This is the story of a young officer, all of 23 years and his five brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives
for us. They did not get martyrdom by being slain while fighting the enemy. Instead, they were
tortured slowly for 22-23 days and were finally shot dead.
I wrote about these six valiant soldiers in 2009 on 10th anniversary of Kargil war and again I am
feeling compelled to remind the nation of the story of supreme sacrifice of Lt. Saurabh Kalia & his
17 years ago, during this time of the year, we were at war with Pakistan.
Pakistan guerrillas along
with regular Pakistan army had crossed over the LOC & occupied number of strategically located
peaks in Kargil, Dras, Mushkoh, Turtuk sectors, all along the NH 1A. The entire nation and the Indian
Army were surprised and were trying to gauge the extent of intrusion.
In first week of May 1999, two shepherds – Tashi Namgyal and Tresing Morup - reported seeing a
few strangers on the ridgeline in Batalik Sector. A patrol from 3 rd Punjab was sent to verify the
report. Lt Saurabh Kalia of 4 Jat was to lead a patrol in Kaksar area but they had to return because of
Saurabh was born to Dr. N.K. Kalia, a senior scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial
Research, and Vijay Kalia in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh on June 29 th 1976. He was brilliant
academically and wanted to become a doctor but destiny had a place reserved in history for him.
After graduation in 1997, he appeared for CDS (Combined Defence Services) exam when all his
friends skipped the exam for a movie. He was rejected twice by Army’s medical panel – once for
heart murmur and then for tonsils. But his persistence paid off.
He joined IMA Dehradun and got
commissioned in 4 Jat on 12 th Dec 1998.
On 14 th May 1999, 4 Jat decided to send another patrol to Bajrang post. A JCO (Junior Commissioned
Officer) was to lead the patrol but in true spirit and tradition of Indian Army, Lt. Kalia volunteered
and led the patrol.
Other members of patrol were:
Sepoy Arjun Ram
Sepoy Bhanwar Lal Bagaria
Sepoy Bhikha Ram
Sepoy Moola Ram
Sepoy Naresh Singh
Again due to bad weather, they had to postpone their patrol by 24 hours.
They started the next day
and were just short of their objective at 3:30 PM, when they were fired upon by the enemy
positioned at the peak.
Lt. Kalia’s party fired back, reported the incident to battalion headquarters and asked for
reinforcement. Soon they ran out of ammunition.
Before Indian enforcements could arrive, Lt. Kalia’s
patrol was captured alive by the enemy.
What they went through for next 22-23 days is best described as hell in all religious books. They
were tortured slowly every day for the entire duration.
Their eyeballs were removed; ear drums
were punctured; nose and lips were smashed; private parts were chopped; index finger, which is
used to fire, was cut; cigarette burns were all over their bodies; right arm and shoulder were broken;
back of the head was smashed with rifle butt so badly that part of the brain was visible and finally
they were shot dead. Imagine their resolve that all this brutality could not break their morale and
spirit, enemy had to shoot them in frustration.
While all this was happening, his family was totally unaware of it. His father did not even know that
Lt. Kalia’s patrol was captured on 15 th May. On 31 st May, The Tribune reported "The intrusion in the
area was detected by Lt. V.K. Kalia & his patrol party. His party is missing since then but Skardu
Radio in Pakistan has announced that they have captured the men alive".
Sumit Walia is an IT Specialist. He is also a military history buff who continues to explore & research various facets of the Indian Military history in his spare time.
Initials in this report were
incorrect, so Dr Kalia thought that some other unfortunate officer got captured.
There was another reason for Dr. Kalia’s assumption.
He had received a letter from his son dated 10 th
May & the news had quoted 6th May as the incident date.
On 7th June, Indian Express reported same incident with correct name but with incorrect date - "On
the morning on May 6th , 1999 Lt. Saurabh Kalia led a patrol of five men in Kaksar area and has been
missing since then. Army sources say he is missing but officers & Jawans of his unit say they saw him
being hit by enemy fire".
Dr Kalia was grief stricken but Saurabh’s letter of 10th May kept his fading hopes alive. On 8th June,
Dr. Kalia could not resist calling Army HQ.
That phone call killed his last ray of hope. Army HQ
confirmed that Saurabh’s patrol had been missing since 15th May, 1999.
9th June was the fateful day when mutilated bodies of Lt. Kalia & his men were handed over by
Pakistan Army. At 2PM, Doordarshan confirmed the arrival of bodies.
Army HQ called Dr Kalia to
inform the same.
Vaibhav Kalia, younger brother of Lt. Kalia, went to identify the body and in his own words, "Saurabh'
face was the size of my finger, eyebrow was the only visible feature, there were no eyes, no jaw,
nothing. There were cigarette burns all over his face. My parents could not have seen him".
The entire nation came out to share grief of the families of all six soldiers. 8000 people were present
in Palampur to receive Saurabh’s tricoloured wrapped body.
On being commissioned in 4 Jat, Saurabh said to his mother, "Today I am proud that I have joined 4 Jat & one day Jat regiment would be proud that Saurabh Kalia joined this regiment." Keeping his
word, he made 4 Jat, Indian Army and the entire nation proud.
Ironically, his first salary was credited after his dead body came home.
His father has preserved
everything related to Lt. Kalia - his uniform, personal belongings, letters, childhood toys, shoes,
alarm clock, bottle of Chelpark ink, a poster of Aishwarya Rai that he had in his room in IMA, and
over 100000 letters that Dr Kalia received from people all over the world.
If you ever go to Palampur, please visit Dr Kalia to re-assure them that nation has not forgotten the
sacrifice their son made in the line of duty.