Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon

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Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was an officer of the Indian Air Force and the posthumous recipient of the only Param Vir Chakra awarded to an Indian Air Force Personnel. Fg. Off Sekhon's award was in recognition of his lone and fatal defence of Srinagar Air Base during an air raid during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Fg Offr Sekhon was born on July 17, 1943 at Rurka Isewal village in Ludhiana District, Punjab. He was the son of Warrant Officer Hon. Flight Lieutenant Tarlochan Singh Sekhon.[1] He was commissioned into the Indian Air Force on June 4, 1967 as a Flying Officer.

Gallantry Award

He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest military award in India, for exemplary courage and heroism in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. During the war he was with the No. 18 Squadron, "The Flying Bullets" flying the Folland Gnat fighter aircrafts based at Srinagar.

He remains the only air force pilot to be awarded the Param Vir Chakra.

Millitary Action

On 14 December 1971, Srinagar airfield was attacked by a wave of six PAF F-86 jets. Flying Officer Sekhon was on readiness duty at that time. Soon the enemy aircraft started hovering over the airfield. Straffing of various targets on the ground followed. Attempting to take-off with enemy aircraft overhead and the runway under attack was suicidal. However, Flying Officer Sekhon, unmindful of his safety, flew his Folland Gnat to engage the two attacking Sabres. In the air battle that ensued, he secured a direct hit on one Sabre and set another ablaze. The latter was seen heading away towards Rajauri, trailing smoke and flame.

At this juncture four more Pakistani Sabres came on the scene and surrounded his aircraft. He chose to give a fight again. In the dog fight that ensued at tree-top level, he held on against the numerically superior enemy for some time. Eventually, his aircraft was hit and he was killed. But Flying Officer Sekhon had achieved his objective. The Pakistani aircraft fled from the scene of the battle, without pressing home, the intended attack on Srinagar airfield and its surrounding areas. The bravery, flying skill and determination displayed by Flying Officer Sekhon, earned him the highest wartime gallantry medal, Param Vir Chakra. His skill was later praised in an article by Salim Baig Mirza, the pilot who shot him down

Citation

The citation for the Param Vir Chakra awarded to him reads: Fg Offr Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon 18 Squadron 10877 F(P)

Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was a pilot of a Folland Gnat detachment based at Srinagar for the air defence of the valley against Pakistani air attacks. In accordance with the international agreement dating back to 1948, no air defence aircraft were based at Sirinagar, until the outbreak of hosti- lities with Pakistan. Flying Officer Sekhon was, therefore, unfamiliar with the terrain and was not acclimatised to the altitude of Srinagar, especially with the bitter cold and biting winds of the Kashmir winter. Nevertheless, from the outset of the war, he and his colleagues fought successive waves of intruding Pakistani aircraft with valour and determination, maintaining the high reputation of the Folland Gnat aircraft. On 14th December 1971, Srinagar Airfield was attached by a wave of six enemy Sabre aircraft. Flying Officer Sekhon was on readiness duty at the time. However, he could not take off at once because of the clouds of dust raised by another aircraft which had just taken off. By the time the runway was fit for take-off, no fewer than six enemy aircraft were overhead, and strafing of the airfield was in progress. Nevertheless, in spite of the mortal danger of attempting to take off during an attack, and in spite of the odds against him. Flying Officer Sekhon took off and immediately engaged a pair of the attacking Sabres. In the fight that followed, at tree top height, he all but held his own, but was eventually overcome by sheer weight of numbers. His aircraft crashed and he was killed. In thus, sacrificing himself for the defence of Srinagar, Flying Officer Sekhon achieved his object, for the enemy aircraft fled from the scene of the battle without pressing home their attack against the town and the airfield. The sublime heroism, supreme gallantry, flying skill and determination, above and beyond th call of duty, displayed by Flying Officer Sekhon in the face of certain death, set new heights to Air Force traditions.

In the News

Mr Tarlochan Singh, father of Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon at Issewal village — Photo by Inderjit Verma

‘Nirmal did us all proud’ by Kanchan Vasdev of Tribune News Service January 31, 2003,

He is the proud father of a son who laid down his life fighting for the honour of the country. Even 31 years after Flying Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon sacrificed his life, a void remains unfilled in the life of his father, Mr Tarlochan Singh Sekhon, who is spending his twilight years in this village.

Although hard of hearing, this 79-year-old man, who lost his vision after a paralytic attack a few years ago, is proud that he has given a son to this land who fought for it and preferred death to defeat.

While the brother of Nirmaljit Singh says that his father is quite happy at the honours bestowed on him due to the sacrifice of his son, but an itch always remains that the administration never bothered about him, although he had been living in the village for the past many years.

Mr Sukhminder Singh Sekhon, Nirmal’s younger brother, says the Air Force officials from Halwara kept on visiting his ailing father all these years and even arranged for a full-time servant for him. Even the doctors from the Halwara Air Force Hospital visited him every fortnight or month and collected blood samples and prescribed him medicines.

‘‘But nobody from the civil administration has ever visited to see the man who gave away his son to the country whose brave acts were acknowledged by the Government of India and he was even decorated with the highest gallantry honour of the forces — the Paramvir Chakra,’’ he adds.

Recalling the days when the 1971 war was underway, Mr Sukhminder Singh says it was a moment of grief for the family when it received the news of Nirmal’s attaining martyrdom. ‘‘We received a telegram on December 15, 1971, at around 3 pm stating that he had laid down his life while fighting the enemy. My parents, especially my mother, were very upset at his death. But when we received the details of his attaining martyrdom, we felt proud that Nirmal was related to us. He had set an example of supreme valour. Then we received his ashes after some days,’’ he says.

Then on January 12, 1972, it was declared that he would be awarded Paramvir Chakra posthumously and on January 26, 1972, his parents were given the award at the Red Fort, New Delhi. ‘‘Today we are proud of him. Even the residents of this village have never forgotten him and they make sure to commemorate his martyrdom day every year,’’ he says.

The government has extended various grants from time to time for the development of the village, which was to be developed as an ‘adarsh’ village.

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