The forgotten story of the first Kargil hero Lt Saurabh Kalia!

It was the first week of May when the entire country was glued to television to watch India’s performance in 1999 cricket world cup. As the nation celebrated India’s entry to Semifinals in cricket world cup the temperature in Kashmir dips to the lowest as it starts to snow and as per the agreement made on Simla treaty soldiers of Indian army who usually guard Line of Control at Tiger Hill or “Point 4660” in the Drass-Kargil area of Jammu & Kashmir moved down the hills on accords of ceasefire. Everything appeared normal for few days until Kashmiris found people in military uniform camping on top of tiger hills in the bunkers built by Indian armed forces. The Locals feared these men belong to Kashmiri separatists and approached India army to inform the same. The information was immediately fed to ministry of defense.

On 15th may 1999 army ordered Lt Saurabh Kalia and five other soldiers  Sepoys Arjun Ram, Bhanwar Lal Bagaria, Bhika Ram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh of the 4 Jat Regiment who were on routine patrol of the Bajrang Post in the Kaksar sector to check the authenticity of the infiltration. As soon as the troop reached the camping location on top of tiger hills intense firing broke out towards them from the bunkers, even before Saurabh Kalia could understand the magnitude of the encroachment they ran out of ammunition and were captured and deported to Pakistan. Lt Saurabh Kalia and his men were in captivity from 15 May 1999 – 7 June 1999. When Indian defense forces later discovered 6 men from 4 JAT battalion were captured by Pakistan troop.

For over  22 days Saurabh Kalia and his men were subjected to immense torture when the army men refused to share critical information related to Indian security establish in the Kargil sector. The country of Pakistan violated all rules pertaining to treating the war criminals. Eventually all 6 captured were shot and on 9th June 1999, N. K. Kalia received the body of his son. After the postmortem it was revealed that their bodies were burnt with cigarettes, nails clipped apart, ear drums were pierced with iron rods, bones broken and eyes removed while they were alive. The cruelty didn’t stop at this.

The Pakistanis chopped off their limbs and private organs before shooting them to death. Despite all this Pakistan army officers themselves claimed these men were so patriotic that they never gave away any information about the geography, weapons and deployment of Indian army. Science says a human body can bear only up to 45 del (units) of pain however the pain these men went through is unimaginable. Reports said these men lived for weeks without many organs in their body, Had Saurabh reviled the critical information, it would have been impossible for Indian army to win the Kargil war. Saurabh was naturally a shy person who spoke very little. During his orientation at the regiment centre, Saurabh, like all other new officers, had to stand up and address the whole crowd. While most officers gave five-ten minute long speeches, Saurabh just made one statement and sat down. He said, “Today, I am proud that I have joined 4 Jat regiment, a day will come when this unit will be proud of me”.

 The death of these 6 men from the 4 JAT battalion is the most gruesome chapter from the history of Indian army. More than a decade since the death of these brave men the family of theirs have been constantly been fighting to get justice from the government, and to highlight the war crimes that were committed.  However, numerous letters to the Centre have failed to move the government to pursue the matter with the world body. Kargil war started off with the supreme sacrifice of these 6 men. Lt Saurabh Kalia’s personal belongings such as photographs, uniforms, shoes and mementoes are kept in a separate room, named ‘Saurabh Smriti Kaksha’ (a museum), in his house ‘Saurabh Niketan’ in the hills of Palampur. These men might have been gone but the story of their bravery and sacrifice should be told on to every young Indian. The blanket of silence in Tiger hills even today tells many more such brave stories of Indian soldiers. Their cry to protect mother India still echo’s in Kargil.

We the civilians should be grateful to all those wonderful souls who sacrifice their everything to keep us safe and happy. These men sacrificed their today for our tomorrow. As I continue to write more about Kargil War I will narrate you few more stories of great warriors from Indian defense forces for whom mother India meant more than anything else. Lt Saurabh Kalia Sepoys Arjun Ram, Bhanwar Lal Bagaria, Bhika Ram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh will be remembered forever in the hearts of all those patriots who will adore their sacrifice for decades to come.

Mac Thimmaiah **