THE BATTLE OF CHAMBB, 1971

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Episode – 2

[This is the second episode of a series we are featuring through weekly blogs, on the famous battle of Chambb of the 1971 War, as narrated by veterans of the 5th Battalion, the Sikh Regiment, one of the participant units in the battle]

I find myself a Prisoner of War

The Pakistanis overran Moel. Out of the original forty-odd, there were only five or six of us left. We were in the eye of the storm. The Pakistani juggernaut was overwhelmingly superior. Maybe a brigade was trampling over our position and chugging across to our battalion defences. So, the end had come. I had done all I could. They took my rifle, shoved me on, their men shouting, “Maro kaffIr ko. Isko kyuu roti khuwaani? Yahin goli maro – Kill the kaffir. Why waste food on him? Shoot him here and now.”

Soon another man was caught, operator Mohar Singh. He was shoved into the bomb crater in which I was sitting awaiting my disposal. Then a Pakistani sepoy came leading our Laangri (cook) Karam Singh. The sound of weeping drew my eyes to our youngest post member, a very raw rangroot (recruit); I think his name was Parammahinder Singh. He was a nyaana (very young) and he kept crying all the while. Raw kid, I told him that he was lucky to be alive and he must stop cowering; nothing would be gained by throwing tears on the powder of the earth now.

I could hear the Pakistani’s talking amongst themselves, trying to arrive at a consensus on our fate. “Inn kaafron ko yahin goli maarr dete hain. Kyun saalon ko roti todney ko deni, maama banaa ke rakhna? Maaro saalon ko – Let’s shoot the kaffirs here itself. Why feed the buggers and look after them like our maternal uncles? Kill the bastards!”

This sent shivers down our spines. They were talking in Punjabi not different from ours. We understood every word, every phrase they uttered. We thought these were our last moments before being shot dead. It looked apparent that they would kill us rather than make us POWs. We were mere sepoys of no intelligence value and too junior in rank to be of any interest to them. But unknown to us, slippery and cold fate was thawing in our favour. They had two officers with them. One was their Kompani Commander, the other was their intelligent officer (intelligence officer). Their kompani commander said, “Nahin nahin, inhey maarengey nahi, insey kaam lengey – No, we will not shoot them, we will make use of them.” Their intelligent officer seemed to agree also. Thanks to these officers, our lives were spared. Life is cheap in war, no more than a fluttering leaf from a Jamun or Mango tree.

That is how we escaped immediate execution, at least for the time being; but the sword of Damocles still hung over our neck. Distant sounds of battle were carried to us by wind. I think they were having a tough time in front of my Kompany. I thought “Zarror Pannu saab ne inki khaat khadi karr dee honi – Pannu Saab and my Kompani must be giving them hell by now.” The thought cheered me up immensely. All fear flew out of my heart. I was unmarried and my father was alive and I had other brothers and sisters. Even if these Mussalmans killed me, my mother would get my pension.

Then they tied us up and marched us blindfolded to their rear Headquarter. Here I found other Indians that they had captured. There was one artillery man who belonged to Ambala and two BSF men, one of whom was elderly and had two bullets lodged in his arm. “To iss taraah, pann saatt janney ho gayey – so like this there were five or seven of us.”

We were taken to a brigadier of theirs. Looked like we were at their brigade’s tactical HQ. The brigadier was in a towering temper. It convinced me that things were not going too well with the Pakistani attack. The brigadier looked at us and shouted to his staff officer. “Dafa karo salon ko. Insey hammey koi faayda nahi, parrey leja ke goli marr do – These buggers are of no use to us, take them away and bump them off.”

For the second time that day I thought the end had come. They would kill us all in cold blood. Well, if that was Waahey Guru’s marzi (God’s wish), there was nothing much I could do about it. I was resigned as well as frightened at the same time. All of us felt cold with terror, waiting for our death by a firing squad. But the grim reaper was taking his time. After a long wait, they took us to a make shift camp, stripped us of all our clothes and started beating us with rifle butts and canes. Lambey paa ke kuttna shuru keeta – they made us lie down and started beating us furiously like maniacs. Then when we were all bleeding, broken and lacerated, they dragged us to their officer, who sat with a clipboard and pen. He interrogated us. “Who is your Company Commander? Who is your CO?”

If we gave wrong names, they would immediately catch our lies and again start the thrashing. Their officers seem to know everything about us. The Pakistani army had been sending spies into Chambb area disguised in civilian clothes, gathering information about our side.

It was very cold and they kept beating us and kept us stripped for two days and nights. Then they took us away and threw us into tiny cells in their local police thaanas. They threw two chappatis per person in the mornings through the bars. Twice a day they took us out for our Dandaa Parade, that is beating sessions. This kasai-like – butcher-like – maltreatment continued for about a month. We had one tin bucket for night soil among eight of us. Life was unimaginably painful.

When they did tabdeel – shifted us from one jail to another, we thought, well this was the end; they are taking to kill us. They kept the threat of death hovering over our heads like a vulture. They could do whatever they wished with us. Who would come to know? We had no idea that the war had ended on 17 December. For the whole world we were already dead. Hum to kharch ho chukkey they – We had already been expended and were facing danda parades, forgotten and broken.

Later on, the territory of Chambb was kept by Pakistan. Hammey firr laga ke hamney muft me dandey khaayey – We felt slightly short-changed for all the sacrifice and trouble and torture we took.

[To be continued]

Lt Col Ashok Ahlawat
Lt Col Ashok Ahlawat is a serving officer of the Indian Army, who has extensively researched the role of 5 Sikh in the Battle of Chambb, interviewing many of the veterans, and created a minute-to-minute account of the action, as narrated by the veterans themselves in first person. He can be reached at ashahlawat@gmail.com
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