Flights Of Fantasy
[ M Panging Pao ]
Many Arunachalee old-timers recall the 1962 Indo-Chinese conflict with fear and anger. The Chinese forces entered deep into Arunachal along many axes, like Taksing-Limeking, Mechuka/Manigong-Tato, Gelling-Tuting, Kibithoo-Walong, and the main Tawang-Bomdila-Rupa axis.
Many readers in Arunachal and in our country are not aware of the fierce battles fought by our brave soldiers. One such story is of the saga of Param Vir Chakra Subedar Joginder Singh.
On 20 October, 1962, three regiments of the Chinese Army attacked the ill-prepared Indian position at Namka Chu on the McMahon Line. The Chinese then turned their attention towards the strategically important town of Tawang. The shortest approach to Tawang passed through the Bum La axis. One platoon of the 1 Sikh Regiment, under Subedar Joginder Singh, was manning the defences of Bum La.
Early on 23 October, the Chinese Army launched a heavy offensive on Bum La. Supported by artillery and mortar fire, the Chinese troops attacked in three waves, each around 200 soldiers strong. Subedar Joginder and his men mowed down the first Chinese attack. Stunned by the loss of the first wave, the next wave of Chinese troops hurled themselves at the Indian soldiers, but they were dealt with similarly. However, by then the platoon had lost half its men. Joginder had been badly wounded in the thigh, but he refused to be evacuated. Though outmanned and outgunned, the tenacious soldier was not willing to withdraw an inch, and continued to fight with all he had.
Inspired by their leader’s gallantry and tenacity, the platoon stubbornly held its ground. As the furious Chinese started their third wave of attack, Joginder himself manned a light machine gun, firing at the attackers. The enemy onslaught, however, continued to advance despite heavy losses.
When the platoon ran out of ammunition, Joginder and the remaining soldiers fixed their bayonets and, unmindful of certain death, charged at the Chinese in a last-ditch attack. Shouting their battle cry, “Bole so nihal, Sat Sri Akal,” Joginder’s gallant band of soldiers fought ferociously, bayoneting scores of Chinese soldiers before they were overpowered.
After four hours of fierce fighting, a grievously wounded Joginder was taken as a prisoner of war. He later died in Chinese captivity. Of the 23 men who formed Joginder’s platoon, only three survived – that too because they had been sent to fetch more ammunition from the main army camp.
For his dogged determination and raw courage in the face of the enemy, Subedar Joginder Singh was posthumously awarded India’s highest wartime gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra. On learning that Joginder had been awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the Chinese Army, in a rare mark of respect, recognized his valour in battle by repatriating his ashes with full military honours to India on 17 May, 1963. The nation salutes Param Vir Chakra Subedar Joginder Singh! (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)