Tribute to bravehearts

Lt Col Dilbag Singh Dabas (Retd)

The Defence Services Officers Institute, Gurugram, displays the portraits of the 21 Param Vir Chakra awardees inside its main entrance. I never get tired of looking at the faces that radiate valour and self-confidence of the highest order. One day, I thought that we all remember these faces as we see some of the living legends on Rajpath on Republic Day every year. But there are other bravehearts who too outperformed themselves in battles, many laid down their lives for the Tiranga and whose bravery has been recognised and deservedly awarded. Should the nation not read and remember their heroism and supreme sacrifice?

In March 2018, a thought germinated in my mind and I started writing on these bravehearts. The Tribune has kindly been publishing my stories in its weekly supplement. As a young Second Lieutenant, I was in the line of fire along with 19 Maratha Light Infantry during the 1971 war. Having been part of the live action very early in service, the subject has always been close to my heart.

Here is how writing of the book ‘Gallantry Award Winners of Haryana’ became a solemn obligation on my part.

In July 2018, I delivered a lecture at MD University, Rohtak, on the ‘Haryanvi soldier and his demonstrated valour since World War I’. The listeners were mainly NCC cadets and students from Rohtak and villages around. After the lecture, I asked them to name the gallantry award winners from Haryana that they knew of. To my disappointment, the young audience could not collectively name more than 10. But then a smartly turned out NCC girl cadet got up and confidently spoke, “Sir, we cannot find any book where from we can know and read about the deeds of our bravehearts. Whatever we hear is from fauji uncles from our villages and that too is restricted to their respective paltans.”

I realised the fault lay with us veterans, institutions and academics, who need to shoulder the blame for this gap in our history. It was at that moment that I, being the son of the soil and a third generation soldier, decided to research and collate the information. This book is my labour of love and earnest response to that day’s young listeners. As and when my book gets published, I will reserve one copy for that girl cadet. It is my fervent hope that some day, I will find her attired in combat fatigues.

There are a total of 1,601 Cross and Chakra awardees in India who were decorated for their gallantry in the face of the enemy. From this long list, to discern how many are Haryanvis involved a great deal of extensive readings of regimental histories, visits to the Regimental Centres, the District Soldier Boards, reaching on to the descendents of the old-timers and also the living legends; I met or interacted with 21 of them. After detailed research, I found that 174 among the above bravehearts belong to Haryana.

Be it in the epic defeat at Rezang La in 1962 or the victory at Dograi in 1965, Haryanvi soldier has always gone beyond the call of duty and outperformed wherever he fought. Incidentally, Haryana has a share of 11 per cent among the awardees pan-India.

The errors in the research, if any, are mine and mine alone and the glory for any good words about the book must go only to these bravehearts, to their parents, and the soil which nurtured them. Jai Hind.

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