India’s Unsung War Hero: Brigadier Rajinder Singh

The date October 26 does not stir anything significant in the hearts and minds of the majority of this country. It is not a special birthday or a religious holiday that is etched in the conscience of India. One has to do a google search to realise that 70 years ago, Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession to India as the region was under siege from Pakistani forces. The accord mobilised the Indian army to repel the invaders weeks after the nation gained independence.

The story that many may not find via a google search is that of Brigadier Rajinder Singh and his band of warriors who died defending the Kashmir valley. He was martyred the same day Maharaja Hari Singh signed that historic document uniting Jammu and Kashmir with India, a sacrifice that honoured the simple words of that contract. Brigadier Rajinder Singh was the first recipient of the Mahavir Chakra in independent India, yet this warrior is barely known to the nation he served, let alone outside the Jammu region. On the 70th anniversary of his martyrdom, the nation must recognise the service of this brave soldier who defended not just the Kashmir valley in India’s first war with Pakistan, but the entire nation.

On October 22, 1947, a force of over 5000 Pakistani troops and tribals besieged Jammu and Kashmir after Maharaja Hari Singh declared independence. They sacked the town of Muzzafarabad after a mutiny in the 4th J&K Battalion, where the Muslim soldiers turned on their Dogra brethren, even killing their commander Lt Colonel Narayan Singh, who ignored the concerns from Srinagar having full faith in his troops. After taking control of Muzaffarabad, the road to Srinagar was open and there was nothing to challenge the invading force. The Pakistani marauders committed loot, rape, murder and arson in a bid to ‘purge’ the land, having full faith that the dominant Muslim community would rally to their cause.

Under siege, Maharaja Hari Singh ordered Brigadier Rajinder Singh, who served as the Chief of Army Staff of Jammu and Kashmir, to defend the state ‘till the last man and the last bullet’. Maharaja Hari Singh’s son Dr Karan Singh in an interview remembers the day the order was given. In fact, he was present in the room when Maharaja Hari Singh gave that historic command. “It was a worrying situation,” he says. “Brigadier Rajinder Singh was given the order by my father and he just saluted and walked away.”

Brigadier Rajinder Singh gathered over 100 personnel and moved to Uri to counter the invasion. He used guerrilla tactics to delay their advance, blowing up the Uri bridge and stalling them in Mahura and Rampur inflicting heavy casualties. For four days, Brigadier Rajinder Singh and his brave jawans hindered the progress of the Pakistani invaders. This may have been the first time in contemporary military history where an army chief personally led his soldiers in combat. As Brigadier Rajinder Singh and his men fought, on October 26, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession joining the Union of India. The Indian military rushed in to back the Brigadier, but he was ambushed at Buniyar near Baramulla and fatally wounded. The brave warrior held fort and repelled the invaders long enough for the Indian Army to push them back, saving thousands from a brutal onslaught. Brigadier Rajinder Singh carried out his orders to the letter, setting an unparalleled example of courage and patriotism. “If Brig Rajinder Singh had not stopped the Pakistani invaders, if he didn’t sacrifice his life, Kashmir may not have been a part of India,” says Dr Karan Singh.

For the people of Jammu, Brigadier Rajinder Singh is known as the ‘Saviour of Kashmir’. He hailed from the Duggar or the Dogra people of Jammu, a community deeply entrenched in the armed forces of India for several generations. He continues to be an inspiration for people across Jammu and almost every household has one or two members serving in the armed forces, many defending the border and the Kashmir valley.

October 26 is commemorated as a ‘Black Day’ by separatists in the Kashmir valley when they rage against the armed forces and the Indian union. Not just Jammu, but the entire nation should honour the sacrifice of India’s first war hero as a strong counter to the separatist narrative. A celebration of his life and service will send a strong message to our brave serving jawans who battle terrorists and stone-pelters to defend the country. His memory makes the separatist call meaningless – a fool’s dream that history has denied and the future will never allow.

Brigadier Rajinder Singh’s sacrifice is the reason why Indians claim Kashmir to be an integral part of the country. We must remember the will and the sacrifice that has kept the Union of India together. Our history is testimony of how it is a more enduring force than the blind fury of the misguided and the resolve of cowards. Even as tensions abound in the Kashmir valley, the soil is laden with the blood and spirit of heroes like Brigadier Rajinder Singh and will never accede to those who would see its beauty burn just to rule over ashes.

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