How many 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?
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. Major Shaitan Singh was conferred the Param Vir Chakra. Eight more received the Vir Chakra while four others the Sena Medal. The 13 Kumaon received the battle honour ‘Rezang La’ that it wears so proudly.
All 114 men were killed or wounded. But they succeeded in blunting the Chinese assault, killing around 1300 Chinese soldiers 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 act of valour by band of brothers of 13 Kumaon at freezing heights fills the chest of every Indian with pride. They charged against all the odds and prove their salt to the motherland.
Yet, we do not stand in silence for a moment in memory of Major Shaitan Singh and his gallant men. No poet eulogizes them. 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 website for this information as well as a long article on the Battle of Chushul by L N Subramanian.
Why have we 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.
We must remember the 13th Kumaon. I remember. And I shall always remember those brave men of C Company who died in a frozen wasteland. For me. For you.