Never forget Lt. Saurabh Kalia & his five brave men

Last Updated: Thu, Aug 04, 2016 13:21 hrs
Saurabh Kalia

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 five men. 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 heavy snow.  

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". 

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.

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.