Goa Chronicle brings you the 5th part of the IPKF series
To read the Curates Egg part 1, visit: https://goachronicle.com/the-indian-peace-keeping-force-in-sri-lanka-a-curates-egg/
“I hate the drums discordant note
Parading round and round
To thoughtless youth it pleasures yields
And lures from city and fields
To sell their liberty for charms
Of tawdry lace and glittering arms
And when ambitions voice commands
To march and fight and fall in foreign lands”
– John Scott of Amwell, 1730-93
In an overcast weather a commemoration function was organised at the NWM-National War Memorial, exclusively by a group of Veterans who are resurrecting the IPKF and its forgotten role in Sri Lanka. Many of these veterans were above 70 years in age but as sprightly as ever in their enthusiasm to participate. Most of the so-called reputed media TV channels gave this touching occasion a miss apparently for some “unknown” reasons, after confirming their presence the day earlier!Goa Chronicle brings you exclusive on the spot coverage of this moving event. Shefali Kochhar spoke to Lt Col Manoj K Channan,Veteran from 65 Armoured Regiment(which was the only tank Regiment deployed in an unconventional role in SL)and Mrs Gitanjali Kaul (daughter of late Col Anil Kaul, Vr C) and Mrs Swati Katoch (daughter of late Major Uttam Chand Katoch) on 29 Jul 21 at 10.30am at the National War Memorial in New Delhi.They had this to say about the fallen braves of Indian Peace Keeping Force during OP PAWAN in Sri Lanka.
Watch, Late Col Anil Kaul:
Somewhere in the nebulous realm of Forgotten Soldier and Unknown Soldier, lies a category of “Erased Soldier “which the Nation inadvertently seems to be creating by denial of sacrifice of OP PAWAN Braves .
Goa Chronicle: Sir what is the significance of this day and why was it chosen by your exclusive veteran group for remembering the fallen braves of OP PAWAN?
Lt Col MK Channan: 29th July 1987 was the date on which the Indo Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed. The first peace keepers under than Maj (now Colonel, Veteran) Anil Vaid 8 MAHAR landed at Palali Jaffna Airfield on 30th July 1987.
Kargil War and 71 War braves are commemorated by wreath laying formally by the Services annually at NMW.Is this the first occasion that the Indian Peace Keeping Force fallen braves are being commemorated at the NWM?
Since the past 34 years this is the first time a formal exclusive ceremony is being at the National War Memorial,held by a group of Veterans to honour Braveheart’sof IPKF. The ceremony was led by Lt Gen AS Kalkat (IPKF Force Commander)and in attendance are Col SP Khanna (Commandant 65 Armoured Regiment),Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM & Bar(Company Commander 4 GARH RIF), Lt Gen Kanwal Kumar (Flight Commander Air OP Squadron), Lt Gen Gurmit Singh, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM (Company Commander 4 ASSAM), Col Ravi Nair (Intelligence Officer Ad-hoc Liaison Unit), Col Anil Vaid (Company Commander 8 MAHAR the Unit which also earned the first and only PVC in OP PAWAN), Col RS Sidhu, SM (Company Commander 15 MechInf), Lt Gen Taranjit Singh PVSM, AVSM, VSM & Bar (Adjutant 65 Armoured Regiment), Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Technical Officer, 65 Armoured Regiment), Lt Col Atul Kochhar (Company Officer ,1 JAK LI)and Mrs Gitanjali Kaul daughter of Late Col Anil Kaul, Vr C.These veterans all from the cutting edge of the Army i.e.Infantry,MechanisedInfantry, Armourand IntelligenceCorpshave participated inmost of the major operations of the Indian Army till date.Few more IPKF Veterans from Corps of Signals,1 PARA CDO and 5 MARATHA LI also joined in to commemorate the event.
Goa Chronicle: Only specific operations i.e. 1971 War and Kargil War are commemorated in NWM.What is the reason for this distinction /differentiation towards the IPKF and other operations where the brave hearts gave their supreme sacrifice? Are the practises for commemorating fallen which we follow at par with other mature democracies of the world?
Lt Col MK Channan: Domestic politics are responsible for acknowledging or ignoring the valour of the fallen braves of IPKF. We must not dwell too much in the past and see how we can contribute to keeping the memories and legacies alive of our Braveheart’s.
Goa Chronicle: Who is the seniormost serving officer of IPKF at the moment?
Lt Col MK Channan: The current Chief of Army staff, General Manoj MukundNaravane PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, ADC. His Unit was in Trincomalee in 1989 where he served as a Company Commander.
Goa Chronicle: Does this commemoration bring a sense of closure to the Veterans of IPKF?
Lt Col MK Channan: The commemoration is to seek acknowledgment at the National Level and I view it as a new beginning in the effort to recognise the contribution of the IPKF.
Lt Gen AS Kalkat the former Force Commander of IPKF pays homage .The “Brick” wall of the Nation is accorded floral tributes by Lt Gen Taranjit Singh and Lt Col Manoj K Channan of 65 Armd Regt
Picture credits- Goa Chronicle
Goa Chronicle: What are the other legacy issues faced by IPKF Veterans?
Lt Col MK Channan: The other legacy issues being taken up by the Veteran Group and need the attention of the Indian Armed Forces and the Government of India, Ministry of Defence are as under:
- Reinternment of all unmarked and unknown Graves of IPKF in SL back to India. There are quite a few such graves in SL specifically in Jaffna and Kopal.
- Carry out annual wreath laying by the three service Chiefs at the National War Memorial on a suitable Day such as the day of signing of Indo Sri Lanka Accord i.e. 29 July 87. As of now the Wreath laying by Service Chiefs at NWM is restricted to only two battles i.e. the 1971 War and Kargil War of 1999.Time to review this selectivepractise.
- Declare 29 Jul as Indo SL Friendship Day to honour IPKF role in maintaining peace buttressed with appropriate exchanges of cultural, military and commercial initiatives such as through FICCI and other such august bodies. This would cement bonds of friendship also, as an adjunct.
- Update the list of casualties of all wars including OP PAWAN in the Official website of the Indian Army and create a repository for easy access by the public. As of now, the NWM repository shows 1171 killed whereas the figure reflected in various other forums such as the IPKF memorial in Colombo, Sri Lanka is 1200. In some books /forums the figure is even higher .These errors are glaring.
- Ensure case studies and lessons learnt of IPKF are imbibed and disseminated within the three services. The accounts of battles and achievements should form part of the Military Museums, coffee table books and history. We as veterans are willing to share our experiences to create a national repository of such issues.
- Examine the issue of award of battle honours for the Units which suffered very heavy casualty in the initial operations in Oct 1987. These Units deserve collective honours for their steadfastness and valour against all odds. It may be noted that Chakra Series gallantry awards were presented to the braves who participated, as such recognition of collective achievements would be in order.
The Indian Defence Forces should not differentiate the valour, commitment and sacrifice of its combatants killed, wounded and maimed. Politics and Geo Strategic interests as well as National Interests will change with time.
It is only correct that the valour of the Braveheart’s must be acknowledged by the Political Executive and the Military Hierarchy with the same exuberance as those in, 1971, and 1999 OP VIJAY(Kargil) by honouring them at NWM.Currently the utilisation of this wonderful memorial i.e. the NWM remains sub optimal.
In remembrance and in honour of those who did not come back, let us all pray and bow are heads to their supreme sacrifice each year with the finesse of Military Decorum and National Honour.
The Veterans line up
Picture credits- Goa Chronicle
Goa Chronicle: All these occasions are sombre with rich tributes being paid, but do you feel these commemorations should go beyond semantics? If so how can we better honour those braves who are not with us today?
Lt Col MK Channan: Time has passed but thegrieving son, husband, brother, father is someone who is always missed. In true traditions of our armed forces, the Fighting Formations as well as the Static Formations can update the list in their respective Areas of Responsibility and have a social interaction and address their needs. We have rich traditions, while individual units do the needful, at times the units are not close to the habitats of their troops, that’s where the Formation Headquarters come into play.We intend to honour our IPKF braves annually irrespective of the sentiments
Question to Mrs Gitanjali Kaul daughter of late Col Anil Kaul, VrC
Goa Chronicle: Your late father was awarded VrC, battling the LTTE and was seriously wounded while in his tank T 72 , sustained lifelong disability i.e. loss of one the eye and one hand. He remains an inspiration to the youth of today. What are your feelings on this occasion /commemoration of the IPKF?
Mrs Gitanjali Kaul:Yes, Daddy was truly an inspiration. Going into battle, innovating a solution to accomplish his task and getting injured was perhaps just the beginning of being brave. The truly inspirational part comes thereafter.
One moment he was a healthy man in one piece and one RPG shot later, two fingers of his left hand were left dangling and he had a gaping hole where his right eye used to be.
Image source: Shatrujeet (Facebook)
It’s all the years of discipline and tough training that probably kicks into place at a time like this and the soldier gets back to his task despite his injuries. Daddy completed the assigned task over the next 18 hours in that injured state. By the time his task was over, he had lost a lot of blood and was delirious. We were later told that he wouldn’t let himself be pulled out of his tank until his work was done. He earned his gallantry award and his Vir Chakra, along with all his medals is now a prized possession for my sister and me.
He served in the Army for the next 18 years – in the desert as well as up on the mountains in J&K with equal determination and dedication – his disability notwithstanding. He faced a lot of health issues arising from his injuries but, in his words, he “bash on regardless”. After his injury, he was an instructor at NDA, Khadakwasla and also served a tenure as officiating Principal of The Army Public School, DhaulaKuan, and as an instructor at Army War College (erstwhile College of Combat), Mhow. Till date, whenever my sister or I have met all those who have interacted with him in any of these places, the reverence they hold for him is unbeaten. He is remembered fondly as a tough, disciplined, thorough gentleman with a heart of gold and a dazzling smile.
My father was one officer amongst so many braves who made up the IPKF. Each one deserves to be recognised and remembered. It’s been nearly three and a half decades since the operation.
In all these years, this was the first such a commemoration and it fills me with great pride to be present here today. My only regret is that Daddy isn’t with us anymore. It’s been over 3 years since we said our final goodbye to him.
He would have liked to see this – even though it took so long. For those who are with us today, I wish lots of good health and happiness and for those who are not with us, I offer my salutations. I hope and pray that this commemoration is an annual event by the Govt and I would be honoured if I could be present here again, year after year.
A daughter remembers.
Swati Katochpays tearful homage to her
Late father, Maj Uttam Chand Katoch.
At the IPKF Wall in the NWM