Indian Army remembers fallen heroes of Battle of Basantar

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 16, 2010 17:10 hrs

Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), Dec 16 (IANS) The Indian Army Thursday remembered its fallen heroes in the 1971 war with Pakistan, celebrating the hard-won victory in a fierce tank battle of Basantar in the western sector.

The two-day commemorating ceremony at the Strike 1 Corps headquarters in this Uttar Pradesh garrison town concluded with a light and sound show in the evening depicting the 'epic' battle in which over 30 soldiers laid down their lives protecting the nation.

As colourful crackers lightened up the skyline in this serene army cantonment, the audience, which included soldiers and their families, watched with rapt attention how soldiers of the Indian Army braved a fierce onslaught by Pakistani troops in the Shakargarh sector between Jammu and Punjab.

And the unforgettable song of national fervour - 'Aye mere watan ke logo' sung by Lata Mangeshkar - brought the audience to tears, like it had first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru when she had sung it at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on Republic Day in 1963.

The light and sound show prepared by the Strike 1 portrayed each vital moment of the Battle of Basantar, also known as the battle of Barapind, fought Dec 4-16. It said 'our brave soldiers sacrificed their lives because it was one of the vital victories for India in the 1971 war in the western sector.

Two officers were given Param Vir Chakra - the highest war-time gallantry award - following the victory. Young Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal who was only six-month old in the army received the award posthumously. Colonel Hoshiar Singh was awarded as it is said he stuck to his post even after getting injured and chased the enemy troops away to give India its 'best decorated' victory.

Earlier in the day, the next of kin of two winners of the gallantry award were felicitated at the ceremony.

The 85-year-old mother of Khetrapal, killed in the battle between the armoured regiments of the Indian and Pakistani armies, was the guest of honour at the ceremony. She was given a memento citing the 'supreme sacrifice' of her son who died fighting at the age of 21.

The son of Colonel Hoshiar Singh was also given a memento on the occasion.

Lt. Gen. S.R. Gosh, heading the Western Command, and Lt. Gen. A.K. Singh who heads the Strike 1 Corps, laid floral wreaths at the war memorial in the army cantonment here, erected in memory of the fallen heroes.

The Indian Army had won the battle to secure the area in the Punjab-Jammu sector.

A coffee table book summarising the history of Strike 1 Corps was also released on the occasion.

Basantar is a tributary of the river Ravi that flows in the states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. The battle took place in the Shakargarh sector, a bit of the Pakistan boundary abutting in the Indian territory.

The point was strategic for both sides as it comprised road links to Jammu from Punjab which, if cut off by Pakistan, could have led to snapping of a key link to Jammu and Kashmir.

According to war records, Pakistan had an advantage of having an army base in Sialkot close to the battle zone, but the Indian Army maintained a base at Pathankot, nearly 300 km from Shakargarh.

Kheterpal, who served in 17 Poona Horse, a cavalry unit, fought the battle on a T-55 tank after he was ordered to establish a bridgehead across the Basantar river, covered with deep minefields.

He fiercely attacked and overcame the enemy defences along with his tank troop, and destroyed nearly 10 Pakistani Patton tanks before his tank was also hit and burst into flames. The gallant officer was mortally wounded.

Remembering the dead lieutenant, Maheshwari Khetrepal said her son had done 'nothing extraordinary' by offering his life. 'This was his duty and he had joined the army to protect the nation. He did me proud. I'm an equally brave mother,' she told IANS in a choked voice.

Major (as he was then) Hoshiar Singh was a 3 Grenadiers Regiment officer, who led his troops to capture Jarpal in the Shakargarh sector during the battle. Singh met with fierce resistance from the Pakistan Army but he went from trench to trench and repulsed the enemy attack along with his company. He was seriously wounded, but Singh refused to be evacuated till ceasefire.

He retired as a colonel before he died Dec 6, 1998.