be found, and the concerned officials zeroed in on Major Cardozo. His posting was cancelled, and he was ordered to leave immediately to East Pakistan. His timely arrival was of immense help to the battalion, which was severely short on manpower. Through a swift military offensive that lasted only 13 days, India successfully defeated Pakistan and liberated Bangladesh. In fact, the battalion of only 480 men charted history when they accepted the surrender of about 1,500 men that included three Brigadiers, a full Colonel, 107 officers, 219 Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO), and 7,000 troops from the Pakistan Army!

After the fall of Dhaka, when the Indian Army was rounding up the prisoners of war (POWs), Major Cardozo, who had gone to help the BSF commander in charge of the count, met with an accident that would change his life forever—he stepped on a landmine, and lost most of his leg in the resulting blast. A part of his leg which had remained attached to his body could not be amputated surgically because due to the extensive war wreckage, no form of medical anaesthesia or surgical equipment was available.

Recounting the days of the 1971 war, Cardozo said, “During the Battle of Sylhet my battalion undertook the first heli-borne operation right inside Pakistan. We went about a hundred kilometers behind the enemy defences and captured an airfield. We were told that we would be linked up within 48 hours, but we were not linked up for nine days. So we were without food or water. We had carried more ammunition than food and blankets, so we had a bit of a tough time. The enemy artillery destroyed the MI Room and all the medicines with it. The MI Room is a place where casualties are kept. Thus when I got wounded there were no antibiotics, no pain killers and there was nothing to amputate the leg. So when the doctor took his time finding a suitable instrument, I decided to do something. I belong to the Gurkhas. We carry a knife called the Khukri. It’s a 14-inch blade which is curved. Basically it is used to chop off the enemy’s head, and we did quite a lot of damage with that in the first two attacks. I first asked my Jawan to cut my leg off but he was hesitant. So I said: “give it to me” and I cut off my own leg.”

This incident would have meant the end of field duty for any other officer, but Major Cardozo was not going to be demoted to staff duty, and allow the impairment take control of his life. He valiantly fought for the commander’s position and even surpassed the ‘two-legged’ officers during the intense physical fitness examination. History was created when he went to become the first war-disabled Army officer to command not just a battalion but also a brigade, composed of three to six battalions plus supporting elements. And it wasn’t a cakewalk. Despite acing the fitness test, the medical officers didn’t clear Major Cardozo, so he took his case to General Tapishwar Raina, the then Chief of Army Staff. Impressed by Cardozo’s resilience, the General asked him to accompany him to Ladakh. Upon observing that Major Cardozo could easily walk through the sturdy mountains with the snow hardly affecting him, the General personally recommended that the Major command a battalion. The incident repeated itself when Major Cardozo motioned for the brigade commander’s position, and emerged victorious once again. Maj. Gen. Ian Cardozo who was decorated with an Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) for “distinguished service of an exceptional order” and Sena Medal (SM) ‘for individual acts of exceptional to duty or courage’ has been able to do many things in life, which many others can’t dream of – just because he did not give up and bashed on regardless. After retirement, Major General Cardozo served as the Chairman of Rehabilitation Council of India from 2005 to 2011. The 82-year-old currently resides in New Delhi with his wife and `three sons.

The Commando who Fought Terrorists Despite 4 Bullet Wounds

When Marine Commando Praveen Kumar Teotia battled against terrorists during the 26/11 terror attack at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai in 2008, he knew that he was tackling some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. And he paid a high price for his bravery. Narrating the horrific incident, Praveen Kumar said:

“I was asked to take charge and was told that this was a golden chance for the MARCOS team to gun down terrorists who had ventured into our territory.” They took a blind entry into the Taj hotel where he witnessed blood spots and shattered glass everywhere in the lobby.

“I took my position near the heritage wing.I later entered the chamber hall on the second floor. I opened a door, it was pitch dark. My team then said to me that now we do not know how big is the room and how many people are there inside it. If we bring four more people then we could carry out the rescue operation in a much better manner. Since I had just entered the room, my eyes took a little bit of time to get used to the darkness. The terrorists, however, were already aware of every object in that room and they could see me standing easily. A while later, I saw a flash and I realised that I had been shot with an AK-47. I pressed the trigger and fired 3 to 4 rounds at them.”

Teotia fell to the ground and a stream of hot blood flowed down his neck. His entire team had fallen back and he was the only one left in that room. He regained his consciousness and tried to divert his pain. “I later started looking for a safe spot and I found out that there was a little space between the sofa and the wall where I could take cover. I lost a chunk of my ear due to the aim of firing but since I had taken cover, the firing that would take place from now on will all be random firing.”

“I threw a grenade at the place from where I was shot at and counted until ten. Two sound clicks had told me that I had thrown the grenade at the right place. However, the grenade which should have exploded at the count of seven didn’t.” The first team stationed outside the room thought that Teotia had been killed and they threw a tear gas shell inside the hall which landed just beside him. He started feeling suffocated and tears flowed down his cheeks. “I understood that now my chances of leaving this room alive are very slim.”

Teotia had two plans. PLAN A: Die sitting in the room from asphyxiation. PLAN B: Face the enemy! Teotia decided to face the enemy and exposed himself to the terrorists. In the firing that took place, he took four bullets. One went right through his chest breaking four ribs of his right lung. Another went through his bulletproof collar, one bullet cut through his bulletproof plate and the other ricocheted off a wall onto his heart. However, Teotia was successful in injuring one terrorist and keeping them engaged as his team got ready outside of the room. “I was successful in keeping the terrorists engaged as my team rescued 150 people from the adjoining hall. We also recovered a bag from the terrorists which had 500 AK-47 rounds, 16 hand grenades, dry fruits and their currency. I was awarded the Shaurya Chakra for my contribution to the nation.”

However, Teotia’s real battle had just started. Praveen was discharged from hospital after five surgeries. He was left with a gunshot wound to the right chest and a damaged left ear. As a result, his hearing was partially impaired. He is the only lung damage survivor in the world and his survival is considered a miracle for medical science. Even today, he has multiple bullet splinters of all sizes, from his chest to his liver. Praveen decided not to give up. He started running, swimming, cycling and went on to win the prestigious Ironman Triathlon Championship in April 2018 in South Africa, which involves 3.86km swim, a 180.25km bicycle ride and a 42.2km running. He completed the race in 14 hours, 19 minutes and 38 seconds. In 2017, Teotia conquered the Khardung La Challenge, which is a 72-km marathon in Ladakh and arguably one of the toughest marathons in the world.

A few months back, Praveen Kumar auctioned his gold medals that were won in Tata Mumbai marathon in order to raise money for the PM Cares relief fund.

The Brigadier Who Defied Enemy Tanks in 1971 War

Compiled By: Shri Ramakrishna Prasad

The famous battle of Longewala (1971) was one of the first major engagements in the western sector during the Indo-Pak war of 1971, fought between assaulting Pakistani forces and Indian defenders at the Indian border post of Longewala in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. A company of the Indian Army’s 23rd battalion, Punjab Regiment, commanded by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri with just 120 men against a full-fledged attack by advancing Pakistani Patton tanks and over 2,000 soldiers, was left with the choice of either attempting to hold out until reinforced, or fleeing on foot from Pakistani force. Choosing the former, Chandpuri ensured that all his assets were correctly deployed, and made the most use of his strong defensive position, and weaknesses created by errors in enemy tactics. When the operation ended, 22 Pakistani tanks had been destroyed.

He was decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) for the heroic stand-off that forced the enemy to retreat.

The MVC citation read: “Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was commanding a company of the Punjab Regiment occupying a defended locality in the Rajasthan Sector. On the 5th December 1971, in the early hours of the morning the enemy launched a massive attack on this locality with infantry and tanks. Major Chandpuri exhibited dynamic leadership in holding his command intact and steadfast.”

“Showing exceptional courage and determination, he inspired his men moving from bunker to bunker, encouraging them in beating back the enemy till reinforcements arrived. In this heroic defence, he inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy and forced them to retreat leaving behind twelve tanks.

“In this action, Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri displayed conspicuous gallantry, inspiring leadership and exceptional devotion to duty in keeping with the highest traditions of the Indian Army.” 

The feat of Brig. Chandpuri and his men later became celluloid history through the J.P. Dutta-directed Bollywood blockbuster “Border” which was released in 1997. His action-packed role was played by actor Sunny Deol.

Brig. Chandpuri was a third generation officer in the Indian army. Born in 1940 at Montgomery, Punjab in undivided India, his family settled into their native village, Chandpur Rurki in Balachaur. He graduated from the Government College in Hoshiarpur in 1962. Thereafter, he joined the Indian Army. He passed out of the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai, in 1963 and was commissioned into the 23rd Battalion of the Punjab Regiment. Apart from displaying his grit in the 1971 Battle of Longewala, he had also fought the 1965 war in the western sector. In addition he also served in the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) at Gaza in Egypt for a year. He was also honoured on the board of The War Decorated India, an association of gallantry awardees and nominated as a councillor in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation. His heroic life came to end on 17th November 2018.