from sub-sector Haneef in the Turtuk sector.' My first thoughts -- 3 Rajput! Suneel! God!
Suneel -- Captain Suneel Yadav -- was one of my closest friends. We had been classmates, bench-mates, bus-mates, team-mates, and neighbours from the 8th grade at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Picket (Secunderabad) to the last day of our Bachelors degree at Nizam College, Hyderabad.
Suneel was the eldest son of Subedar Major (later Honorary Captain) Ram Singh Yadav and Shakuntala Devi. Although, Suneel was an average student (Math being his Waterloo!), he was an outstanding sportsman. Be it cricket, kabaddi or football, he always took the honours.
Suneel was always the fauji types. So he joined the National Cadet Corps Air Wing while pursuing his BA at the Nizam College and represented Andhra Pradesh at the NCC Republic Day Camp in New Delhi.
He now had just one aim in life -- to join the Army. Clearing the Combined Defence Services was a little difficult for him, what with his 'command' over Maths. But he had a clear goal in mind and he worked hard and qualified for the OTA (Short Service Commission in the Army).
It was quite a proud moment for all of us but more so for his parents. For his father the equation was simple: He had joined the Army as a jawan, his son would do so as an officer! Nothing gave him more satisfaction. Suneel was commissioned into the 3 Rajput Regiment in 1997.
The newspaper report did not mention any name. It just said 'a Captain.' So many thoughts raced through my mind at that moment. Should I call Suneel's parents? Would they have seen this report? What if they hadn't? I would end up disturbing them too. I just told myself that it couldn't be Suneel. The suspense however didn't linger for long though. I got a call from Suneel's father on the 3rd morning. He told me in Hindi "Beta Suneel nahin rahe." My worst fears had come true.
It all began one June evening in 1999. Suneel called me up from Bareilly and told me that his unit had been asked to move into Kargil to relieve those who took part in Operation Vijay. I wasn't too perturbed because 'officially' Op Vijay had ceased. However, the ground realities were quite different.
Kargil's first hero
Quite a few strategic heights were still under the control of the Pakistanis. The Reshma Post in Haneefuddin Sub-sector was one of them and 3 Rajput was one of the battalions entrusted with the task of re-capturing this post. The attack was planned for the night of 29-30th August 1999. Two groups were made which were to attack Reshma Post from different sides and take the enemy by surprise. Suneel was leading one group.
Sometime during the early hours of 30th August the teams started zeroing in on Reshma post. The time of attack was fixed at 0400 hours. At the fixed hour Suneel along with his party of 5 men scaled the rocky mountain and were waiting for the other party led by a major from the Kumaon Regiment to come into contact. But something unfortunate had happened. The other party got lost in the darkness. By the time they got back on trail and reached the foot of Reshma Post, Suneel and his men were up there already, only silhouettes visible against the skyline. Suddenly there were gunshots. Suneel and his men had been spotted by the enemy! The gunfire was fast and furious but Suneel and his men decided to go on. He was here to fight.
Suneel got hit on his left palm in the first burst of fire. Two of his men also died. The next burst caught him on his left shoulder. But he did not give up. He lifted his Medium Machine Gun and was placing it on the rock in front of him and taking aim when a bullet hit him on his forehead. It is ironical that Suneel was not carrying a helmet because he found it too heavy and in its place preferred to carry his MMG instead of a lighter weapon!
Suneel collapsed on the spot. Too much for even the bravest of the brave to take I guess. Two of his men were captured by the Pakistan army (and they were amply put on PTV for 17 long days to show that India was violating the Line of Control). None of the bodies could be retrieved. The bodies of Suneel and three of his men lay buried under the snow for the next 11 months before they were recovered and handed over to their respective families.
The Army denied the attack launched on August 29 to recapture a position in sub-sector Haneefuddin. Instead a statement was issued saying that the Indian patrol 'may have inadvertently strayed into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir' and that the 'Director General Of Military Operations had contacted his Pakistani counterpart to ask for their return.' Importantly, that statement had made no mention of any casualties.
Suneel was 22 when he died. He had his whole life ahead of him. He could have turned back and maybe lived to fight another day. What prompted him to stay firm at 17,500 feet and fight on in the face of sure death? Was it the lure of a petrol pump, a plot or flat in a big city, a couple of million rupees in compensation? Obviously not! A soldier fights and dies for the honour of his country and the only befitting reward for this supreme sacrifice is a medal. Why then has Suneel been denied this honour by his country and Army, I ask?
The soldier who became a legend
Suneel's family is distressed by the treatment meted out to him by the Government of India. Since the past seven years Captain Ram Singh Yadav (himself a Sena Medal awardee) has been running from pillar to post, meeting officers concerned and asking them to recognise his son's bravery and sacrifice.
"Suneel's co-officers in the regiment, the soldiers who fought under his command, the senior most officers of the Rajput Regiment, all personally acknowledge that Suneel fought bravely till the very end. Why then has Suneel been denied a medal?" asks his father.
"Take away everything that has been given to us but give my son the medal he deserves," says a tearful Shakuntala Devi.
"Main ab Yadav nahin Rajput hoon" (a reference to his Unit), Suneel once told me. He stood there, fought like a true warrior till his last breath. Not for a moment did he dither when the nation needed him most. Why then has India failed her martyred son? It's still not too late. I sincerely hope those who matter up there give justice to Captain Suneel Yadav. Till then his soul will not rest in peace.
Salil Kader is a Doctoral Research Scholar in History at the University of Hyderabad.