The forgotten heroes of Rezang la battle : 1962 Indo-China war

Saragarhi, Kondana, Ladakh, Kargil, Galwan…The list is endless. Some battles were fought for forts, some for nation and some for honor. Every time a battle took place, blood spilled on both sides. The 1962 Indo-China is a horrifying reminder of carnage. The Rezang la battle of 18th November 1962 claimed lives of several Indian soldiers who fought till the last man against Chinese. Though Indian army lost the battle, it succeeded to overpower the marching enemy. The Rezang la battle is incredible story of courage, hope, patriotism, will and sacrifice. Today’s generation idolize fictional heroes on screen but haven’t heard anything about Major Shaitan Singh and his platoon who took a might against 3000 Chinese soldiers.

The Rezang la war memorial at Ladakh

Recently, Disney Plus Hotstar released the teaser of 1962: The war in the hills, a patriotic web series based on Indo-China war. The scenes in the teaser reminded me that it is a tribute to the fallen heroes of Rezang la war.  The 123 soldiers at Rezang la were deprived of winter clothing and weapons to face the severe chilled weather and the advancing enemies. What they didn’t lack was courage. Under the leadership of Major Shaitan Singh, the soldiers took a might against huge Chinese army that were equipped with automatic guns. While the Chinese soldiers had modern ammunition, our Indian soldiers had vintage rifles. Despite the odds, Major Shaitan Singh and his troops fought till the last man and perished on the battlefield. It is been said that Major Shaitan Singh kept inspiring his men, running from post to post even when he was bleeding severely by a bullet. His stomach had burst open. Though the Rezang la war was a defeat for Indian army, it had been victorious by displaying raw courage even in adverse situations. The care free attitude of Indian government claimed the lives of several brave army officers like Major Shaitan Singh and Subedar Joginder Singh. Only Major Dhan Singh Thapa lived to tell the story. He had defended the Sirijap sector with his raw courage but was overpowered and taken as prisoner of war by Chinese. Who can forget the sacrifice of Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat who single handedly killed 300 Chinese soldiers in battle of Nuranang on November 1962?

I had read about the valor and sacrifice of Major Shaitan Singh and his brave troops in the book – The Brave: Param Vir Chakra Stories written by author Rachna Bisht Rawat. The story literally made me break in tears. A soldier doesn’t die when he is shot by a bullet, he really dies when we forget his sacrifice. Our history textbooks won’t give you any information on the forgotten heroes of Rezang la war. That is the sad irony that today’s young generation hardly know about the Rezang la war and the soldiers who fought for India’s honor. The Kumaon regiment led by Major Shaitan Singh was one of the bravest regiments who taught the world what courage really meant. Major Shaitan Singh was awarded Param Vir Chakra posthumously for his courageous stand and sacrifice. Today, only two soldiers – Havaldar Nihal Singh and Captain Ramchander Yadav who survived in battle of Rezang la can tell you in detail what a great soldier Shaitan Singh was. If you travel to Ladakh, do visit to Rezang la war memorial where you will read the lines written in memory of war heroes.

Amar Chitra Katha Publication published a book – Paramvir Chakra in which story of Rezang la was featured (Source: Amar Chitra Katha)

How can a man die better
than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his father,
and the temple of his gods.

If I hadn’t been a writer, I would have been a soldier, facing bullets and driving away the marching enemy who dared to cross the border of my nation. I have the regret that I couldn’t be a part of Kargil war in 1999. Through this writing platform, I am trying to pay my tribute to the fallen heroes of Indian army.  This war memoir is a teary tribute to Rezang la war heroes who never got their due despite giving a tough stand in battle. There are two more stories on 1962 battle that I will cover which will throw a light on the forgotten heroes – Major Dhan Singh Thapa and Subedar Joginder Singh.


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