It was an epic battle that cost the lives of 110 valiant soldiers of the Indian Army who stood steadfast against a marauding force of 5,000 attackers and prevented a possible Chinese occupation of the entire Ladakh region during the 1962 Sino-Indian war. And yet, very little is known about it to Indians at large outside the villages of southern Haryana from where the soldiers hailed, prompting author Kulpreet Yadav, who served for 20 years in uniform, to bring its minute details onto a larger canvas.
"At school in Chandigarh and at college in Pune, the two cities I had studied in, and later during my life in uniform, whenever I mentioned about the Battle of Rezang La, where the soldiers, who mostly hailed from Haryana, had fought the epic battle, no one had heard about it. This was in contrast to my interactions with the local people at my native village in Haryana that I visited every year during summer vacations where everyone knew about it in detail," Yadav told IANS in an interview of his book, "The Battle of Rezang La" (Penguin).
"In the villages of South Haryana, The Rezang La Saheed Diwas is celebrated by all and women sing folk songs recognising and celebrating the valour of our brave soldiers. I was dismayed by this lack of knowledge of the Indians at large. Somehow, the heroes of Rezang La had remained the heroes of the villages they belonged to. This book is an effort to bridge that gap," Yadav, who served for two decades in the Indian Coast Guard, added.
"When Rezang La was later revisited, dead jawans were found in the trenches still holding on to their weapons...every single man of this company was found dead in his trench with several bullets or splinter wounds. The 2-inch mortar man died with a bomb still in his hand. The medical orderly had a syringe and bandage in his hands when the Chinese bullet hit him . . . Of the thousand mortar bombs with the defenders, all but seven had been fired and the rest were ready to be fired when the (mortar) section was overrun," Maj. Gen. Ian Cardozo (retd) has said of the battle.
On November 18, 1962, the Charlie Company of the 13 Kumaon Battalion comprising 120 soldiers led by Maj. Shaitan Singh, of whom 110 soldiers were martyred, had fought the Chinese attack at Rezang La.
The Indian search party, which visited the battlefield on February 10, 1963, made a startling discovery - the frozen bodies of the men who had died were still holding guns in their hands, having taken bullets on their chests. One PVC (Param Vir Chakra), eight VCs (Vir Chakras), four SMs (Sena Medals) and one M-in-D (Mentioned-in-Dispatches) were awarded to the soldiers of the Charlie Company, making it one of the highest decorated companies of the Indian Army to this day.
The valour of the Charlie Company not only successfully stopped China's advance, but it also resulted in the Chushul airport being saved, thereby preventing a possible Chinese occupation of the entire Ladakh region in 1962. According to reports, a total of 1,300 Chinese soldiers were killed trying to capture Rezang La. The Charlie Company was an all-Ahir company, and most of the soldiers who fought the battle at 18,000 feet came from the plains of Haryana.
Considerable research went into the writing of the book.
"The research included reading all the available books on the 1962 war and the preceding years, particularly after independence. The surprising fact was that none of the books had more than 1-2 pages on the Rezang La battle. In fact, the Ladakh sector had not been covered adequately by any of the books. The focus had been on the NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) sector where the army had suffered a massive defeat and an entire brigade had been annihilated," Yadav explained.
"I also read the memoirs of the battle commanders and the intelligence chief, besides the accounts of the journalists of the time. The next step was to approach the 13 Kumaon battalion, from where I could get the official information related to the battle. 13 Kumaon has a small museum dedicated to this battle for the visitors and that became a good resource for me. Thereafter, I turned to the officers and jawans who were either present in Rezang La during the battle or were stationed close by. Finally, I got in touch with researchers who had collected considerable information in their independent capacities but had no means to share with people," he added.
What are the lessons the Indian Army learnt from the Battle of Rezang La and how much of this has been imbibed?
"That can be best answered by the Indian Army. But one thing is clear. At least within the army, everyone recognises the Battle of Rezang La as one of the bravest last stands of our soldiers since independence," said Yadav, who has written 13 books on diverse genres, including espionage, true crime and romance since hanging up his uniform in 2014, and is currently involved in filmmaking, screenplay writing and the world of law.
What next? What are his next projects?
"Currently, I'm occupied with my filmmaking and acting assignments, but I'm also writing a book on true police cases which is likely to be released in mid 2022. Another war book has been planned for 2023. I'm also the co-founder of two start-ups (called World Law Alliance and Disha Kiran) and that keeps me busy too," Yadav concluded.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@iansin)
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