TRIBUTE: Defense Minister Rajnath Singh paying tribute to the martyrs of the Kargil war, who recaptured the strategic heights, despite the freezing snow and not having adequate equipment to keep themselves warm. Survivors recall that the soldiers would cry “Bharat ke liye marenge aur Kargil jeet ke hi rahenge!”

By Asma Torgal

Kargil marks the greatest victory of the Indian army, when our jawans managed to recapture the frozen heights of Kargil from the Pakistani army. The Kargil Vijay Diwas remembers the heroism of Indian soliders, including four Goan officers who laid down their lives for their country

INDIA observed the 23rd anniversary of Kargil Vijay Diwas on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. This day commemorates the country’s victory over Pakistan in the 1999 war. Defence minister Rajnath Singh paid his tribute to the martyrs of the war and laid a wreath at the National War Memorial in Delhi. The three service chiefs – Army chief General Manoj Pande, Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar and Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari – also paid their respects by laying wreaths.
The Tiger Division organized Kargil Vijay Diwas at the Tiger War Memorial and Balidan Stambh in Jammu. A large number of veterans and citizens of Jammu were also present on the occasion to remember the Kargil war heroes. A 10 km marathon run was organized by prominent citizens of Jammu to express their gratitude to the gallant soldiers who had laid down their lives for the country.
The highlight of the event was the presence of five battle casualties, Col Virender Kumar Sahi, Col Sham Lal, Hav Harbans Lal, H/Capt Shamsher Singh and Hav Bachan Singh, who gave a chilling ordeal of their upheaval experiences.
How did the war begin?
On February 21, 1999 a peaceful vibe ruled when the Lahore Declaration was signed between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his counterpart Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif. Vajpayee’s Lahore “Bus Yatra” had whipped up hopes of peace between the two neighbouring countries. Most citizens want to live in peace and harmony and avoid conflict, but on May 5, 1999 Tashi Namgyal, a shepherd who lives in Batalik, 60 km from Kargil town, went looking for his missing yak. He saw the concealment of Pakistani intruders, Pakistani Army regulars, disguised as Kashmiris had crossed the Line of Control (LoC).
Armed with 120 mm motors Indian Army troops marched to fight the enemy that had entered the Indian side of the LoC. With arms and ammunition on their shoulders, they fired and moved with them back on difficult mountainous terrain which included perpendicular cliffs. Upon further investigation the Pakistani authorities did not talk of any war but claimed that the intrusion was by Mujahideens and not their army.
The war continued for 50 days become climaxing and ending with the heavy casualty toll. Officially, the war horrific war engagement in Kargil is still not recognised as a war but the Indian Army called it “Operation Vijay.” Clearly, capturing Indian peaks in the Kargil sector was a master plan. However, it is important to learn lessons from collective experience, given Pakistan’s nuclear test earlier in same year.
Perhaps the Pakistani generals hoped the Indian response would be muted due to the threat of a nuclear war. But the Indian defence forces hit back hard, sending infantry backed by artillery and air support, thereby turning it into a first full-blooded military conflict. By mid-June, the Pakistani positions on the hills began to fall, and there was international pressure for Pakistan to take back their troops. The war ended after Indian soldiers pushed back the Pakistani troops from the captured areas.
Three villages closest to the frontline were destroyed during the fighting. Over 500 brave Indian soldiers lost their lives in Kargil. Pakistan claims that more than 3,000 of their soldiers died. The has some of our finest heroic stories to remember. Amongst the courageous were Vikram Batra, grenadier Yogendra Singh Yadav, lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey, rifleman Sanjay Kumar and many more fearless soldiers who remain bravehearts, who kept fighting under minus 10 degrees Celsius temperature.
Lt Vijayant Thapar, VrC of 2 Rajputana Rifles, who climbed a rugged 16,000-foot snow mountain and fought, wrote a letter to his father stating, “If you can, please come and see where the Indian Army fought for your tomorrow.” He battled on valiantly till he fell to an enemy bullet.
Similarly, many other soldiers used to write letters to their families about their wellbeing from the frontline, but before their letters would reach their families, the dead bodies of the soldiers would reach home first.

How did the war affect the Civilians?
It’s no surprise that the mountain tribals who lived there had to experience a radical change forever. Recalling the battle on the 23rd anniversary of the Kargil War, Muzaffar, a resident of Kargil, describes his childhood memory. “It was the summer of 1999, I was playing with my friends in the playground when I first heard a bomb explode. Thinking it might be a cracker we ignored it and continued playing. Within seconds people scattered everywhere to hide somewhere. After a lot of clamouring suddenly the village looked deserted.”
“We used to stay indoors all the time. During desolate nights, through my little window, I could see the exchange of lights in the sky (which was the firing line between India and Pakistan). I used to always wonder, will this ever end? Will there be peace in the air again?”
Zainab, a resident of Drass says,
“While talking in our living room, we could pause when there was firing and continue our conversations when it stopped. It was that terrifying.” The only point of contact with the outside world was Vividh Bharti. There was also a special program dedicated to army brethren as they too used to listen in their base camps. In the village, 40-50 people would stand in a circle while one person would read the newspaper about the war. Every day there were martyrs. They were brought in the truck of the Indian army. Villagers used to sing songs of bravery to them.
Kargil now? Twenty-three years after the conflict the area around the village still looks crumbled to dust cordite-laced battlefields. When shells exploded on the mountaintops the people took to hiding in caves and bunkers which may still be seen. Kargil has boards all around warning visitors about explosive devices underground which were laid by the Indian army during the two wars.
Hundarman is the last village on the LoC in Kargil. Located about 12 km from Kargil town. Before the 1971 war, the village was occupied by Pakistan. With very few residents it still looks completely abandoned. War is a struggle between denial and hope, insensibility and remembrance and this is reflected in the eyes of the villagers.
Courageous respect and pride might be tiny words to describe the locals, and how they lived in those circumstances and stood by the Indian army during war times. The Kargil War ended on July 26, 1999 with India winning triumphantly. The day is celebrated every year by a grateful nation in celebration and remembrance of and are respect for our brave armed forces, who laid down their lives to re-conquer all positions that had been grabbed by the Pakistan Army.

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