Krishna Kant Sharma
“Awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, in the presence of the enemy, whether on land, at sea, or in the air.”
These innocuous sounding lines describe the criteria for being awarded the Param Vir Chakra; India’s highest military decoration. Instituted on 26th January 1950, the award is one of the rarest honours to achieve. Since its inception, it has been awarded to 21 individuals only, 14 of them being posthumous.
As India prepares to celebrate 2021 as Swarnim Vijay Varsh, to commemorate 50 years of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 India-Pakistan War, we look at the Param Vir Chakra, its history and its recipients.
India’s gallantry awards trace their origin to the ‘Order of Merit’ instituted by the East India Company. The Param Vir Chakra is the Indian equivalent of the Victoria Cross in the UK and the Medal of Honor in the USA. Made of bronze and embossed with four replicas of Indra’s Vajras and the State Emblem of India, the award is part of Indian military folklore. It was awarded for the first time on 21st June 1950, posthumously, to Major Somnath Sharma for his defence of Srinagar Airport on 3rd November 1947, effectively preventing Srinagar from falling into the hands of the invading Pakistani forces. Five PVCs were awarded in the 1947-48 India-Pak war, 3 in the 1961-62 Sino-India war, 2 in the 1965 India-Pak war, 4 in the 1971 India-Pak war, 4 in the 1999 Kargil war, while 1 each was awarded for the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Congo in 1961, Operation Rajiv to capture Siachen in 1987 and Operation Pawan, the Indian Peace Keeping Mission in Sri Lanka in 1987.
In 1976, the Department of Post had brought out a 25 paise stamp with a picture of the PVC. To date, only Subedar Major Bana Singh (Siachen), Subedar Sanjay Kumar (Kargil) and Subedar Yogendra Yadav (Kargil) are the living recipients of the Param Vir Chakra.
Hony Captain Bana Singh, then Subedar Major, was part of the 8th Batallion of JAKLI in 1987, which was tasked with the capture of the strategically important Quaid Post on the Siachen glacier. More than three decades later, he still vividly remembers those momentous days in 1987. Singh recalls, “In April, the paltan went to Leh. Word was that Pakistan wanted to attack. We were ordered to capture Siachen. Our CO Brigadier Chandan Nugyal came to meet us and stayed with us for a day. On 29th May 1987, a patrol under 2nd Lt. Rajiv Pande consisting of 1 officer, 1 JCO and 10 jawans was sent out to fix ropes. However, they were detected by the Pakistani gunners who inflicted heavy casualties. Then Lt Gen BC Nanda and Colonel AP Rai devised a plan to capture Siachen and avenge the deaths.”
Singh continues, “On 24th June at 8 pm, my team and I started climbing. Till 4 in the morning, we had climbed 150 meters and were taking heavy enemy fire. On 25th June, we again prepared to climb despite a ferocious wind. On 26th June we attacked the enemy, and I tossed a grenade in a Pakistani bunker. The enemy fired at us and we fired back. Both sides took casualties, however later the Pakistani soldiers tried to flee.”
Singh spent three days in the snow. He adds, “The Tricolour first flew on the post on 26th June. As morning broke, the CO reached the post and awarded me there itself, renaming the Quaid post as Bana Post.” According to Singh, whatever he did was not for personal glory, but for the nation. “I hope that the young generation remember our sacrifice and take pride in it.” Bana Singh was decorated with the PVC on 26th January 1988.
Hony Lieutenant Yogendra Yadav, then Subedar Major Yogendra Yadav of 18th Grenadiers; Subedar Sanjay Kumar, then Havildar Sanjay Kumar of 13th Battalion of Jammu and Kashmir Rifles; Captain Manoj Pandey of 1st Battalion of 11 Gorkha Rifles (P) and Captain Vikram Batra of 13th Battalion of Jammu and Kashmir Rifles (P) were decorated with the award for their bravery during the 1999 Kargil war.
GL Batra, the father of Captain Vikram Batra, stays in Palampur in Himachal Pradesh. Talking about Vikram, a spring comes into his voice. “We were blessed with twin sons whom we named Vikram and Vishal. Vikram was an intelligent child and excelled in studies and extracurricular studies. He joined 13 JAK RIF. In 1999, after completing his tenure in the counter-insurgency areas; his unit was ordered to the peacetime location of Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh.”
Batra recalls, “Vikram’s unit soon received orders to move to Dras, Kargil. On 17th June 1999, a fierce battle broke out between his unit and the enemy who was on the heights while Vikram and his men had to climb up. However, Vikram and his unit attacked the Pakistani positions and captured Point 5140 for India. His codename was Shehanshah and the Pakistani commander used to challenge him that he won’t return alive. After capturing Point 5140, he sent out his victory signal ‘Yeh dil maange more’. Later he phoned us, and we told him to follow karma and perform his duty. He was also promoted to the rank of Captain.
“On 7th July, he and his unit charged Pakistani positions on Point 4875. During the battle, he fell to enemy bullets; but his actions inspired other troops to capture Point 4875. He was decorated with the PVC by the President of India on 15th August 1999. We went to Kargil thrice to commemorate Vijay Diwas. We hope that the exploits of our heroes find their way into textbooks so that children are inspired to work for the country.”
General VP Malik PVSM AVSM (Retd) was the Chief of Army Staff during the 1999 Kargil war. He says, “The credit for our victory in Kargil goes primarily to the bravery and dedication of our young soldiers and officers. They were brave, had great confidence and were determined. There were countless acts of valour, single-minded devotion to duty and tremendous sacrifices. The actions wherein Vikram Batra, Manoj Pandey, Yogendra Singh Yadav and Sanjay Kumar were involved are legends now. All four were awarded Param vir Chakra for their exceptional acts of gallantry.”
As Independence Day approaches, it is time that we remember our heroes who gave their lives to protect us and our motherland. Let their brave deeds and supreme sacrifice never fade from our memories and may they have our eternal gratitude.
Krishna Kant Sharma is a New Delhi-based technology professional with experience in IT, Telecom & Digital domains. He has worked with the government as well as the private sector. His interests include politics, military, technology and gender rights. He is also an avid sportsman and a keen philatelist
It is very informative. We seldom forget to sing songs of honour and praise for the real heroes of our lives. It is so good that you brought light to it. Jai Hind.