In the winter of 1962, invading Chinese troops made a bold statement when they decided to venture and capture deep Indian Territory at the height of the Sino-Indian war. With every passing hour, the Chinese aggression on the Indian side was increasing in intensity and something needed to be done to at least put a temporary end to the Chinese advances across the Indian territory. And this is when they decided to attack and capture Rezang La in Ladakh.
Rezang La pass is located at around 16000 feet near Chushul. Commonly also known as Ahir Dham because of the local inhabitants’ Ahirs, the pass was one of the most critical nerves held by the Indian army in Ladakh, one whose cessation to the Chinese would mean total surrender by the Indian army. In that context, when the Chinese troops attacked Rezang La, not only did they attack a major Indian post but also struck a heavy blow on the Indian Army ego.
The Charlie Company of the 13th Kumaon regiments was led by the legendary Major Shaitan Singh Bhati. Stationed at Rezang La with 120 men under him, Shaitan Singh took the bull by its horn and decided to hold ground against hordes of Chinese attacking under heavy artillery fire from the Chinese side. The Indian side, however, couldn’t hope for a defending artillery fire as it was situated behind a hill feature thus leaving the 120 brave men to fend for themselves.
The first attack from the Chinese came from the Nullah, a dry river bed, and was successfully thwarted by the Charlie Company with the help of the machine gun. The Chinese didn’t expect such strong retaliation from the Indian side and regrouped to launch a second attack which almost eclipsed the first one by a ratio of 3:1. This too was well defended by the boys of the Charlie Company.
But Shaitan Singh knew that he couldn’t sustain it for too long because the next Chinese attack would overwhelm his brave men even if they stood their ground in case of a total rout. He moved from one post to another to motivate his squad and asked for their ultimate sacrifice in the name of their motherland. And they did.
On that day, 114 of the 120 odd jawans lost their lives in service to the nation. There have been many estimates as to how many Chinese men were killed which range from 500-2000. When the bodies of the Indian men were fetched, many of them were still holding onto a bomb. A medical help was found with a syringe and bandage in his hands. This meant that the attack was on from the Indian side when many of the posts were overrun by the Chinese, meaning the Indian men didn’t leave their posts till they were physically confronted by the enemy and still died on the field with bombs in their hands.
General K.S Thimayya, one of the most recognized soldiers of the Kumaon regiment who served as the Army chief once said this about the battle of Rezang La: “You rarely come across such example in the annals of world military history when braving such heavy odds, the men fought till the last bullet and the last man. Certainly the Battle of Rezang La is such a shining example."
Major Shaitan Singh, who died motivating his company, became only the second winner of the Param Vir Chakra which was awarded to him posthumously. Other fighters who were awarded the Veer Chakras included Naik Hukum Chand (posthumous), Naik Gulab Singh Yadav, Lance Naik Ram Singh (posthumous), Subedar Ram Kumar and Subedar Ram Chander. In the end, Shaitan Singh and his men proved that no matter what the odds, some battles are just worth dying for.