OUTNUMBERED 15:1 AND FIGHTING UPHILL
TALE OF A YOUNG BRAVEHEART AND HIS MEN IN NAGA HILLS
The year was 1956, barely 9 years since India gained independence and secessionist insurgency was ravaging the pristine hills of Nagaland like a maniacal fever. Indian Army was out there fighting the rebels in the forbidding hills and ravines. At dawn on the 3rd of June Second Lieutenant Polur Muthuswamy Raman of A Company, 3rd Battalion, The Sikh Light Infantry set out on a patrol with his platoon of 30-odd men from the village of Chiswima eastward towards another village, Piphema, heading for the town of Wokha. The platoon was traversing the deepest point of a ravine when it was attacked by an overwhelmingly powerful force of about 500 insurgents. Hemmed in by steep gradients on either side and pinned down by enfilade fire the platoon was virtually surrounded and trapped. The 21-year old young officer was left with the devil’s choice. Fight against the incredible odds and face certain annihilation of his command or surrender and face the humiliation and torture the insurgents were certain to mete out to him and his men. The proud soldier he was he chose the former. It was diehard soldiering as they fought their way uphill trying to break the enemy cordon. The fight went on for good 4 – 5 hours. The casualties were heavy but no dead or wounded was left behind. Raman himself was wounded twice but fought on leading his men upward.
The game was almost over for them when help came from unexpected quarters. Another brave-heart, an older brother officer of Raman, Major Mehta Singh, observing the predicament the young officer and his platoon were in from a higher feature, rushed to their aid with a detachment fighting their way down through the rebel ranks. In one of those do-or-die pieces of action wherein one group fought uphill while another pushed downward the comrades breached the rebel cordon and linked up, eventually breaking out of the enemy gauntlet. Incredibly the casualties among their men were minimal; but the two officers paid for the victory with their lives. Even while they tasted victory, both, fatally wounded, breathed their last. It was one of the most daring skirmishes fought in the annals of India’s military feats. Both the officers were decorated for their exceptional gallantry posthumous, Raman with Ashok Chakra, the nation’s highest gallantry award for Counter-Insurgency Operations and Mehta Singh with Kirti Chakra the second highest award in that category.
The fighting the Indian infantry did in the leech-and-mosquito infested jungles of the North-East in the 50s and 60s which broke the back of the insurgencies in that region is more or less a forgotten story today. No other governmental force in the world can equal the achievement of the Indian Army in putting down those insurgencies fuelled and backed by our hostile neighbours. The US Army sends their teams nowadays to India’s Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) at Vairengte, Mizoram, to learn the techniques evolved by us. No matter what the political and other establishments might argue for vested interests the North-East Insurgency is dead; a singular achievement of the Indian Army written in the blood of countless heroes like Raman who sacrificed their young lives so that India may survive.
Almost six decades after Second Lieutenant Raman laid down his life for his country, his alma mater, the National Defence Academy, commemorated its brave son by christening its new academic block as ‘Raman Block’; an ever-lasting inspiration to many a young hero who will march out of that citadel.