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Special Content

Issue No 38, 18 December-24 December 2021

1971 Indo-Pak War: A Saga Of Heroism Swarnim Vijay Varsh Special

The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of victory of the Indian Armed Forces in the 1971 Indo-Pak War and the year is being observed as ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh’ in honour of the Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the line of duty. In the 1971 war, India achieved a decisive victory with Pakistani forces in Bangladesh surrendering to the forces of India and Bangladesh on December 16, 1971 after a 14-day battle. The day is commemorated as Vijay Diwas (Victory Day) both in India and Bangladesh. India played the role of a catalyst in the Liberation War of Bangladesh.

This War was replete with tales of extraordinary courage displayed by the Indian armed forces – Army, Air Force and Navy–both on the eastern and western fronts. Nearly 600 officers and men of the armed forces were decorated with gallantry medals of which four were awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), 76 Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) and 513 Vir Chakra (VrC). We bring to you the stories of bravery of the four such heroes who were awarded the PVC.

Lance Naik Albert Ekka

Lance Naik Albert Ekka hailed from a village in Ranchi, Jharkhand. He was enrolled in 14 Guards in 1962. Nine years into his service, the 1971 war broke out. The Indian armed forces were fighting on the eastern and western fronts as well. During the War, 14 Guards was tasked to capture a Pakistani position at Gangasagar, about six kilometre west of Agartala, in the Eastern Sector. It was a wellfortified position held in good strength by the enemy. The reduction of this position was considered necessary as it was the key to the capture of Akhaura, on the way to Dhaka.

The 14 Guards launched an attack on enemy positions at 0400 Hours on December 3. Lance Naik Albert Ekka accom-panied the left forward company of the Battalion in the attack. The assaulting Indian troops were subjected to intense shelling and heavy small arms fire by the enemy. Lance Naik Ekka observed that an enemy light machine gun was belching deadly fire from a bunker, causing heavy casualties to his Company. Unmindful of his personal safety, he charged the bunker, bayonetted two occupants and silenced the light machine gun. Though seriously injured in this encounter, he continued to fight alongside his comrades with courage, securing bunker after bunker. After battling through a distance of one and a half kilo-metres, when Ekka and his comrades reached the northern end of the objective, an enemy medium machine gun opened up from the second storey of a wellfortified building. It inflicted heavy casualties on Indians and held up their progress. Once again Lance Naik Ekka rose to the occasion. Unmindful of his personal safety, he crawled to the building and hurled a grenade into the bunker killing one enemy soldier and injuring the other. The medium machine gun could not, however, be silenced. Lance Naik Ekka then scaled the sidewall to enter the bunker. He bayonetted the enemy holding the bunker and silenced the deadly weapon. This saved his Company from further casualties and ensured success. Ekka died of the injuries suffered during this battle.The Battle of Gangasagar was crucial in paving the way for the movement of the Indian troops towards their ultimate target in Bangladesh. This young soldier of 29 years was posthumously awarded the PVC for his exceptional valour. This was the one and only PVC awarded for action on the eastern front.

Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon

Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was born in 1943, in village Rurka Isewal, Ludhiana, Punjab. He was commissioned in the Indian Air Force in 1967. Flying Officer Sekhon was a pilot in a Gnat detachment based at Srinagar for the air defence of the Valley. India was bound by an international agreement not to base its air defence aircraft at Srinagar. Therefore, the pilots who were hurriedly brought to Srinagar at the outbreak of hostilities with Pakistan, were neither familiar with the terrain nor acclimatised to the winter rigours of Kashmir. Nevertheless, during the War, Flying Officer Sekhon and his colleagues fought Pakistani air raids with valour and determination.

On December 14, 1971, Srinagar airfield was attacked by a wave of six Pakistani Sabre jets. Sekhon was on readiness duty at that time. Soon the enemy aircraft started hovering over the airfield. The strafing of various targets on the ground followed. Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was on readiness duty at that moment. The continuous surge of air attacks by the Pakistani jests provided him the opportunity to display his mettle. Putting his life at grave risk, he took off in his Gnat aircraft to engage the two attacking Sabres. In the air battle that ensued he secured a direct hit on one Sabre and set another ablaze. At this juncture four more Pakistani Sabres came on the scene and surrounded his aircraft. In the dog-fight that ensued at treetop level, he held on against the numerically superior enemy for sometime. Eventually, his aircraft was hit and he was killed. Flying Officer Sekhon achieved his objective as the enemy aircraft fled without pressing home their intended attack on Srinagar town and airfield. The supreme gallantry, flying skill and determination displayed by Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon earned him the PVC, posthumously. He was merely 26 years old when he laid down his life defending the motherland.

Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal

Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal was born in 1950 in Pune, Maharashtra. In 1967, he joined the National Defence Academy (NDA) and subsequently the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun. He was commi-ssioned in the 17 Poona Horse in June 1971. Just six months later, the War began. The 17 Poona Horse was ordered to establish a bridge-head across the Basantar River (a tributary of the Ravi River) in Shakargarh Sector. This was accomplished by the night of December 15. Noticing the alarming action of enemy armour at the bridgehead, the Indian troops called for tank support urgently. But the minefields had been cleared only partially by that time. At 0800 Hours on December 16, the enemy made a counter attack with an armour regiment, under the cover of smoke-screen. As the Indians were heavily outnumbered, the Commander of the B Squadron requested reinforcement. At that time Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal was positioned close to the Squadron with his troops in two tanks. He answered the call and moved out to face the enemy attack. On the way, his troops came under fire from enemy strong-points and recoilless gun nests, in the bridgehead zone. Khetarpal fiercely attacked these strong-points, overran defences and captured many enemy soldiers and recoilless guns at pistol point. During one of these attacks, the commander of his second tank was killed on the spot leaving him alone. But he continued the attack on the enemy strongholds single-handed, until all enemy positions were overwhelmed. He then raced to the 'B' Squadron position. By the time he reached there, the enemy tanks were on the retreat. He pursued and destroyed one of these tanks. The Commander could persuade him to fall back in line after great difficulty. The enemy soon reformed for a second attack. This time they chose the sector held by Arun Khetarpal and two other officers. A fierce tank battle followed. As many as ten enemy tanks were destroyed and of these Arun Khetarpal alone destroyed four. In the thick of the battle,one of the Indian tanks were hit and another suffered mechanical failure. The third tank i.e., Khetarpal's tank, also received a shot and burst into flames. However, Khetarpal refused to abandon his tank realising the useful role of his tank in preventing a breakthrough. He set about destroying the remaining enemy tanks. His tank received a second hit. Khetarpal offered solid resistance to the enemy tanks and prevented a breakthrough until he breathed his last. For most conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy, Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal was awarded the PVC, posthumously. Major Hoshiar Singh Major Hoshiar Singh was born in 1936, in a village in Rohtak, Haryana. He was commissioned in the Grenadiers in 1963. During the 1971 War, the 3 Grenadiers spearheaded the advance of 54 Infantry Division in Shakargarh Sector on the Western Front and made some quick gains during the first ten days of War. On December 15, the Battalion was assigned the task of establishing a bridgehead across the Basantar river. However, the enemy troops had laid deep minefields on both sides of the river and were in a strong position. The advancing Indian troops came under intense shelling and suffered heavily. But under the courageous leadership of Maj Hoshiar Singh, they continued the assault doggedly and captured village Jarpal in the Punjab province of Pakistan. In this battle, most of the enemy bunkers were cleared. The enemy’s reaction to the loss of Jarpal was violent. On December 16, they launched sharp counterattacks, two of them supported by armour, to dislodge the Grenadiers. Maj Hoshiar Singh was a true leader. Leading from the front, he provided inspiring leadership. Major Hoshiar Singh, unmindful of the enemy shelling and tank fire, went from trench to trench, encouraging his men to remain steadfast. Inspired by his courage and leadership, his Company repulsed all attacks, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. On December 17, the enemy mounted yet another attack in battalion strength with heavy artillery in support. Though wounded seriously in enemy shelling, Major Hoshiar Singh walked in the open to his trenches. The enemy attack was repulsed, and they beat a hasty retreat leaving behind 85 dead including the Commanding Officer. Major Hoshiar Singh was seriously wounded in the battle but he refused evacuation till the ceasefire. During this grim struggle he displayed exemplary courage and bravery to beat back repeated enemy attacks. He was decorated with the PVC on January 26, 1972. He was the sole PVC Awardee of the 1971 War to receive it in person.

Employment News pays its tributes to all the war heroes.

 Source: GallantryAwards.gov.in/ NCERT/PIB