Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters; Yogendra Yadav: Claude Arpi Claude Arpi
Yogendra Singh Yadav survived 15 bullets while capturing Tiger Hill in the Kargil War and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest award for gallantry.
On the eve of Independence Day, the 32-year-old soldier relives that night when he and his fellow commandos won one of India's most historic military victories.
Yogender Singh Yadav of the 18 Grenadiers believes that every deadly bullet has a name engraved on it. Yadav knows what he speaks about; after all he survived some 15 bullets while capturing Tiger Hill during the Kargil conflict and was awarded the highest award for gallantry: The Param Vir Chakra.
Yadav was a member of the 'ghatak' (assault) commando platoon which captured three strategic bunkers on Tiger Hill overlooking the Drass-Kargil road on the night of July 3-4, 1999.
Twenty-two highly-trained men approached the Pakistan-occupied peak via a vertical cliff at an altitude of 16,500 feet.
The Param Vir Chakra citation said Yadav 'Unmindful of the danger involved, volunteered to lead and fix the rope for his team to climb up. On seeing the team, the enemy opened intense automatic, grenade, rocket and artillery fire, killing the commander and two of his colleagues and the platoon was stalled. Realising the gravity of the situation, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav crawled up to the enemy position to silence it and in the process sustained multiple bullet injuries. Unmindful of his injuries and in the hail of enemy bullets, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav continued climbing towards the enemy positions, lobbed grenades, continued firing from his weapons and killed four enemy soldiers in close combat and silenced the automatic fire.'
Claude Arpi met the hero recently. Interestingly, the long list of prepared questions was soon set aside as the commando, now 32 years old, started to 're-live' his experience. It is only towards the end of the encounter that Claude could ask him a few clarifications.
Some thirteen years ago, on July 3, you and your team was given the task of capturing Tiger Hill. What do you remember of these difficult days?
What were your feelings then? How do you recall the events today?
Even though 13 years have passed, I still feel that the Kargil war happened just yesterday. I will never be able to forget through my whole life the memories of Kargil.
During this war, I do not know how many comrades I lost; comrades who were even dearer than my own brothers.
Inside me live their memories and it will thus continue to be.
I do not know how many hundreds of my comrades were injured; today some among them cannot even walk or move.
Those are 13 years of memories... it is still as if it all just happened to me yesterday.
'If Tiger Hill wasn't won, all other victories could be nullified'
Photographs: Kamal Kishore/Reuters
I remember, 13 years ago, on the night of July 3-4, my battalion was ordered to capture Tiger Hill top.
Tiger Hill was the highest peak in the Drass sector. To take control of it was very difficult; a height of 16,500 feet, with sheer, precipitous sides of ice and snow.
Before that we had won mastery over many hills (particularly Tololing), but our success could turn into failure, if the dominating feature of Tiger Hill was not won, all other victories could be nullified.
The senior commanders concluded that only after Tiger Hill is captured would our other gains bring a complete success.
Our battalion was then ordered to capture the top of Tiger Hill; attack plans were made. A 'ghatak' (assault) platoon was formed, with Lieutenant Balwan Singh as commander.
This 'ghatak' platoon, under the battalion, was to attack the top of Tiger Hill first. The path that we decided to take was such that the Pakistani forces could not envisage that the Indian Army would be using this path to reach the top.
The path to the Pakistani positions had sheer, vertical peaks.
We made plans on how to accomplish our task and finally on July 2, we set out to accomplish our goal. The whole battalion moved together. The attack could only happen at night as the enemy, from their heights, could observe us from afar.
If we had attacked during the day, they would have shot down our jawans; hence we could only attack in the dead of night, that too, when the moon was hidden.
After an arduous climb for two days, during the night of July 3-4, we went through a tremendously difficult path, a very small path. But hearing the stones sliding under our feet, the enemy surmised that the Indian Army has reached this area. They opened fire on us.
When the firing started, there were only seven jawans who were ahead; the others were slowly reaching up from below in a line. A bit of path was blocked and only those seven jawans had been able to reach this higher spot.
We reached up to a 8 to 10 feet level with Pakistani bunkers; 4 to 5 soldiers opened fire at us. All seven of us went on firing and sent several Pakistani soldiers into the valley of death.
We obtained victory on that ledge. But the top of Tiger Hill was still 30 to 35 metres higher. From there the enemy could see where the Indian soldiers had reached. They started firing at us so heavily that neither were we able to move higher, nor could we could come out from behind the rocks.
'I resolved I would remain alive, even if they cut off my limbs'
For five hours, the exchange of fire continued, however they were unable to estimate how many jawans were present below them.
At about 10.30 am, the Pakistanis sent some 10, 12 soldiers to check. When the enemy came close to us, we fired at them and killed them all, excepting one or two.
But by then our positions had been marked by the Pakistanis and they knew how many we were; they returned to the top to report to their commanders that there were only 8, 10 Indian soldiers below.
Within 30 minutes of getting this information, the Pakistani troops launched a counter attack on us; such a powerful attack, using several supporting weapons, throwing big boulders down on us.
As they slowly came closer and closer, they managed to damage our LMG (Light Machine Gun), our supporting weapon.
Then they got still closer and launched a hand to hand battle, during which six of my companions were martyred.
I still remember that moment, those preceding instants when we seven mates were discussing and talking together about what to do next and what was going to happen, and the instant later when all my comrades had been martyred.
I was bereft by this loss, but also glad that before losing their lives they had killed 10, 12 enemy soldiers. I too was severely wounded and was taken for dead by the enemy.
Two, three times, they returned to shoot some bullets into all the dead bodies and checked that no one was alive.
The enemy also shot bullets into my body, I was shot in the arm and leg, but had firmly resolved that unless I got a bullet in my heart or head, I would remain alive, even if they cut off my arms and legs.
It is due to that resolve and will that I am alive today.
Some 500 metres below was our MMG (Medium Machine Gun) post, the enemy then made plans to destroy it. Next to Tiger Hill was the Mushkoh valley, where their base camp was located. It is from there that the orders to destroy the MMG post came.
I heard this order; I knew that some 10, 12 of my fellow soldiers were manning the MMG post.
In my heart, a voice spoke to me and said that I must save my companions. It is true that if one remembers Ishwar (the Lord) with full faith, then Ishwar-shakti (the Lord's power) aids you. It can even appear before you.I prayed to Ishwar to keep me alive long enough to save my comrades.
Perhaps He heard my prayer.
'I even tried to break off my fractured arm with a jerk'
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
When the Pakistani soldiers again shot at us and tried to take our weapons, I attacked them with a grenade. One of their soldiers was killed.
Another turned his muzzle at me and fired at my chest. In my breast pocket was my purse which contained some five rupee coins. The bullet hit the coins and ricocheted away; I felt that I had died.
But the next instant, when he bent to take my weapon, my eyes opened and I realised that I was still alive. Within a moment, I turned and grabbing a rifle, opened fire on them.
During the firing, four Pakistani soldiers were killed. I fired from one boulder, then rolled behind another to fire again and then a third.
They thought that some Indian reinforcements had reached from below and they ran away. I returned to my companions to check if any of them were alive, but to my deep sorrow, no one was.
I tried to see how to descend, when Devi-shakti appeared before me and told me how to go down.
My broken arm was useless at my side, I tried to tie it, I even tried to break it off with a jerk, but I could not manage. Finally, I fixed it into my belt behind my back and rolled downhill towards my companions.
I gave my mates the warning about the impending attack and told my team commander, Lieutenant Balwan Sahib the entire story.
He, in turn reported to our battalion commander that our leading section had been entirely destroyed, only one jawan had returned (Yogender Singh Yadav) and he is giving this information.
Battalion Commanding Officer Colonel Khushal Chand Thakur told them to get this jawan down to him as quickly as possible so that he could hear the information first hand.
At that time it must have been 1:30, 2 in the afternoon (of July 4). Blood was flowing from my wounds like water. Though my comrades gave me first aid, the bleeding would not stop. They brought me back to the CO and by the time we reached, it was completely dark, and I was unable to see.
The CO asked, "Son, do you recognise me?" but I could see nothing. He had me laid in his personal tent, and had 2, 3 stoves lit around me. When my body gradually got warmer, the RMO (Regiment Medical Officer) Sahib came and gave me again some first aid and made me drink some glucose.
I got some sort of energy back in my body and then the CO asked again, "Tell me now, son, what happened with you all?"
I told him the whole story and concluded that "Now Sir, they are going to attack the MMG post. Sir, you see, beyond this helipad there are stones, behind which are the living tents of the enemy, they have support weapons deployed there, and ammunition has been dumped there."
After I gave this information, RMO Sahib gave me an injection to put me to sleep.
'I lost comrades who were more dear to me than my brothers'
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
When I woke up three days later, I was at the Srinagar base hospital. I learned that the same night, our reserve company had attacked the top of Tiger Hill, and without any casualties, had succeeded in capturing the top.
I was then shifted to the army hospital, New Delhi, and after 16 months of treatment, I could serve the army again.
It is the dream of every soldier to fight for his country and with his own blood to anoint this motherland. To be able to do this is his great fortune.
I consider myself fortunate to have taken birth on Mother India's soil and to be part of this great Indian Army, which is today considered to be one of the best in the world.
I am proud of my country and of our army and I would tell the youth of this country that we can be devoted to our nation from anywhere, but the real progress, the inner and outer protection only comes when we all come together, when we try to progress in every realm and each one tries to grow in our own sphere.
I would appeal to our youth that no matter which area you chose, you should work with honesty, straightforwardness and work hard and you should keep their devotion to their country awake, alive. Jai Hind!
You said that the Devi Ma's Shakti came to you. You had earlier already had a vision, telling you that you would be injured, but would not die. Please can you elaborate?
When, with full faith, a man surrenders everything he has to accomplish a certain task, and this, without reserve, (ulterior) motive or calculation, certainly then, an inner strength, a shakti, arises in him.
He becomes conscious of what is going to happen to him today or tomorrow or whenever.
This happened to me, I was given the awareness that I would be injured; my arms and legs would become useless, but that I would remain alive.
It is a fact that in Kargil we had surrendered ourselves fully to our task (to recover Tiger Hill from the Pakistanis), we were fully aware that we could lose our lives, but we still surrendered ourselves to the task ahead with complete faith in the Lord... then there is no question of thinking that one could fail in one's work.
The task has to be completed -- the Lord himself tests man, He tests how much a person can take, how much pain he can bear; only when one can bear the most intolerable pain does the divine strength comes (to accomplish the task).
'I have merely shed some of my blood for my motherland'
Photographs: Krishendu Halder/Reuters
You had the certitude that you would not die, tell us more about this vision of 'Devi Ma' who showed you the way down to the MMG post?
At that time, I knew that I had to reach my comrades; it was a selfless wish, to try to save the lives of my mates, my brothers.
I had no desire to try to save my own life, in fact having witnessed my six companions sacrifice their lives, I was proud that I was now being given another opportunity to serve my motherland and follow in their footsteps.
This is the dream of every soldier, his glorious journey to fulfil the prime duty of his life.
When he returns home wrapped in the national Tricolour, his family, his country and even the whole world rejoices with tears at his self-sacrifice.
I was given that strength and She showed me the way down.
The 'vision' told you which way you must take?
Yes, absolutely, in front was a being in white who said, "Son, roll down this nalla (gully)."
Have you seen LOC Kargil, the Hindi movie made about your action?
They did not interview me for that. But the movie, LOC Kargil has my role played by Manoj Bajpai.
Did you see the movie? How did you find it?
I liked it. They have highlighted the task that I and my companions performed; our sacrifice for the good. The world could see this. It made the general public aware of the difficulties a soldier has to endure to do his duty successfully. I liked it very much.
Thirteen years later, would you do it again?
Yes. Many citizens wants to join the army, (not all are selected), but those who are, feel they are blessed that out of so many aspirants they are the chosen few who will serve to protect their country.
A soldier's ultimate wish is that he should be allowed to do this job of protecting his country, and even if he has to lay down his life to do it, that is not too big a sacrifice.
I have merely shed some of my blood for my motherland, only put a tilak with my blood on her land, but I am still alive. But if I were given the chance, I would put down this life for her.
Since that time, there have been a lot of changes in the army?
The Army is the Army.
'The Indian Army jawan has a patriotism not present in any other army'
At that time, there were many shortages in the army, lack of equipment, ammunitions, adequate clothing, etc. Has the situation improved?
At that time (in 1999), the war was declared all of a sudden. In those areas (Kargil-Drass sectors), there was little army deployment. The units which had to be called in from other parts of India, from the plains and they did not have the right clothing.
But the main need of the hour (during the war(, was neither adequate clothing nor right equipment available, but to accomplish the task at hand, and this, with whatever means we had.
It is a matter of pride that the Indian Army jawan has a dedication, a patriotism not present in any other army of the world.
It is only because of this that we were able to vanquish the enemy at those impenetrable mountain heights.
It is said that a soldier believes that every bullet carries someone's name on it. Do you believe that too?
Of course. See, I am a soldier, and so is the man fighting against me, we are not bothered by which bullet carries whose name.
Definitely each bullet carries a name, just as we say that every morsel of food bears the name of the person who must eat it.
Similarly, for a soldier, he has a bullet with his name on it, the one which will kill him; perhaps the bullet with my name was not made and as a result, I am still alive.
Claude Arpi adds: Though not mentioned in this interview, one of the motivations of the jawans and officers during the Kargil conflict was the barbarian behaviour of the Pakistanis.
On May 15, 1999, India sent a patrol to ascertain if some parts of her territory were occupied by intruders.
The patrol was ambushed on the Indian side of the LoC and the patrol leader, Lieutenant Saurabh Kalia and five of his jawans were captured and tortured.
Their mutilated bodies were returned on June 9. Yogender and his companions knew this. It motivated them further to recapture Tiger Hill.
Before the attack on Tiger Hill, Yogender Singh Yadav's battalion had been involved in the battle for Tololing, another peak occupied by Pakistan. They fought for 22 days.
Many Indian jawans and officers lost their lives in the battle. Yogender who was just married and could only reach his battalion a few days after the battle had started was given the task of supplying ammunition to the forward troops.
The 19-year-old Grenadier managed to climb the peak twice a day to supply his companions.
In a booklet on his life, he stated: 'It was gruelling and back-breaking work. My officers noted that I had tremendous stamina and could climb these treacherous steep and snow-covered slippery slopes almost constantly for 2 days carrying heavy loads. Please see: Our Heroes: Param Vir Chakra, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav, Shyam Kumari, Vraja Trust, Pondicherry, 2011.
It is why he was selected to lead the final assault on Tiger Hill.
Claude Arpi gratefully acknowledges the help of Mrs Shyam Kumari, Lieutenant Colonel Uma Tewari (AMC, Retd) and Abha. The interview was conducted in Hindi.