November 19, 2002


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Rajeev Srinivasan

13 Kumaon's Last Stand: Chushul, November 18, 1962

Most of us studied the Alfred Tennyson poem 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' in school. The Battle of Thermopylae we read of with goose bumps. We all know about Custer's Last Stand. And the battle cry 'Remember the Alamo!' resonates with us.

Yet, none of us has heard of the 13th Kumaon Battalion's Last Stand at Rezang La, Ladakh, in the Battle of Chushul, on November 18, 1962. I think this is a great pity.

For, let us remind ourselves of these examples of heroism:

  • The Battle of Thermopylae in ancient Greece in 480 BCE, where 300 Spartans under Leonidas stopped a Persian army of 250,000 at a narrow mountain pass. They died to the last man, but provided enough time for the rest of the Greek army to escape to fight another day.
  • The 13th Light Brigade of the British Army at Balaclava, the Crimea, in 1854. Six hundred and seventy-three men rode at Russian artillery and were decimated.
  • At the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, in 1836, several hundred Texans held out against the Mexican Army before they were killed to the last man.
  • Custer's Last Stand was the Battle of Little Bighorn, 1876, in Montana where the Sioux nation under Chief Sitting Bull wiped out George Custer and 265 men.

    And finally:

  • The C company of the 13th Kumaon Battalion, under Major Shaitan Singh (Param Vir Chakra, Posthumous) held off a fierce Chinese attack on November 18, 1962, at the Rezang La heights that they held. Massively outnumbered and outgunned, the defenders died almost to the last man, and expended their last round. All 114 men were killed or wounded. But they succeeded in blunting the Chinese assault, killing as many as a thousand Chinese in the process at Rezang La and at nearby Gurung Hill. Thereafter, the Chinese did not push further towards the Chushul plain. It was a critical checkpoint on a potential Chinese advance on Leh.
The story of 13th Kumaon is the kind of thing that would make the patriotic Indian stand tall with tears in his eyes. Yet, we do not stand in silence for a moment in memory of Major Shaitan Singh and his gallant men. No poet eulogizes them as Tennyson did the Light Brigade. There is only a small memorial at the site, which says:

How can a Man die Better than facing Fearful Odds,
For the Ashes of His Fathers and the Temples of His Gods,
To the sacred memory of the Heroes of Rezang La,
114 Martyrs of 13 Kumaon who fought to the Last Man,
Last Round, Against Hordes of Chinese on 18 November 1962.
Built by All Ranks 13th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment.

I am indebted to the Bharat-Rakshak web site for this information as well as a long article on the Battle of Chushul by L N Subramanian. Yet, why is there nothing written about them along the lines of what Tennyson did, as in these excerpts from his stirring poem:

Half a league half a league
Half a league onward...
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred...

Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd;
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die...

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;...

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade...

Why have Indians so consistently ignored the great sacrifices made by our soldiers? Why isn't the story of the valiant 13th Kumaon a part of every child's textbooks? Why have we let these brave men die unwept, unmourned, and unsung? Just as we let thousands of soldiers die in Kashmir, in Kargil, everywhere, they are mere cannon fodder. India needs a draft, so people in power feel the pain of their children dying for the nation.

I think I know why there is no official celebration of the Battle of Chushul: the government can hardly bother to honour the Unknown Soldier on Kargil Day. Then how will they remember something that happened forty years ago?

There is also an element of shame. Congress governments were unwilling to talk about 1962 because it brings out the fact that 'someone had blunder'd' and that was their deity, Jawaharlal Nehru, along with his defence minister, V K Krishna Menon. Admitting this would leave them shamefaced, so they just let the soldiers 'but do and die'. Even the current government is unwilling to publish the Henderson Brooks report. Why? It will at least shed some light on what happened.

The media in India should have taken this up in the absence of governmental action. But the media, influenced by Chinese propaganda, has portrayed the 1962 war on Chinese terms. Aping the Xinhua propaganda agency, Indian media mavens have taken the stand that the war was India's fault. As though Indians, with no mountain divisions, would go over the Himalayas and attack the Chinese in Tibet and Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh!

The Marxists in India say the 1962 affair was an internal matter for the Chinese, as they have generously 'awarded' Arunachal Pradesh to China. The Chinese believe this, too. They told the CM of Arunachal Pradesh recently that he did not need a visa to go to China, as he was a Chinese citizen! Americans, Britons and Australians accept China's lies, for it suits them to support China.

But we know that all this isn't true. Individual Indians must remember the 13th Kumaon. As the Quebec motto goes, Je me souviens: I remember. And I shall always remember those brave men of C Company who died in a frozen wasteland. For me. For you.

Remembering A War

Rajeev Srinivasan

The Charge of the Light Brigade

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