September 8, 2011 by Team SAI
Maj Gen Raj Mehta, AVSM, VSM (Retired)
Courage is a moral quality; it is not a chance gift of nature like an aptitude for games. It is a cold choice between two alternatives, the fixed resolve not to quit; an act of renunciation which must be made not once but many times by the power of the will.
~ Lord Charles Wilson, 1st Baron of Moran, MC, in “The Anatomy of Courage (1945)”.
The individual activity of one man with backbone will do more than a thousand men with a mere wishbone.
~ William J.H. Boetcker
This article records the extraordinary saga of one of our bravest-of-brave young officers; Lt Navdeep Singh, 15 MARATHA LI, who died in the early hours of 20 August 2011 so that the Tricolour would continue to fly proudly…over the Alpine heights of the heart-breakingly beautiful Gurais Valley; over the fierce spirit of the Army in Kashmir and elsewhere; its brave hearts who continue to unhesitatingly give up their lives for the Motherland day after day over the last 64 years. It is a plea, an advisory to the Nation not to let such sacrifices remain unrequited; to honour its brave dead in word and in deed…
An Operational Overview
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, AVSM**, SM, VSM, the commanding General in Kashmir remembers that it was 2.30 AM when he was woken up by the strident, insistent ring of his cordless phone. Instantly alert – the lives of officers engaged in active operations depend on this – he intuitively sensed that something had gone amiss. It had. Lt Navdeep Singh; the peppy young officer he recalled having complimented at the Corps Battle School scant days back for his professionalism, had attained martyrdom near village Bagtor in Gurais Valley, North Kashmir, in a fierce encounter with Lashkar terrorists. In so doing, he had joined that universally lauded rarest-of-rare club of Brave Hearts honoured since the Battle of Thermopylae in Greece in 480 BC. Their stark epitaph reads: “Here we lie; having fulfilled our orders”. Navdeep, as the rookie Ghatak (commando) platoon commander of 15 MARATHA LI charged with ambushing a group of Pakistani intruders with his “Ganpats” (as Maratha soldiers are affectionately called), had indeed fulfilled his orders in the finest traditions of the Indian Army. He had paid the price.
The lay reader may wonder how Generals take the grim news of brave death in the war zone. How do they absorb the shock of losing precious lives; lives often cheerfully given away for something as amorphous as protection of the Motherland; protection of the very Idea of India? It is probable that General Hasnain, the Army Commander at Udhampur and the Army Chief at Delhi would have reacted similarly. Visibly they would have taken the news with a calm, imperturbable demeanour. Internally, they would all have bled, grieving for a dynamic young man who had so much to offer but who dared to knock on death’s door so that his mission was not compromised. They would all have saluted his sacrifice, fiercely proud of the noble logic of his death so movingly expressed by Macaulay: “How can a Man die Better than facing Fearful Odds, For the Ashes of His Fathers and the Temples of His Gods”. Indeed; Lt Navdeep Singh could not have died better, having fulfilled his orders in a manner that his Paltan, his Army and his family will immortalize. Will his country do that too? Or will his love and sacrifice for his country remain unrequited in the manner of the haunting, tragic, timeless legend of Habba Khatoon that still endures in Gurais…? More on this later…
That cold dawn of 20 August 2011, as the Corps Commander’s helicopter hovered to land at Rana Post in Gurais, the helicopter carrying Lt Navdeep’s dead body was taking off for Srinagar’s Base Hospital. The General’s visit to the encounter site to absorb the sense of Navdeep’s selfless act of heroism revealed all. His CO, Lt Col Girish Upadhya, SM** had instinctively taken the right decision when informed about the crossing of the Kishanganga River by Lashkar terrorists. He had ordered Navdeep to relocate his Ghataks to the general area on the river bank to interdict them. Thereafter, it was Navdeep and his brilliant tactical acumen all the way. The results lay there for all to see: the six dead Lashkar terrorists that Navdeep and his team had killed; the massed collection of weapons; radios and warlike material; the rubber dinghy and incontrovertible proof that the bodies of six more terrorists had got washed away by the swift waters downstream to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). It isn’t everyday that an intruding dirty dozen gets shot in one encounter…Navdeep had undoubtedly engineered something special but at grievous cost to himself.
(Lt. Navdeep Singh Bains)
The Physical and Sociological Construct of Gurais Valley
The sacrifice by Navdeep, in order to be seen in its proper context, needs a background to which the reader can relate to; in terms of the location, environment, demography, social construct and historicity of the place where it occurred. Let us go then; you and I, let us make our visit to Navdeep’s world; a world which he so briefly lit up with his personality and derring-do and where his life blood oozed out on the sands of the sapphire toned river…
Gurais (Gurez) Valley is a secluded, fertile Alpine valley, carved through the inner Himalayas by the tempestuous Kishanganga River, called Neelam River in POK. It is located south of and parallel to the high-altitude Line of Control LC) that divides the India and POK and is 86 kilometers from Bandipur town, its District Headquarters. Srinagar is a six hour journey from Gurais. The last Indian village, located just short of the LC is called Bagtor, after which the river takes a sudden 90 degree turn towards the north.
It is a village of great religiosity, possessing a shrine of one of the seven “Sayyads” (followers) of the revered Islamic missionary, Shah-e-Hamadan, who came to Kashmir in 1372 from Iran. Gurais is peopled by ethnic Dards/Shins; Sunni Muslims who speak the ancient Shina language. Their population of around 30,000 is spread over 15 villages. Gurais is snowed out for seven months a year. While describing it, Walter Lawrence in his landmark book, The Valley of Kashmir, wrote: “Gurais is a lovely valley five miles in length…The Kishanganga River flows through it, and on either side tower mountains of indescribable grandeur. The valley is extremely picturesque, as the river comes dashing along through a rich meadow, partly covered with lindens, walnut and willow trees, while the mountains on either side present nothing but a succession of the most abrupt precipices and Alpine lodges, covered with fir trees.” The river supports the much sought after Snow, Brown and Rainbow trout. Gurais was always a popular destination for high grade foreign tourists; being visited by F D Roosevelt, before he became the 32nd US President. The temperamental 11, 672 feet high Razdan Pass over the Shamshabari Range, connects Gurais with the rest of Kashmir. It also divides the two regions on geographical, socio-cultural and linguistic lines. Eight kilometers ahead of Bagtor and on the POK side are the ruins of the ancient Indian seat of learning; Sharda Temple and Sharda Peeth, a famous University to which Hindus and Buddhists from all over Asia came for learning. The Kashmiri “Sharda Script” evolved here, which linguists consider is the precursor of the Kashmiri language.
Gurais falls along the ancient Silk Route that connected Kashmir Valley to Gilgit and the rest of Central Asia. It is the water-shed where the ancient Central Asian and Indo-Aryan languages and cultures met and interacted. It is in this area, ahead of Bagtor village and short of Sharda Peeth that the herioc Lt Navdeep Singh breathed his last.
Setting the Stage for the Ambush
Next to a soldier’s life, the next most valued enabler in operations is “hard” Intelligence. It is also the most difficult to obtain and involves complex planning and assiduous, follow up as also an element of luck and chance. Everything, it seemed, had fallen into place when Intelligence was received from J and K Police sources on night 19 August 11, about an attempted crossing of the Kishanganga River. 15 MARATHA LI was immediately alerted. At 12.30 AM on 20 August, the unit ambushes deployed north of Bagtor reported movement of black dungaree clad terrorists along the river bed in the Durmat forest area. The terrorists were observed inflating a rubber dinghy; thereafter being ferried across the river. The officiating CO, Lt Col Girish Upadhya, SM**, twice decorated for gallantry, sensed a great opportunity and ordered Lt Navdeep Singh, his Commando Platoon commander, to urgently readjust his ambushes to trap the intruders. The ground implementation was, of course, left to the young officer. Navdeep, his blood racing, quickly readjusted the ambush party of Naib Subedar Mengare Ganpati, which was an additional resource allotted to him as well as and his own strength of 1 JCO and 18 soldiers; and briefed them. He deliberately located himself at the head of his chosen “killing ground”. There was nothing left thereafter but to wait with bated breath and growing anticipation. It was 1.10 AM… Through the enveloping, velvety darkness, the blurred silhouettes of the intruders could be made out by Lt Navdeep and his men…
The Ambush is Sprung
“No one will open fire before I do…” No one who heard this menacing, lethal, no-nonsense whispered radio command by young Lt Navdeep Singh to his and Subedar Ganpati’s tense ambush parties could have doubted the need for its implicit obedience. As the heavily armed Pakistani Lashkar terrorists cautiously but unsuspectingly approached the ambush site through the misty darkness, one needed raw guts and exceptional control over mind and body to slow down the savage adrenalin driven pounding of the heart and freeze a nervous finger on the trigger; hold fire till that critical last moment when missing the target was no longer an issue. “In several past encounters the Army has failed to kill terrorists or only injured them because the engagement commenced at a range too far away to guarantee success” emphasises General Hasnain. Veterans vociferously agree. They will tell you that the acme of military skill lies in choosing where to lay the ambush, and, more importantly, springing it when the prey is in the “killing ground”; so close that you can see “the whites of his eyes”. When you do that, you know that the survivors will retaliate viciously, all weapons blazing. The implication is clear: holding back fire to ensure sure-shot military success is fraught with extreme danger and often extracts a savage price.
In the event, Navdeep’s men displayed great fire discipline; letting him open fire first. Navdeep eliminated three terrorists with his opening bursts. Thereafter, all hell broke loose as a fierce fire fight broke out. His buddy, Sepoy Vijay Gajare was hit on his face while engaging three terrorists who had rushed for cover in the scattered rocks. Seeing his buddy wounded, Navdeep retaliated, shooting one terrorist dead, but was shot on his head by the others. Nothing daunted, he yanked Gajare to safety even as he bled profusely, firing till he lost consciousness.
His incensed peers shot the other two terrorists, the remaining intruders shot by the well placed ambush party of Naib Subedar Magare Ganpati as they tried to get across the river. In the exchange of fire, Ganpati also suffered a gunshot wound on his head. Thus, six more terrorists were seen falling into the fast flowing river…their bodies, weapons and accoutrements swept into POK.
It was 1.20 AM on 20 August 2011. Though it had seemed like an eternity, only 10 minutes had passed before it was all over… On that chill early morning, behind the broken rock cover that was available, fearless Lt Navdeep Singh, rookie Ghatak Platoon Commander, 15 MARATHA LI lay still; the driven officer who had let his Ghatak Platoon to success in the recently held Inter-Battalion Ghatak Platoon Competition lay dead; shot through the head, a mere 10 point blank meters away from the four terrorists he had killed. SS-44448A Lt Navdeep Singh was no more…Long live Navdeep and his deathless spirit. Around him, were the lethal automatic weapons, warlike material, codes, ciphers, GPS and hi-fi communication devices of the terrorists whose death’s he had so bravely and selflessly scripted.
A Life Well Lived…
“It was just three weeks ago that I met Lt Navdeep Singh at the Corps Battle School,” says Gen Hasnain with a tinge of remorse. “He was introduced to me as a bustling, dynamic young officer; a person who had stood head and shoulders above all in the physical and mental domain of training and tactical exercises for newly inducted officers into the Valley…I did not fail to remind my 1000 strong audience that theirs was a generation of soldiers to whom the Indian Army and the Nation owed so much… for the sheer discomfort and psychological pressure they were undergoing in the formative years of their career; for their immeasurable sacrifices – something for which the honour, respect and attribution due to them was still in the Institutional pipeline…
Post induction training, 15 MARATHA LI entered Gurais on 19 August 2011. Exactly four months later, they had performed a stunning feat-of-arms that will power the Army; energize its soldiers for many years to come, but at the cost of the life of the “baby” of their proud unit; Lt Navdeep Singh, who had not yet cut his professional teeth by doing the Young Officer’s course, before fidelity to his Paltan and to India claimed his life.
“It was my honored duty to lead the ceremony paying last respects to the fallen warrior on the soil where he had fallen – in Kashmir… While doing so I was sure that his is not a sacrifice in vain. Along the Line of Control, in jungles and woods, along meadows and springs and in rocky outcrops and pinnacles at obscene heights, officers and men of this great Army continue to be inspired by the deeds of warriors like Navdeep, swearing allegiance to the Tricolour and to their Unit Cap Badges.” This is the poignant tribute that Gen Ata Hasnain has chosen to give to this third generation soldier; a soldier whose Grand Father wore the colours of 8 SIKH; whose Father was a proud Bengal Sapper, and whose younger brother, Sandeep Singh, an Engineering student, is now determined to follow the family’s proud martial traditNavjot Kaur, the beloved younger sister of Navdeep whom he spoilt silly, as indulgent brothers often do, is a chatty topper and was as fiercely proud of Navdeep as he was of her…She expresses that intensity in a graphic, moving, surprisingly confident yet heart-breaking manner. Post BA (Hons) which she topped, she is doing her final year Masters in English and is focused on becoming an iconic Professor in English.
Navdeep used to tease her, telling her that her fascination with the uniform must result in marriage. She is determined to marry a fauji because this has been her childhood dream and because Navdeep wanted it that way. She gently lets me know that Navdeep, a romantic at heart, was engaged to a delightful girl who is working as an officer in the financial sector. They were hopelessly in love and were to get married in October this year, “chutti milne par” (on getting leave) as he would laughingly joke with Navjot. Sadly, that will not come to pass. This love will remain unrequited, just like the sad, unrequited tale of love that legend and history have made Gurais so renowned for…
Gurais’s most formidable peak at 12,600 feet is Habba Khatoon. This bare, pyramid shaped limestone peak is named after the Kashmiri poetess, Habba Khatoon. She was a beautiful and intelligent woman in soorat and in seerat (beautiful from within and without) whose life is shrouded in antiquity. Born in 1560, one legend portrays her as the ethereally beautiful daughter of the Raja of Gurais while another strand of the legend identifies her as a stunningly good looking peasant girl from Chandrahar village, Pampore (famous for its saffron), who was called ”Zoon/Zooni” (Kashmiri for the blemish-free full Moon) for her looks.
The legendary Zooni, better known as the tragic Queen, Habba Khatoon
This strand depicts her as the daughter of a poor farmer, who married her to an illiterate boy named Aziz Lone in payment of his debts. Zooni was ill-treated by her mother-in-law and husband, spending most of her time in poetry and singing. The King of Kashmir Yousuf Shah Chak, while out hunting, chanced upon her and was entranced by her singing, beauty, intelligence and poetry. He married her, giving her the name of Habba Khatoon to lend her respectability. He was, however, a debauch, who was imprisoned by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1579, spending his remaining days in captivity in village Biswak, Bihar, where he is entombed. Habba Khatoon, then 19, used to wander near the peak that overlooks village Tilel and its bountiful springs, singing songs of a love that never came her way. Both peak and springs bear her name. Habba Khatoon died in grief 20 years later at the prime of her youth. Her heart rending songs of unrequited love are extremely popular in Kashmir and can be accessed on the internet/Utube.
A Brave Heart’s story ends…What did Navdeep bring to the Table?
In his brief life, Navdeep brought to the table, in the prescient words of Lord Moran, cold courage as a moral and physical choice; an act of renunciation that he knew could result in his death. His men knew this as well as he did, and were fired up; “ignited” as it were, by his grit and daring. Gen Hasnain, in humble tribute, says, “As their leader, I need not inspire them; it is they who inspire me, never failing to awe with their passion, their sheer audacity in operations, their willingness to take risks…as an inevitable part of their profession…” There could be no better tribute.
Courage, pluck, daring, heroism…whatever name this inner calling may be known by, isn’t just a gift. This young man grew this spirit; cultivated it; harvested it. He did so with a backbone of tempered steel. With an MBA and a Hotel Management degree behind him, he was “Ivy League”; could have gone into safe, well paying jobs if that was his sole intent in life. Obviously that wasn’t the case. Like Capt Vikram Batra before him, he scorned death; exchanging it for mission completion; his mind cast in the same, golden “Yeh Dil Mange More” (My heart seeks greater challenges) alchemy that led Vikram to immortality and a PVC during the Kargil War of 1999.
His CO, Adjutant, his platoon JCO and buddy recall him as an exceptionally gifted, warm, tough but caring officer who was cut out for a great, ethical, value laden career. His JCO and buddy recall him with proud, unabashed tears; the officers with great dignity and restraint, but passionately, none-the-less.
I am dead certain Navdeep did not want to die. No motivated, gifted, loving, young person does; especially when he has the world at his feet. He had it all; a potentially brilliant career; loving parents and siblings; peer respect, capability and capacity…He was in love; with a beautiful girl; with life; with Gurais and its extraordinary magic… He wanted to live but with the military honour of his unit; his proud Maratha Light Infantry Regiment, serving the nation since 1768 intact. He had the courage to take a call and took it – he dared to be the best and was.
Does his sacrifice mean anything to We, the 1.2 Billion People of India; the India for whom this officer gave it all up and in such an inspirational manner? Do we really celebrate, cherish and perpetuate the memories of these deathless brave hearts that have died for the Idea of a safe and secure India with such metronomic regularity and selflessness whenever India was threatened? God does not make men better than he makes soldiers. He puts his noblest quality in them; of sacrificing all for the larger good. Take care, India! Take care, the Government of the day! Take care people! Do not let the love that these brave hearts have displayed for you remain unrequited as was the case with the tragic Habba Khatoon… Look after your soldiers with honesty and nobility in life, in death and in retirement because they represent the ideal of man and woman hood that you all strive for but rarely reach. They are special.
Lieutenant Navdeep's relatives in a deep Shock
Punjab Newsline Network
Sunday, 21 August 2011
By Manan Saini
GURDASPUR: The family members of Navdeep Singh, 26 do not have words to describe their woes as their elder son got martyr in Gurez Sector of Bandipora District in North Kashmir. Navdeep Singh got martyr while foiling a major infiltration attempted in Gurez Sector. He got died on the spot while other 12 militants also got died in the wee hours at around 1 am.
Parents and relatives of Navdeep Singh were in a deep shock after heard news by the media. His family also felt proud that their son sacrificed his life for the Nation.
Navdeep family had a huge background and patriotism stuffed into their veins. His father Joginder Singh also provide their services in Army and got retired as a Subedar Major.
Lt. Navdeep Singh Bains
Resident of Sant Nagar, Navdeep born on 8 june 1985 and studied in Normal School at village Tibri Cantonment. He got Hotel Management degree from Hotel Management Institute located at Gurdaspur and also done MBA from Army Institute of Management (KolKatta). While dedication of serving Nation Navdeep clears NDA test and joined 15 Maratha Light Infantry as a Lieutenant on April 2010.
While talking to the Pioneer, Joginder Singh told that, they got information that their son got martyr by the media. He told that he came in April 2011 for vacations and we forced him for marriage. Navdeep Sister, Navjot Kaur said that she waited his brother on Rakhi but he was posted in Gurez Sector and has not come. Navdeep lefts One brother, One Sister and Parents behind. After got information about his death, relatives and other neighbored came to their home for expressing grief. Navdeep brother Sandeep told that they did not got any information by the battalion, regarding Navdeep’s death body.
Capt Amarinder salutes Lt Navdeep’s martyrdom
Meanwhile, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee President Capt Amarinder Singh today expressed grief over the death of Lieutenant Navdeep Singh while fighting the infiltrators in Gurez Sector along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.
Lt Navdeep hailed from Gurdaspur. Both his father and grandfather have also served in the army.
In a condolence message to his parents, Capt Amarinder said, Lt Navdeep had not only done proud to his parents, but entire Punjab. “I salute his courage and martyrdom”, he said while paying tributes to the young martyr.
The PCC President said, Lieutenant Navdeep’s martyrdom will always be remembered by the people and he will prove to be an inspiration for other youth to join the army and serve the country.
*12 militants killed in Jammu and Kashmir-video
*Gurais (Gurez), Kashmir in Wilipedia
*Gurez, The Crown of Kashmir
Gurez, Kashmir (http://gurais.wetpaint.com/)
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Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University
Varanasi 221005, UP