Bana Singh P.V.C.
Naik Subedar Bana Singh P.V.C. was born on 6th January 1949 into a Punjabi Sikh family, at Kadyal in Jammu and Kashmir. He enrolled in the Indian Army on 6 January 1969 into the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI). He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest wartime gallantry medal in India.
During June 1987, the 8th Jammu & Kashmir LI, was deployed in the Siachen area. It was then found that a large number of Pakistani infiltrators had intruded over the Siachen Glacier. The ejection of these infiltrators was considered difficult but necessary and a special task force was, constituted for the purpose. Naib Subedar Singh volunteered to join this force.
The Pakistani intrusion had taken place at a height of 6500 metres, the highest peak in the Siachen Glacier area. The enemy post was virtually an impregnable glacier fortress with ice walls, 457 metres high, on either side. Naib Subedar Bana Singh led his men through an extremely difficult and hazardous route. He inspired them by his indomitable courage and leadership. He and his men crawled and closed in on the adversary. Lobbing hand-grenades, charging with a bayonet and moving from trench to trench, he cleared the post of all intruders.
Naib Subedar Bana Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest wartime gallantry medal in India, for conspicuous bravery and leadership under most adverse conditions. The peak which he captured was renamed Bana Top in his honour. At the time of the Kargil War, he was the only PVC awardee who was still serving in the Army.
The citation for the Param Vir Chakra awarded to him reads:
Naib Subedar Bana Singh volunteered to be a member of a task force constituted in June 1987 to clear an intrusion by an adversary in the Siachen Glacier area at an altitude of 21,000 feet. The post was virtually an impregnable glacier fortress with ice walls, 1500 feet high, on both sides. Naib Subedar Bana Singh led his men through an extremely difficult and hazardous route. He inspired them by his indomitable courage and leadership. The brave Naib Subedar and his men crawled and closed in on the adversary. Moving from trench to trench, lobbing hand grenades, and charging with the bayonet, he cleared the post all intruders.
Nb Subedar Bana Singh displayed the most conspicuous gallantry and leadership under the most adverse conditions.
The Forgotten Hero of Siachen
He did not feel the bitter cold. He did not feel any fear. Yet, he was facing death with every climb on the steep, icy walls of the highest peak, “The Quaid”, commanding the brooding heights of Siachen.
The year was 1987 and our dauntless soldier made progress inch by inch climbing at a 90 degree angle. He could not tell if it was day or night, as the heavy snowfall erased all sense of time. Every pore of his body strained and yearned to reach that single bunker at the top. Four of his men followed close behind on that treacherous trek. Slowly but surely they were moving up the 1500 km icy wall. After several hours, they were now very close to the top. Our soldier suddenly stiffened. He felt the need to be cautious. There were earlier attempts by his fellow soldiers who had almost reached the top when they were detected. Enemy fire threw them on the hostile terrain and they fell headlong to their snowy graves. He steeled himself. His country depended on this do-or-die mission. He remembered Guru Gobind Singh’s voice from the night before, “I wanted to test you, Bana.” That voice charged him and his infectious enthusiasm spurred his followers. His hand slowly closed upon the grenade as he evaluated the situation.
Meanwhile, on the top of the 21,000 feet high peak, the Pakistanis were safely ensconced, bragging as usual about their martial prowess. They felt confident. They were imbued with the usual scathing contempt for Indian troops. Moreover the “bhangee” troops had no chance as their weapons jammed due to the biting cold hovering at -35 degrees centigrade. When they were at the height of their jingoistic banter, suddenly a door opened, a grenade was dropped and the door closed. And before they could open their mouths, the grenade exploded and all was silent in the make shift bunker. Our hero moved fast. He personally led the assault on the remaining Pakistanis outside the bunker. On the slippery slopes, there was hand to hand fighting. Some were bayoneted, and some slipped and fell to their death. It was an arduous battle fought between men who gave it their all with a do-or-die ferociousness.
Finally, on June 26, 1987, the victorious Indians, Rifleman Chunni Lal, Laxman Das, Om Raj and Kashmir Chand led by our hero, Naib Subedar Bana Singh, captured the post. For his daredevil assault, Bana Singh received the Param Vir Chakra. The “Quaid” now became “Bana Post”. The Tricolor flew high on the freezing heights and history smiled once again on the sleeping nation.
Were it not for Bana Singh, the whole of Saltoro range would have become sitting ducks as the Pakistanis had the “Quaid” post which was higher than all the peaks occupied by Indians in Saltoro. Eventually, the scheming Pakistanis would have slowly occupied all of Siachen.
One would think that a man such as Captain Bana Singh whose wondrous feats of endurance and valor erased the enemy’s script for Siachen, would be in every Indian’s consciousness. One would also think that a grateful nation would include him in the pantheon of valiant heroes who fought against all odds to procure for India a very vital post. But no, such natural reactions are beyond India’s capacity. Today, he is barely even recognized in military circles. Reports indicate that the Government of India turned down his request for a petrol pump and he had to take up farming in his village to support his family. Moreover, the state of Jammu and Kashmir of which he is a resident gives him a paltry amount of 160 rupees per month as an allowance for having won the highest bravery award.
The Punjab Government has a deep respect for the Indian Army. They have offered him Rs 25 lakhs and a monthly allowance of Rs 15,000 and a 25 acre plot of land if he accepted and moved to Punjab. But he refused. Because he considers himself a State Subject of Jammu and Kashmir which gives him only Rs 160/month as an allowance for having won the Param Vir Chakra, the highest bravery award. Each state in Indian varies in its awards for winning the P.V.C. From an Interview with Captain Bana Singh. Complete interview below.
The reason for such indifference is not hard to find. Obsessed with Mammon and her minions, the whole country is busy following the only game in town, “Get rich, then get richer, then richest and let the devil take the rest”. The upper classes are busy fawning at moneyed thugs, self-seeking politicians, decaying Bollywood and flaunting their wealth in ostentatious weddings and extravagant living. The much wooed middleclass is busy churning soul-less assembly line products of engineering schools feeding the pipeline to America’s utopia. As for the impoverished masses, who do not exist in anybody’s radar, along with their never ending heroic struggles to survive, are ground down to muffling the haunting sounds of hunger.
However, when a society ticks only to the jingle of coins, the values embodied by men like Bana Singh, are ground to dust by blind indifference. An indifference which would spawn historical amnesiacs, lawless gold-diggers, educated fools, fifth column writers, pseudo-secular traitors, clueless peaceniks, shallow intellectuals and many more. The alternative is to value our everyday heroes, our fighters, our spirited people, our courageous reformers, our workers battling odds in the trenches of living, and lionize them, treasure them like gold, and let their noble thoughts, ideas and deeds ripple through our collective consciousness to launch a moral spine. It is the least we can do to preserve our hard won freedom obtained by the sacrifices of several men and women who endured years of unspeakable tortures, deprivation and death.
This Section Article courtesy of: Aneeta Chakrabarty
Interview with Captain Bana Singh
Captain Bana Singh is one of the three living recipients of the Param Vir Chakra, the highest Indian bravery Award. He earned his award in capturing the most strategic post on the Saltoro range near the Siachen glacier in Ladakh.
The interviewer Claude (C - hereafter): Tell us about your origin, where are you born, when did you join the Army?
BS: I am born in 1949 in Kadyal district of Jammu province. My father was farmer though many of my uncles had joined the Army. My father used to tell me that Army’s life is a very prestigious. He also wanted me to join that Army because a farmer’s life is very harsh. I remember when I was a kid, I used to be so happy each time I saw off-duty Army officers or jawans visited our village.
C: What was your motivation to join the Army?
BS: I decided that I wanted to do something for my country. That is why I joined the Army.
C: Why did you join the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI)? BS: Because it was the State force of Jammu and Kashmir, so being a Kashmiri I naturally joined the J&K forces.
C: When were you posted first in Siachen glacier?
BS: On April 20 1987
C: Did you practice mountain climbing before being posted in Siachen at such a high altitude?
BS: I was trained at the High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg (in Kashmir) and also at another school at Sonamarg. My battalion was trained there. Though the altitude is not as high as in the Siachen area, we learnt mountain warfare, how to climb, how to fight in the snows, how to move on a glacier. When I was in Gulmarg, there were three battalions: the 10 Dogras, the 8 JAK LI and the 5 Guard. The mountain training is imparted to formations from all over India, but more particularly to this Mountain Brigade which was specially established by the Government of India to look after the Siachen glacier. It is not only an opportunity for the battalions to be trained, but also to acclimatize at relative high altitude. Then we moved to the base camp of the glacier which is located at 18,000 feet. It takes 7 days to be fully acclimatized, during this period we move to the base camp for the day and come back the next day. This is No 1 camp.
C: When you got posted on the Siachen in April 1987, was the Quaid Post already occupied by the Pakistanis?
BS: Yes, they had occupied it earlier. Around that time, the Pakistanis started firing on our patrols and helicopters from the post. My Commanding Officer (CO) decided with the Brigade Commander to send a patrol to find out the position of the Pakistanis and how many of them were manning the Post. On May 29, a patrol of 8 JAK LI was sent for a reconnaissance of the possible approaches to the Quaid Post. The patrol leader was Lt. Rajiv Pande. He had 10 men with him. Unfortunately, they were sighted by the Pakistanis commandos. Most of them, including Rajiv Pande were killed.
C: Why this post was called the ‘Quaid’ Post
BS: This is the name of Mohamed Ali Jinnah, the father of Pakistan. This is the most important and highest post in the area. From the top you can see 80 km around. You can see the entire Saltoro range, all the other posts like the Amar and Sonam Posts which can only be supplied by choppers. If you control this post, you can prevent the supply of these posts located on the Saltoro. That is why it had such an importance for Pakistan (and why they call it after Jinnah). My CO had therefore to prepare a secret plan to recapture the post otherwise we would not be able to hold the other posts in the area.
C: How did the Pakistanis capture the Post?
BS: I do not know. It must have captured long ago. The Pakistanis started occupying the glacier in 1984. When I arrived in 1987, it was already occupied.
C: How many people were killed on May 29?
BS: Lt Pande, a JCO and 8 jawans. Total 10 people [three survived].
C: What was then decided by your CO and the Army HQ in Delhi?
BS: [Before Lt Pande’s reconnaissance patrol], a very secret operation had been planned. It could not be disclosed to anybody. We had to find the different accesses and the one which would easier to get to the Post. The first patrol was sent for this purpose. With this information, my CO and the Army Commander were able to decide the next step.
C: When was the second patrol was sent?
BS: It was not a patrol. It was troops for fighting purpose, to capture the Post. It was in June.
C: How was the approach route to reach the Post at 21,000?
BS: There was a 90° climb on a distance of 1,500 km and ice walls. Lt Pande had managed to fix ropes, but due to heavy snow fall, the rope had got completely lost when the troops tried to reach the Post in June. Ropes had to be fixed again.
In the meantime, to divert the attention of the Pakistanis, Indian troops had been firing at the Post. There was no artillery fire, only machine guns. It is only when the attack started that artillery was used from the base camp.
C: Was artillery not dangerous for the climbing troops?
BS: It was at the beginning. We were climbing from the other side when the Post was fired at.
C: Tell us now about your operation, it was the third attempt?
BS: A total of 62 people participated to the final operation. Two officers, 3 JCO and 57 jawans were selected. The operation was conducted in three phases on June 23, June 25 and June 26, 1987. A first platoon was sent under Major Varinder Singh on 23rd but unfortunately they had to come back. Two soldiers were killed. The second platoon led by Subedar Harnam Singh with 10 jawans made an attempt on June 25. At that time, there was no problem with the rope, but due to some communication gap with us, the mission had to be aborted.
The next day, on 26th, I started early and was told that we will try another attack and capture the Post from the enemy today itself. A message was passed from the Major General who was the Task Force Commander and we got the green light.
C: All the 62 were volunteers?
BS: We had been selected by our CO.
C: Could you refuse to go?
BS: Yes, of course! But we all said that we were ready.
C: Tell us now about your assault? What did you feel?
BS: It is at day time, but because of the snow fall, you could not say if it was the day or the night. It was snowing so heavily.
C: The Pakistanis Commandos couldn’t see you?
BS: No, but they must be have knowing that something was going on because the firing from the base camp (to divert their attention). We had been trained for such a fight and how to lob grenades. At that time, some Pakistanis tried to fight, but unfortunately he is injured and he, my Commander, had told us before that we should try to get them alive, but I told him: “Sir, it is not possible”. There was a single bunker on the top. I threw a grenade inside and closed the door. At the end, a total of six Pakistanis were killed. We brought back their bodies which were later handed over to the Pakistanis authorities during a flag meeting in Kargil.
C: Some sources say that there were 17 persons manning the Post.
BS: Some must have escaped towards the Pakistani side, perhaps over the cliff. But only six were killed. I think, we bayoneted three or four persons, I don’t remember now. When you are fighting for your life, you can not say.
C: How long lasted the operation?
BS: We left by noon. The entire operation was completed by 5 pm., so 5 hours (including the climb)
A: (another interviewer?): Were you cold or tired?
BS: In these conditions, when you face death, you do not feel cold, you don’t feel fear. You don’t think that you are going to die or fail.
C: Did you think of your wife or your dear ones?
BS: No, never. But I prayed the Gurus before and after the operation. After having been successful in my task, I considered myself as a lucky man.
I must tell you, a strange thing happened one day before the assault. As I was feeling depressed, I heard the voice of Guru Gobind Singh who said: “I was only testing you”. Then my depression disappeared. It is the first (and last) time that I had such an experience.
C: When the silence fell back on the Post, what happened?
BS: All the officers started congratulate me, to pat me: “You have done very well, Bana, Congratulations”. All this through wireless.
C: Three months later there was a major Pakistani attack on the Bilafond; they had apparently been very upset to lose the Jinnah Post. Did you participate to the defense of Bilafond?
BS: Yes, it was in September. I did not participate because Iwas not posted in this area. But about 1000 Pakistani men must have died. General Musharraf was then the Brigade Commander [of the Special Security Group]. He had himself planned the operation.
C: In one way, he is a looser. He lost the Jinnah Post, then in September on the Bilafond, then again in 1998 in Kargil. Do you think that there is a link between these three events?
BS: No, but Musharraf was very upset when I captured the Post.
C: There are rumours that an agreement will be signed between India and Pakistan on the Siachen and that the glacier and the Saltoro range will be demilitarized. What are comments?
BS: I feel that it is not good, but I do not want to comment further because in the past my words have been distorted. But the point is that so many people died for this glacier, it would not be good to give it to Pakistan. I have told this so many times to the media persons. Politicians do not know the value of the lives of the jawans. They know only how to maraud the money. If they knew what has happened to the glacier, if they knew everything.
C: If tomorrow India withdraws, the Pakistanis make take the post again and call it again Jinnah Post (or “The Quaid” as Jinnah is called.)
BS: Everyone knows that in Kargil it was the decision of Musharraf and the military to start the conflict, but he says that it was Nawaz Shariff and the politicians who gave the order. Everyone knows that it is a lie. Tomorrow, if India withdraw, the Pakistanis will take the Siachen, Pakistan will take it over, because they will always tell lies [to the Indian Government]. But please don’t quote me.
Sometimes I received threat from the Pakistani side. Since I am retired, I attend some functions, but I still need permission from the Army HQ. Unless, I get the permission, I can not go and attend official functions. I have two PSOs protecting me.
C: But you are stronger than your own PSOs.
BS: Yes and I am not worried about my life (laughing).
C: I understand that you had a good offer from the Punjab Government?
BS: The Punjab Government has a deep respect for the Indian Army. They have offered me Rs 25 lakhs and a monthly allowance of Rs 15,000 and a 25 acre plot if I accept to move to Punjab. But I refused.
BS: Because I consider myself a State Subject of Jammu and Kashmir. My own State gives me Rs 160/month only as an allowance for having won the Param Vir Chakra, the highest bravery award. It is the way we are treated in Jammu and Kashmir.