Fifty-eight years ago on October 10th, India had to encounter the ignominy of a military debacle at the hands of the People Liberation Army of Communist China in “North Frontier Agency (NEFA)” including Ladakh. The Indian troops with their rashly created defences were hardly equipped, ill-acclimatized, and hastily clothed to fight in the exceedingly cold climate at the height of 15,000-20,000 feet. A minimum of hundred and fourteen brave Ahirs, members of the Charlie (Ahir) company part of 13 Kumaoni Battalion of the Indian Army, battled against the Chinese, till the last Ahir lay dead in the war at Rezang La.
On November 6th,1962 Charlie Company under the aegis of Major Shaitan Singh placed 1/8 Gurkha Rifles at the Rezang La pass situated nineteen miles to the South of Chusul village in Ladakh. The pass safeguards the south-east entrance to Chusul valley and the village. Rezang La is situated at the height of 1,600 feet; the pass itself at 16,240 feet. Valley West, the depression on Rezang La’s north-west frontier as per military appreciation, was regarded as the most likely spot for a Chinese invasion if the region ever suffered a siege. The company deployed on the forward slopes of Hill No. 7 (Platoon) commandeered by major Shaitan Singh was placed in the aegis of Jemadar Surja Ram, on the north flank; No. 8 Platoon forming a part of the Pass Area was placed under Jemadar Hari Ram. No. 9 Platoon which formed the central position controlled by Jemadar Ram Chander was situated closest to the company headquarters. Naik Ram Kumar Yadav controlled the mortar section, on the reverse slope, to the West of the battalion headquarters by nearly 170 yards. The platoons supported each other, and their strategic deployment secured the area from a likely attack by China.
Naik Hukam Chand, the second in command of the No. 8 platoon on November 18th,1962, saw a large group of men proceeding towards his platoon-defended locality while on his night patrol at 3:30 am. A red varey light was fired immediately after Naik Hukam Chand informed his commander, which exposed a magnanimous Chinese battalion moving towards Rezang La pass. The advancing Chinese party towards their defence also came in notice of 7th and 9th platoons in the illuminated area and all three Kumaoni forces open fired simultaneously, resulting in the Chinese suffering heavy casualties and forcing them to go to ground. Despite the heavy casualties on the Chinese front, the fight was unequal, and the massive Chinese company did not immediately surrender and retreat. Artillery fire from the guns of thirteen Field Regiments was only partly successful in breaking the Chinese assault as defences on the forward slope of Rezang La was crested and weak.
When 123 Indian soldiers faced impossible odds against 3000 well-armed Chinese and fought to the last man
The fight raged on until dawn. The rapidly depreciating physical and psychological strength of Charlie Company forcibly held on. The company defended Rezang La in the subfreezing cold attired in summer clothing and firing from WWII vintage weapons till the last Kumaoni fell dead.
Upon running out of ammunition and men, Naik Hukam Chand battled the Chinese hand-to-hand, before being overwhelmed and finally shot.
Naik Ram Kumar kept firing at the shortest range even after the death of his colleagues. He finally reached the battalion headquarters on November 19th with a blown off nose wounded by eight bullet wounds.
On the other hand, the Chinese Army, after suffering heavy casualties brought in re-enforcements and a medium machine gun. Gulab Naik Singh and Lance Naik Singh Ram, when the fire from machine gun reached their platoon, charged towards the Chinese company but fell dead within a few feet. The brave commander Jemadar Surja Singh and his remaining seven platoons also died fighting.
Jemadar Hari Singh kept moving from one trench to another encouraging his men to continue fighting and refusing to give up amidst intense artillery and machine gunfire and died after being mortally wounded by a machine-gun shot.
Commander of the 9th Platoon Jemadar Hari Singh kept fighting the Chinese army until the last minute before falling unconscious and was left by the Chinese presumed dead.
Sepoy Dharampal Singh Dahiya, a brave medical orderly of the “Army Medical Corps,” moved tirelessly from one trench to another tending to the wounded till a bullet pierced his head. He died while still holding a syringe and bandage.
Major Shaitan Singh, the company commander & a Bhati Rajput from Jodhpur, stood fast with his men. In light of the intense shell artillery by the Chinese Battalion, all threads of connections with Headquarters were snapped on November 17th, and the company was isolated. With two of his platoons, the major and his Company Havildar decided to join the 9th platoon. After covering some distance, the Major died wounded by a machine-gun burst.
In the five hours of battle at Rezang La, the Charlie Company of thirteen Kumaon earned a Param Veer Chakra, eight Vir Chakras, and four Sena Medals for showcasing exceptional courage. A performance of such valour and fearlessness even to this day in the Indian Army is unparalleled and unmatched.
Remembering a story of raw courage and spirit
Perceptive strategy analysts now attribute the fiasco to the unjustifiable “Forward Policy” and Nehru’s instructions to the ill-equipped, weather-beaten, ill-equipped army to “decimate the Chinese counterparts”. The national Psyche is still reminded of the painful memories by a memorial built in place of the Battalion Headquarters by the Commanding officer soon after the funeral of the martyrs. The nation learned of this indomitable show of courage only after the Chinese Government allowed the Indian Army to collect the bodies in February 1963.
On that cold November day, the Charlie Company, and the thirteen Kumaon unknowing to them, added a new chapter of unshakeable and single-minded devotion to duty and remarkable courage under the most inhospitable circumstances to the Indian Army’s long history of illustrious traditions of valour and sacrifice in the service of the Nation. Their courage during the war at Rezang La will be remembered forever. Very aptly on the memorial stone were inscribed the last six lines from Lord Macaulay’s undying poem:
“To every man upon this earth, death comes soon or late. How can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his Gods.”