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Thursday, October 24, 2019

A matter of honour


JAK LI, a predominant Kashmiri Muslim regiment, is doing the Indian army proud. It also remains a bulwark against youth turning to militancy. Mayank Singh reports from the valley. Photo: Sujan Singh
MAYANK SINGH | Issue Dated: June 30, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry Regiment | JAK LI | Indian Army | Muslims | LoC | Siachen Glacier | Kargil War |

Lanky Peer Mohammed Ummer from Anantnag has succeeded in fulfilling his father’s ultimate dream. He has joined Indian Army’s Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry Regiment (JAK LI), a unit his father served with distinction for 26 years.

Soldier Ummer is the only brother among five sisters and despite his father’s death in 2000, the family was very keen he takes over the mantle of warrior. So when Ummer recently marched at the attestation parade at Srinagar’s JAK LI parade ground, his family including two sisters - one a teacher and the other pursuing a Master of Arts degree – were in attendance, proud of their ward.

Or Rifleman Ishfaq Ahmad Malik, 21, from Rajouri, who is first in the family to join the army. Son of a farmer, Malik says he is raring to go. ‘‘It is an honour to serve the Indian Army. My family is proud and I am very excited to go and serve in areas which are terrorist-infested.'' His father cannot stop smiling at his son's achievments.

This sentiment was shared by every parent present at the parade ground that day. In a state torn by militant violence and separatist politics, Ummer like other Kashmiri recruits, is prepared to take the risk of being targeted by militants by joining the Indian Army. For those questioning the loyalty of Kashmiris towards India, this is a story worth reading.

The JAK LI regiment that Ummer plans to serve, consists of volunteers from Jammu and Kashmir. It has 50 percent Muslims while the rest represent other ethnic groups from the state.The army has taken thoughtful steps to create and carry with them the rank and file of the regiment; among their most remarkable steps to accommodate all is a common ground of worship, a time-honoured tradition of the Indian Army.

The regiment is by no means new. It came into being between April and August, 1948, trying times for the state when it faced the prospect of plunder, loot and annexation at the hands of tribal marauders who walked across the Line of Control (LoC) sponsored by the Pakistan army. While the shadow of cessation and independence is not entirely removed, JAK LI remains a testimony of how much the people of Jammu and Kashmir are willing to keep violence out of their lives.

Former Colonel of the regiment Lieutenant General ML Chibber likens the JAK LI regiment to the state’s fabulous Chinar trees, which have majestically withstood one storm after the other without any apparent signs of wear and tear. JAK LI’s historical defence of the state with its overwhelming majority of Muslim troops is rightfully the new symbol of Kashmiriyat – away from the shenanigans of vote bank politicians and cynical naysayers.

The birth of JAK LI is entwined with India’s historic freedom struggle.It is the only regiment in the Indian Army which can take legitimate pride in the fact that it emerged out of volunteer citizens who spontaneously rose as a cohesive group to resist the tribal invasion launched by Pakistan to capture Jammu and Kashmir on October 22, 1947. These sons-of-the-soils organized themselves and were called Leh Militia in Leh, Border Defence Scouts and Bal Sena in Jammu, Poonch Scouts in Poonch and National Home Guards in the Kashmir valley.

Then they had fought shoulder to shoulder with the Indian Army, their motivation fired by a burning desire to not just save their family and friends but also the land widely acknowledged to be the ‘Paradise on Earth.’ They not only succeeded in warding off invaders but put into place a hoary tradition – the practice of standing up and being counted when the country needed it.

The militias conducted themselves with great distinction during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 and earned three battle honours during the Bangladesh conflict of 1971. But these successes, far from lulling them into complacency, spurred them on to greater heights – quite literally.

In 1984, JAK LI was deployed to the Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battle ground, to thwart Pakistan’s designs there. Christened Operation Meghdoot, the 8th battalion of JAK LI earned plaudits by capturing a Pakistani post at 21,000 feet on the Siachen Glacier in 1987.

Celebrated Naib Subedar Bana Singh of the regiment earned the country’s highest military honour, Param Vir Chakra, and that too in fine fettle! Steeped in true warrior tradition, Singh believes a regiment is like a nursery which turns boys into men inculcating the basics of battle. Bana Singh became a Subedar Major and was later conferred with honorary rank of Captain. Says the legendary warrior,“ Jammu and Kashmir has been continuously under enemy attack. The immediate reaction to crisis without losing one’s balance is in our genes.’’ He adds: ‘‘You talk of any state and there are malcontents there. But here every jawan is proud of his tradition and the army's honour.''

Subedar Major and Honorary Captain Mohammed Ashraf Bhat, who belongs to Tral in Abantipur district, concurs with Bana Singh and attributes the boys’ success in battlefronts to their natural strength, coming as they do from the mountains. ‘‘Since the boys belong to rugged mountainous terrain, fitness is never an issue. It provides them the edge in action. Also, our boys know the people from the other side (across the border) and they can easily read their body language. Their analysis comes in very handy during operations,’’ he says. Naturally, when it comes to regimental honour, the troops tend to surpass themselves.

Mountains are not JAK LI’s only forte. In 1987 they went to Sri Lanka as part of Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF)’s Operation Pawan and performed with distinction in the prevailing political circumstances. Its successes during the Kargil War where it earned distinguished awards for gallantry, was epitomized in 1999 with the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) making a special instant award of "Unit Citation" to the 12th Battalion of the Regiment for their exceptionally gallant and sterling performance in the Batalik Sector.

Their exploits in Kargil saw them win additional honours, the rise of another regiment carved out of the troops which fought the enemy as militia. Ladakh Regiment was carved out of eight companies taken from 7th Battalion which is now the 1st Ladakh Scouts and 14th Battalion became the second battalion of Ladakh Scouts.

Ladakh Scouts was raised on June 1, 1963, following the 1962 Indo-China war. Troops of Ladakh Regiment have also been at the forefront of various battles since 1965. During Operation Vijay at Kargil, Major Sonam Wangchuk, received the Maha Vir Chakra for Ladakh Scouts, displaying exemplary bravery in the face of non-stop enemy fire. The Ladakh Scouts was given the status of a full infantry regiment in 2000 and more battalions are planned to be raised.

Political grandstanding apart, soldiers from Jammu and Kashmir have served the country with utmost dedication and devotion. Despite bloody threats from anti-nationals and the media hype about the alienation and anti-India sentiments in the valley, residents of Kashmir enrolling in the army, have taken everything in their stride. Till date 90 courses of recruits have taken oath and served India with distinction.

The one-year-long recruitment is based on rigorous instructions that transform young civilians (and potential militants) into a competent soldier,one dedicated to the country’s defence, imbibing the values of honesty, camaraderie and discipline. He learns to live committed to the motto of their regiment, Balidanam vir Lakshanam, which means making supreme sacrifice is a warrior's character.

Police officials say many recruits and their families have faced threats from terrorists but the vast numbers of young men who turn up at the army’s recruitment rallies are ample indication – if any indication was needed – that the integration of the state into the Indian union is complete.

According to army officials, even during the most difficult phase of militancy back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the regiment saw volunteers joining its ranks in thousands – a practice that continues till date. For every single vacancy, there are nearly 150 aspirants. Families send their children from districts like Baramulla, Anantnag, Sopore, Kupwara, Srinagar and Bandipora, all of them under the grip of militants and have seen widespread violence against security forces during the most recent summer unrest.

Since 2003, the Indian Army has held regular recruitment drives at Nowgam and Anantnag in South Kashmir, Srinagar, Baramulla, Kupwara, Chowkibal and Tangdar in North Kashmir. ‘‘We see this as a major achievement in weaning local youths away from the influence of terrorists,’’ says Lt Gen Chibber.

Political disturbances organized at the behest of anti-nationals and pro-Pakistani elements have cost the state very heavy. Not only has it taken away livelihoods, it has also killed employment avenues, taking impressionable young men on the path of violence and anti-national activities.

According to a Planning Commission note, ‘‘as a state with unique features and a strategic location, the speedy development of Jammu and Kashmir needs an integrated approach.” But to implement plans and execute them, peace is the primary pre-condition.

In Kashmir, the existence of shrines, monasteries and temples attract enough revenues to keep the state’s economy in good stead – provided outsiders continue to throng its beautiful valleys and snow capped mountains. Tourism has enough backward and forward linkages. Young men committed to serve the same land threatened by a few disgruntled elements who connive with the anti-national elements, is a story which goes unacknowledged. The army with its training and tradition has done yeoman service by weaving the boys into cohesive bunch of fighters.

Says dyed-in-the-wool JAK LI Regiment officer Lieutenant Colonel Humayun Mirza, ‘‘This regiment is full of paradoxes.You see heterogeneity but it becomes homogeneity and then you witness an entity,regardless of influences and helps serving as a cohesive unit.” He should know the essence of this Kashmiriyat.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017