Thursday, November 26, 2020
 
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Are we really honoring Dogra martyrs?
Straight Talk



K.B. Jandial

Third November was the Balidan Divas of Maj. Somnath Sharma, first recipient of India’s highest gallantry award, Param Vir Chakra (posthumously). Commissioned in 19th Hyderabad Regiment (rechristened as 4th Kumaon Regiment of Indian Army) in 1942, he exhibited exceptional valour and leadership qualities, “seldom equaled in the history of Indian Arm” and laid down his life at the age of 25 years while defending Srinagar city and the Airport in 1947 Kashmir operations. He had committed: “I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to the last man and the last round." And that’s what he did and saved Srinagar Airport & State’s capital.



Another Balidan Divas was on 26th October. It was in the memory of another warrior-hero, Brig Rajinder Singh who too displayed exception courage and leadership qualities in stopping the marching columns of Pakistani invaders at Uri, Kashmir before Indian Forces landed. He was awarded country’s first Maha Vir Chakra (posthumously), second highest gallantry award. A rare feat for a Chief of the State Forces to fight from the front against the enemy , he fulfilled the command of the Maharaja Hari Singh by stopping the advancing columns of Pak invaders at Uri for five days “till the last bullet” in 1947. This feat, he achieved with hardly 100 gallant soldiers pitted against 6000 fully armed enemy.

Apart from identical exceptional gallantry and military leadership qualities, another commonality they had: both were proud Dogras who didn’t think for a second to lay down their lives in line of the service to the nation and thwarted the evil designs of Pakistan to grab J&K. The supreme sacrifice of both gallant Dogra warriors is a saga of bravery, leadership and unyielding fighting spirit that continue to inspire generations in the Army.

Maj. Somnath Sharma actually hailed from village Dadh, Kangra Himachal Pradesh but the family had lived in Jullaka Mohalla of Jammu also. His one the brothers, who rose to be Army Chief, Gen V. N Sharma, was married in Jammu to the daughter of Jammu’s leading surgeon, Dr. Barkat Ram. Maj. Somnath belonged to an army family. His father, Major General Amar Nath Sharma, was the Director, Army Medical Corps and his second brother, Lt. General Surinder Nath Sharma was Engineer-in-chief while his sister Major Kamla Tiwari was a Doctor in AMC.

Commissioned in the British Indian Army in 1942, Maj. Somnath fought in World War II and earned a ‘Mention in Dispatch’ for his act of courage.

After flown to Srinagar on J&K acceding to India, Maj. Somnath’s Company was ordered on 03 Nov 1947 to reach Badgam which was one of the routes through which Pakistani raiders were marching towards Srinagar. Overlooking his fractured arm, he insisted on being with his company in combat. A group of 700 raiders had approached Badgam from Gulmarg and soon surrounded his company from three sides. They came under heavy fire and mortar bombardment and sustained heavy casualties. Despite massively outnumbered seven to one, Maj. Sharma didn’t lower the defence knowing well that Badgam was very crucial and loss in their position would make Srinagar and the Airport vulnerable. The young Major kept motivating his men to fight bravely and started filling the magazines and giving these to light machine gunners, running from post to post. Keeping his nerve, he skillfully directed the fire of his section into the advancing enemy. He successfully laid out cloth air strips to guide Indian aircrafts onto their targets in full view of the enemy.

Moments before his martyrdom, he had flashed his last message to Brigade HQ: “The enemies are only 50 yards from us. We are heavily outnumbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to our last man and our last round”. A little later, a mortar shell exploded in the ammunition and he was martyred in the explosion occurred near him, but not before inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, estimated at 200. It slowed down enemy’s advance, giving enough time to Indian forces to block all routes to Srinagar. His leadership, gallantry and tenacious defence were such that his men were inspired to fight the enemy despite being outnumbered and as such played a pivotal role in preventing the fall of State’s capital, and perhaps, Kashmir.

Almost similar is the saga of bravery of Brig. Rajinder Singh who too laid down his life to stop the marching columns of Pakistani invaders at Uri. He too came from a military family of a village Bagoona, now named after him, in Samba district and had joined the State Forces in 1921 as 2nd Lt and rose to the rank of Brig in 1942. On the departure of Chief, Maj. Gen. Scots he was heading the Force and was to take the rank of Maj. Gen soon which unfortunately didn’t’ happen.

Amidst alarming reports of marching columns of Pakistani raiders, Brig Rajinder Singh with his handful gallant soldiers reached Uri, responding to the call of the Maharaja who had ordered under his signature, “I command Brig Rajinder Singh to hold the enemy at Uri at all costs and to the last man”. And he virtually did that. Despite his critical injuries in the operation, he continued to inspire his men to fight. He got Uri Bridge blown off that held back Pakistanis till 27th October when the reinforcement came. He is often called ‘Saviour of Kashmir’ and was awarded India’s first Maha Vir Chakra posthumously.

Right from the childhood, we are told about the famous couplet for all those who

sacrifice their lives for the nation and often repeated at the martyrdom of gallant

bravehearts:

Shaheedon Ki Chitaon Par Lagen Ge Har Baras Mele,

Watan Pe Mar Mitne Walon Ka Baakee Yahi Nishaan Hoga.



But does it actually happen? The events experienced in last over twenty years don’t support it. Having associated with Maj. Gen. Goverdhan Singh Jamwal (Retd) from late eighties to create awareness about Brig Rajinder Singh’s supreme sacrifice and his role in saving Kashmir, he has, by now, got public and Govt recognition to his martyrdom which other proud Dogra, Maj. Somnath regrettably still craving for. The sacrifice of both Dogras, one at his prime youth & the other at the level of Chief of the Force, is associated with J&K for 1947 operations.



Realisation of doing justice with their martyrdom even after several decades, like Jammu did for Maharaja Hari Singh, is still hugely welcome. Unlike Balidan Divas of Brig Rajinder Singh, Maj. Somnath’s martyrdom function had been on very low key, permit me to say, not befitting to the first PVC awardee. Very well attended Brig Rajinder Singh’s Balidan Divas function every year with participation of senior army, police, civil officers and civil society, a municipal park along the canal dedicated to his memory along with a chowk with imposing life size statue beautifully made by the noted sculptor, Ravinder Singh, naming of an auditorium in Jammu University and his native village after him, are the culmination of the sustained efforts of never aging Gen. Jamwal. Alas, Jammu could get another Gen Jamwal to do justice with Maj. Somnath Sharma’s martyrdom too.



President of Brahmin Sabha, Ved Parkash Sharma who is organising Maj. Somnath Sharma Balidan Divas for last six seven years, has demanded a life-size statue of PVC awardee at Srinagar Airport entrance, replacing his bust. But is this enough? He deserved much more, at least on two counts: being Dogra and first awardee of India’s highest gallantry award.



One wonders why Jammu lacks vision, political will, commitment to Jammu cause and respect for Dogra heroes? Just to make a point, when Maharaja Hari Singh was sent to forced exile to Bombay under a conspiracy while other Rulers were made Rajparmukh, there was shamefully hardly any uproar in Jammu. On the other hand, Sheikh Abdullah rewarded those who used their influence to prevent even protest statements, by nominating at least one of them as Member Parliament.



It is, indeed, very heartening to see that at last, Jammu has woken up to Dogra hero, Maharaja Hari Singh after about 60 years of his forced exile and now reinvented him. Newspapers are flooded with articles on his birthday listing his good work besides organising well attended public functions besides two statues, one with beautiful park. Similarly, the memory of Brig. Rajinder Singh has been revived and the people now respect his valour and sacrifice. Nothing of the sort is witnessed about Maj. Somnath. Why can’t JMC name one Chowk after him and also put his statue?



Jammu needs to rise above sectarian loyalties and set up an impressive all inclusive Balidan Museum to honour befittingly all J&K gallant awardees including Defence services, Police, Central Para Military Force, listing their saga of bravery etc. Apart from Brig. Unman, Shaheed Maqbool Sherwani and Sikh martyrs of Beerwah, Khag too can be considered.



Jammu Municipal Corporation should take the initiative for it, alone or in collaboration with JDA. This activity falls in its mandate and should seriously consider it. The State Council for Educational Research and Training should be asked to include appropriately the authenticate account of these Dogra heroes including Dogra Rulers, Maj. Somnath Sharma, Brig Rajinder Singh and other PVC/MVC awardees in the school text books published by J&K Board of Secondary Education so that the present and future generations can know about their rich roots. The Govt or specifically Jammu Municipal Corporation/State Council for Educational Research Training should set up a joint or separate expert committee comprising notable veterans, historians, educationists etc. for the purpose. Similar request should be made to the NCRET for inclusion of at least first PVC/MVC awardees in NCRET text books across the country. It is equally important that Indian youth too should know the sacrifices made in J&K. This issue should be kept above the usual politics that marred J&K. Lt Governor Manoj Sihna can make the difference by taking a call on this and thus respect Jammu silent sentiments.



(Author is a retired IAS officer) feedback: [email protected]





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