Category Archives: Inspiration

Meghalaya’s Kargil martyr Lt. Keishing Clifford Nongrum

On July 26, 1999, the Indian Armed Forces won a gritty and decisive war against Pakistan. In the ferocious battle, many brave young soldiers laid down their lives defending their nation on the inhospitable battlefield of Kargil. It’s been more than twentye years since then, but the unparalleled bravery and sacrifice of Kargil brave hearts are still etched in the collective memory of the country. However, few people know about Lieutenant Keishing Clifford Nongrum and his act of extraordinary courage that was responsible for giving the Indian army a crucial edge in the Kargil war.

Lieutenant Keishing Clifford Nongrum (Shillong, Meghalaya) was just 24 when the Kargil war begun. In the war, his battalion (12 JAK Light Infantry) was posted at the Batalik Sector. On the night of June 30, 1999, Lt Nongrum’s unit was given the responsibility of securing Point 4812, a peak whose strategic location made it a top priority for the army. In this operation, Lieutenant Keishing Clifford Nongrum was assigned the task of executing the assault on the cliff feature of Point 4812. Climbing the vertical peak from the south eastern direction was nearly impossible, but Lt Nongrum and his determined platoon took up the challenge. They steadily and stealthily clambered up the steep slopes to reach the enemy bunkers at the top.

On the peak, Pakistani infiltrators had entrenched themselves in interconnected bunkers carved out of boulders. This had made them immune to even artillery fire. As a result, on completing their ascent, Lt Nongrum and his battalion had to face strong enemy opposition in the form of heavy mortar and automatic machine gun fire.

Pinned down for about two hours by the heavy and consistent firing, Lt Nongrum decided to do something that would turn the tide for his platoon. With utter disregard for his personal safety, he charged through the fire zone, firing and lobbing grenades at the enemy bunkers. His grenades killed six enemy soldiers holed up in the bunkers, but while throwing them, Lt Nongrum was hit by several bullets.

Severely injured, Lt Nongrum continued to fight hand-to-hand (he was a boxer too) with the Pakistani soldiers in an attempt to snatch the machine gun in the remaining bunker. In a supreme sacrifice, he chose to fight till his last breath and refused to be rescued. He kept fighting valiantly till he finally succumbed to his injuries on the battlefield.

This extraordinarily brave move of Lt Nongrum stunned the enemy, giving valuable time to his troops who closed in to finally clear the position. Thanks to Lt Nongrum and his team, the Indian Army had finally captured Point 4812. For his selflessness, dogged determination and raw courage in the face of the enemy, Lt Keishing Clifford Nongrum was posthumously awarded the Nation’s second highest wartime gallantry award, Maha Vir Chakra, on August 15, 1999. In 2011, Lt Nongrum’s father, Peter Keishing, made a personal pilgrimage to the spot where his son had single-handedly killed six enemy soldiers before breathing his last. He came back deeply moved and proud of his son who had made the supreme sacrifice in the service of his nation.

Air Marshal Randhir Singh: One Of IAF’s Oldest War Heroes

He was one of the oldest surviving officers of the Indian Air Force with his service dating back to the epoch of pre-independence; one who had contributed to the Second World War, the First Kashmir War of 1948, the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971. In newly independent India, Air Marshal Randhir Singh (retd) was awarded the third highest gallantry award – the Vir Chakra.

Months after the freedom fighters launched the Quit India Movement, a young Randhir Singh was commissioned into the erstwhile Royal Indian Air Force, as part of the 15th Course. The day was December 21, 1942. He was first deployed as a Pilot Officer in No 3 Squadron to Kohat (now in Pakistan) in 1943, the North West Frontier Province. Here, he met the erstwhile Flight Lieutenant, late Air Marshal Arjan Singh.

At the time of partition, Randhir was a young flight lieutenant at the Risalpura air base, Naushera, near Peshawar (present Pakistan). Like most of his counterparts, he too was asked to choose between the Pakistani or Indian Air Force. In an interview with The Times of India, he had said, “I, along with 21 other Air Force officers deployed in our airbase opted to go with the IAF.”

Days before the celebrations of Independence on August 15, 1947, a few officers including Randhir Singh were asked to shift their 12-aircraft Tempest fleet to Palam air base near Delhi. And as the tricolour waved on the morning of August 15, declaring independence, Flight Commander Randhir Singh became a part of the first fly-past of RIAF aircraft over the Red Fort in New Delhi under the leadership of wing commander and acting group captain, Arjan Singh.

During the Jammu and Kashmir operations in 1947, as a No 7 Squadron Flight Lieutenant, he flew for 185 hours in the Tempest aircraft attacking Pakistani intruders, even as the enemy continued to fire. This earned him a Vir Chakra for his display of valour and courage.

According to an Indian Express report, equipped with the newly-inducted Electric Canberra as the Commanding Officer of 106 Squadron, he excelled in the strategic reconnaissance role and detected Chinese troop movements in Tibet, leading to the 1962 war.

He revealed how proud he was of his achievement during the time he was deployed as an Air Commodore during the Indo-Pak War of 1971. He commanded the Adampur air base in defensive and offensive operations. Due to his well-planned and strong defence, the Pakistani Air Force could not attack the air base.  “Instead, the IAF squadrons on the base were successful in flying maximum attacking sorties in the western theatre of the war,” said Singh.He was honoured with the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and Param Vishisht Seva Medal for his contribution to the 1965 and 1971 wars. Air Marshal Randhir Singh retired in April 1978 and settled down in Chandigarh. After a prolonged illness, at the age of 97, the war hero breathed his last on September 18, 2018.

Col Santosh Mahadik Laid down Life Bravely Fighting Terrorists

Colonel Santosh Mahadik was born on 15th January 1977 in Pogarwadi in the city of Satara in Maharashtra. Son of a dairy farmer, Col Mahadik grew up to be a keen sportsman and was a champion boxer, goalkeeper, and runner. He completed his education in Sainik School, Satara in Maharashtra and later went on to join the Indian Army in December 1998. In the Army, he got trained in various disciplines and became a very adept paratrooper and combat underwater diver too.

Col Mahadik volunteered for the para training and got trained as a para-commando. He then served in the 21 Battalion (Parachute Regiment) as part of special forces known for its daredevil operations. As an officer of the elite 21 Para-Special Forces unit, Col Mahadik led many successful operations against militants in their hideouts in Jammu and Kashmir and in the northeast for over a decade. He was awarded the Sena Medal in 2003 for his bravery and leadership in counter-terrorist operations, during Operation Rhino in Lolab Valley in Kupwara. In the later part of his service career, Col Mahadik took over as commanding officer of 41 RR unit deployed in J & K for anti-insurgency operations.

During 2015, Col Santosh Mahadik as Commanding Officer of the 41 Rashtriya Rifles was engaged in anti-terrorist operations in the militancy infected Kupwara area of J & K. The 41 RR was deployed in the Kalaroos area and was also the garrison guard for Kupwara town. Under the operational command of the Trehgam-headquartered 68 Mountain Brigade, the battalion provided the security cover against the militants sneaking from across the border. Col Mahadik was a leader par excellence and always led from the front. On 13th November, he led an operation in the forests of Haji Naka in the Kupwara district near the Line of Control. The Kupwara operation was particularly challenging because of the inhospitable terrain, but Col Mahadik chose to personally lead his men in the operation.

It was believed that terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba were active in the region. For a week, the terrorists, who had crossed the border, had been hiding in the Manigah forest. On 17th November, another operation was launched led by Col Mahadik himself to foil the attempt of the terrorists to infiltrate. During the combing operation the suspected infiltrators were spotted and on being challenged they opened fire at the troops. A fierce gun battle ensued with heavy exchange of fire from both sides. During the operation Col Mahadik got shot in the chest was critically injured. Gravely wounded, he was rushed to a military hospital in Durgmulla where he succumbed to his injuries. Col Mahadik was martyred but his bravery, indomitable spirit, and leadership were truly inspirational. He was conferred the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peace time gallantry award for his valour and self-sacrifice.

 Besides being a brave soldier that he was, he was also an intellectual who wished more than anything to revive the natural beauty of Kupwara and revive tourism. He reconstructed old monuments and organized football and cricket matches to build bridges with the local community. He felt revival of tourism was the way, the youth could be given employment and diverted from radicalization. He would personally counsel ex-militants and show them the path to a new life.Colonel Santosh Mahadik is survived by his wife and two children. He had told his wife Swati not to wear any white cloth if he attains martyrdom in the line of duty but to adorn herself with olive green uniform he wore till his last. As a tribute to her hero husband, she set out to join the army herself. She successfully cleared the SSB (Service Selection Board) exam and joined the Officers Training Academy in Chennai, where she trained for 11 months before joining the service as Lieutenant in 2017.

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.