It seems like yesterday, but it has been 20 years since the Kargil War. Come July 26, the nation will once again pay tribute to the hundreds of bravehearts who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty and thousands of others who fought selflessly to push the enemy back and recapture Indian territory.
India won the Kargil War, but over the two months of conflict, 527 Indian soldiers were martyred and 1,363 wounded. Quite a few of them were from Odisha. While Major Padmapani Acharya remains the most celebrated hero of the Kargil War from Odisha who was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest military honour, there are many jawans who remain heroes in the eyes of their family and their villages. Many made the supreme sacrifice fighting for their motherland, several returned injured, some with permanent disability, while many came back proud of the victory. On the 20th Kargil Vijay Diwas, Sunday POST traces a few soldiers from the state whose deeds of bravery have made them heroes forever.
Naik Sachidananda Mallick
Nibedita Nayak, the widow of Naik Sachidananda Mallick who was the fifth Odia to have made the supreme sacrifice in the war, says she feels proud to be the wife of a soldier.
Recalling the last visit to Kendrapara of Sachidananda, who laid down his life June 28, 1999, Nibedita says, “The last day I spent with Sachi was Holi in 1999. He had come home on leave. We played the festival of colours together and enjoyed a lot. He left to join duty the same day. When I came to know about the conflict, I sent a telegram to him to enquire about his wellbeing. I got a response from him June 12. He said he had reached Kargil without problems and asked me to take care of our son. I used to write a letter to him every day. I got his last letter June 24. He assured me, ‘I am fine wherever I am now. Don’t worry for me and take care of yourself and the boy.”
Nibedita continues: “What I loved about Sachi was that he was a very helpful person. He never lied to anybody. We had a short but very blissful conjugal life. The void created with his disappearance will always remain.”
Nibedita, who now runs a gas agency, is, however, not happy with the state government’s attitude towards her family. “It’s sad that the government has done little to help a jawan’s family. Two years back, I fractured my leg and was bedridden. After media highlighted my plight, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wanted to meet me. The Collector took me to meet the CM along with my son. I urged the CM to facilitate my travel to the Kargil War Memorial site so that I could pay tribute to my husband. The memorial, built by the Indian Army in the memory of soldiers who laid down their lives in the Kargil War of 1999, has names of 559 martyrs including my husband. I spent only five years with my husband. My son was just three when my husband left us. I lived with the dream of paying a visit to the memorial at least once in my life. The CM assured me that my travel expenses would be taken care of but nothing materialised. I have lived all these years without Sachi and spoken about his gallantry to my son. Thanks to the Indian Army for arranging my visit to the memorial last year. They not only honoured me, but also gave me a cheque of Rs one lakh for my husband’s supreme sacrifice.”
Nibedita adds that on Kargil Vijay Diwas, people in her village pay tribute to her husband and remember his heroism. “I also attend the function every year,” she says.
Sachidananda’s 20-year-old son Soumya Ranjan has lived with just a hazy memory of his father. “For me, my father is my hero. I have a dream to follow in his footsteps and join the Indian Army as an electrical engineer. I was only three when I lost my father. I can’t recall how he looked but I miss him a lot. Whenever I see children playing with their fathers, it doesn’t make me sad, but it brings a smile on my face because I can see him in their joy,” he says.
Soumya came into the limelight after he wrote an open letter to his father that was published in a magazine.
In the second year of Sachidananda’s martyrdom, the then Collector Krushna Chandra Mohanty and former MP of Kendrapada Pravat Kumar Samantaray visited Sachi’s village to lay the foundation stone of the Sachidananda Smruti Stambha (martyr tower). But it is yet to be built after so many years.
Havildar Prasanna Choudhury
Prasanna Choudhury gets emotional every time he recalls the 1999 Kargil War and its consequences. Losing friends in the battle is very painful, he says.
A resident of Berhampur, Prasanna left for Kargil two months after his marriage. He was on leave when the Indo-Pak conflict broke out. He says, “I joined the Indian Army February 25, 1991 when I was doing my Plus II and was posted in Kashmir as a jawan. I got married two months before the war. I joined my battalion April 20 and reached Kargil May 24 from where I was sent to Moscow Valley the next day. We freed 5,815 metres of Tiger Hill May 28 and spent four days without food. We never felt hunger pangs during those days. Despite facing death at every step during the war, we were not scared of losing our lives because we were accompanied by a few brave soldiers who kept encouraging each other all the time. Victory was our ultimate goal.”
Narrating his experience, he continues: “Instead of taking food and water, we felt it necessary to carry more munitions with us. We walked the whole night and took shelter during the day. On May 27, we captured a major portion of Tiger Hill. On June 28, five of our jawans were killed and 25 got injured. Naik Sachidananda Mallick and Srinivas Patra from Odisha were martyred in the war. I was with Srinivas when he laid down his life, but I survived. On July 10, I got a letter from my family but was unable to reply. After three months of war, I returned home. My family members were clueless about my whereabouts till I reached home. Learning about Srinivas’ death, my mother-in-law became unconscious.”
Havildar Debananda Biswal
Sharing details of the fierce battle, retired army havildar Debananda Biswal says, “I joined the Indian Army after my graduation in 1989. I was posted in West Bengal soon after joining. I was in the Dras sector when war broke out. Being a jawan, I was not afraid of consequences and was ready for an assault on the enemy. I was part of the group which was to climb Tiger Hill. It was a 90 degree climb. We were surrounded by death on all sides, we knew we were going to die, but were determined to cause maximum casualties to the enemy. We kept moving forward with this spirit. God kept me alive to speak about the bravery of my colleague Srinivas Patra who lost his life in the war. He was very close to me. Seeing him dying was very painful for me. But the situation was such that we had to leave him alone and accomplish the mission. Srinivas joined the troops at Kargil on the fourth day after marriage and, sadly, never returned.”
Debendra continues: “I worked in the Intelligence sector from May 21 to June 6 during the initial days of the Kargil War. We had to dig up roads to reach our destination and hide ourselves during the day. On June 7, we launched an attack on the enemy killing 35 of their jawans. It is the moment I would like to cherish forever.”
Havildar Bhubani Sethi
Asked how they motivated themselves at a time when death seems almost certain, Bhabani Sethi, a resident of Berhampur, says, “It is your nation, your colleagues who are fighting alongside you that keeps you going. Protecting the nation and its citizens remains our only goal, no matter whether we live or die.
“My three brothers and I joined the Indian Army. But only I got the opportunity to take part in the war. I was in Moscow Valley during the Kargil War. During wartime, you can’t afford to think anything other than your nation. I was the radio operator on the fateful day when our colleague from Odisha Sachidananda Mallick became a martyr. I was the first to get the news. Besides, I had to carry the body of another fellow soldier Srinivas Patra on my shoulder. Teary-eyed, we were determined to take revenge. When I was on my way home accompanying the body of Srinivas, somebody from our village spread fake news about my death and my family members were shattered. They could not believe their eyes when I reached home.”
RASHMI REKHA DAS, OP