03, November 2017, came and went with most Indians going through routine chores. Few would have paused to reflect on the significance of the day for the country.
It was on this day the Major Somnath Sharma, an officer of 4 Kumaon of the Indian Army created history, in 1947, by stalling the Pakistan tribal invasion in Srinagar in the historic Battle of Budgam. Major Somnath Sharma laid down his life in the battle under such heroic circumstances that he was awarded the first Param Vir Chakra (PVC) in independent India.
The Battle of Budgam was the harbinger of a ruthless war. It lasted over two campaigning seasons (1947-48) and resulted in the rout of the tribal and regular forces sent by Pakistan to forcibly wrest from India the state of Jammu and Kashmir that had legally acceded to the Indian Dominion.
The war witnessed award of four more PVCs and many other gallantry awards to the brave Indian soldiers who fought against terrible odds. The brave recipients were Lance Naik Karam Singh, 1 Sikh, in the Battle of Tithwal, Second Lieutenant Rama Raghoba Rane, Corps of Engineers for the Battle of Jhangar and Naushera. Naik Jadunath Singh, 1 Rajput, for the defense of Naushera and Company Havildar Major Piru Singh, 6 Rajputana Rifles, for the Battle of Tithwal.
Also part of folklore is the bravery of Brigadier Rajendra Singh, Chief of Staff of the Jammu and Kashmir State Forces, who obeyed in letter and spirit and with his life the command of his Maharaja to hold the “enemy at Uri at all costs and to the last man.” Brigadier Rajendra Singh was the recipient of the first Maha Vir Chakra of independent India.
Any talk of bravery and courageous tenacity exhibited during the war would be incomplete without mention of Brigadier Mohammad Usman. At the time of partition he, like many other Muslim officers, declined to move to the Pakistan and continued to serve the Indian Army. Brigadier Usman was given the bait of becoming the Pakistan Army Chief, but he did not relent from his spirit of nationalism.
He was in command of 50 Parachute Brigade during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947-48 and deployed in the Nowshera-Jhangar sector. For his feats of valour and defence of Nowshera he was nicknamed “Lion of Nowshera.” Jhangar fell to insurmountable odds to the Pakistani attack. Brigadier Usman vowed to take back the strategic location and did so within a period of three months.
He died on July 3, 1948 due to Artillery fire while defending Jhangar. He was awarded Maha Vir Chakra Posthumously and became the highest ranking Indian officer to have received this award during the war. His funeral was attended by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his cabinet colleagues.
It merits mention here that the Indian Army fought the war in Jammu and Kashmir with full support of the local population inclusive of the Muslims, Dogra’s, Sikhs, Buddhists, Paharis and the many other communities who form part of the state. There was not even an inkling of separatist tendencies in that period of time.
Before the Indian army landed in Srinagar and opposed the tribal onslaught, the invading hordes had laid waste every living being that came their way. It was, however, in Baramulla that they surpassed all tenets of inhumanity. Baramulla was pillaged for four days. The men and children were tortured and killed while the women were raped and carried back as sex slaves. Even the Nuns of the Convent there were not spared; they were raped and killed ruthlessly.
The Kashmir Pundit community was identified for special treatment involving the most depraved form of torture and cruelty possible. Whole families committed mass suicide in the face of this brutal and merciless onslaught by jumping from rooftops or throwing themselves into the running waters of the Jhelum River.
Even under such terrible conditions, the human spirit prevailed. A 19-year-old boy, Maqbool Sherwani, went about on a cycle spreading a message that the Indian army was on the doors of Baramulla. This information stalled the march to Srinagar and literally saved the city from a fate even worse than that of Baramulla. When the Pakistanis realised that young Maqbool had misled them, they shot and crucified him. The young boy, with his courage and presence of mind, etched a place for himself in history for all times.
The Indian troops who fought the war had only the safety and security of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in mind. They did not know or care about how politics would play out in the long run. Their only concern was to ensure that the barbarians were thrown out in the shortest possible time without causing any further damage. In this they were singularly successful, but not without paying a heavy price including loss of lives of many soldiers.
If the Indian Army had not reacted the way it did, Srinagar would have been a huge, desolate graveyard and the history of the Kashmir valley would have changed forever. The people at that time were full of praise for the Indian forces as they are even today, except for a few anti-national elements.
Against this backdrop of courage and bravery that went into saving the state of Jammu and Kashmir, it is very unfortunate to see some vested interests distorting history and belittling the sacrifices of the brave soldiers and the many civilians brutally killed by the invading hordes.
The cult of separatism, divisiveness, and distortion that is being propagated by a minuscule segment of Kashmiri society is a blot on the face of the syncretic communities that constitute the state. It disrespects the great sacrifices made by the previous generations of the state to create a life for their off-springs in the democratic environment of the Indian Union.
It is necessary for the present generation to live up to the ideals that their forefathers and ensure that the sacrifices made do not go in vain.