PAGES FROM HISTORY

PRITAM SINGH OF POONCH

Lt. Gen. Harwant Singh


Brigadier Pritam Singh was scion of a noble family of village Dina (Ferozepur), with whom Guru Gobind Singh, after the battles of Chamkaur Sahib and Muktsar, stayed for some time and wrote the famous epistle, Zafar Nama, to Emperor Aurangzeb.

Pritam Singh was wounded in the battle of Singapore in 1942 and later escaped from the prisoners of war camp, and some six months later, sick, starved and exhausted, reported at an Indian army post on the Assam border. For his part in the battle, his escape, grit and daring to get back to India, he was awarded the Military Cross (MC).

On October 30, 1947, while on leave, he dropped in at Army Hqs. around 5:00 PM and volunteered to take 1 Para BN. to war in Kashmir. He was handed over his posting order at 9:00 PM the same evening. He took over the unit and at 5:30 AM the next morning, he took off for Srinagar along with his unit, leaving his wife to find her way back to Dehra Dun.

Soon after landing, the battalion went into action and later took part in the battle of Shalltang, which sealed the fate of Pakistan's ambitions in the valley. On the 23rd day of his command, Pritam Singh had arrived at Poonch.

All the high hills surrounding Poonch were in the hands of raiders and Pakistan army, and no obstacles separated the antagonists. Besides the population of the town, there were 40,000 ill-clad starving and panic-stricken refugees, many among them sick and wounded, with food stocks barely sufficient for one week.

The Jammu and Kashmir troops, 1,400 in all, who had withdrawn under pressure from border towns, had no heavy weapons, and ammunition was down to a few rounds to a rifle. The enemy held all the cards, and the dice was heavily loaded against the defenders. When the raiders were all set to descend on Poonch, their lust for loot, rape and massacre sharpened to a frenzy. Providence intervened. One man arrived to turn the tide to prove once again the veracity of Napoleon's maxim, that, in war, it is not the men that count, but the `man.'

Pritam was just the man Poonch needed in the hour of its greatest peril. Later, he was to record, "On arrival, I found the State forces garrison preparing to evacuate from Poonch, and it took me some time to make them realise that I intended to stay and that there would be no scuttling."

Earlier, a column was sent from Uri for the relief of Poonch. This column was cut into two by an enemy ambush. While the bulk of the brigade returned to Uri, Lt. Col. Pritam Singh with his band of intrepid soldiers of 1 Para Bn. (Kumaon, 419 men in all) carried on, entered Poonch on November 21, 1947, and thus opened a new chapter of sacrifice, heroism and valour in the annals of free India's first war.

With consummate skill and daring, Pritam set about reorganising Poonch defences and restoring order and administration in the town. Instinctively, the troops and the population knew that a great Captain had arrived.

Pritam, leading a handful of his Kumaonis with the most blood-curdling war cry, charged on the hill above Poonch which had been occupied by the enemy. This audacious and plucky act so completely unnerved the enemy, that it fled in panic leaving weapons and ammunition behind. In the months to come, Pritam was to repeat such actions again and again.

It was at this stage that the Brigade sent instructions for the troops to prepare to withdraw from Poonch. Perhaps, this message leaked out resulting in a pal of gloom descending on the town. The horrors that had befallen the inhabitants of Mir Pur, Kotli, Bagh and score of other towns, flashed through the minds of those who had escaped from these places and sought refuge in Poonch. Pritam responded by stating that abandoning of the population of Poonch and refugees would be a great betrayal, and the army would forfeit the trust of the nation. He felt that the garrison would rather go down fighting before the Tricolour was lowered at Poonch.

At another level, the fate of Poonch hung in a balance. At the Defence Committee meeting on December 3, 1947, Pt. Nehru stated that Poonch must be defended at all costs. Mountbatten had a different view, while the C-in-C wanted the final decision on Poonch to await the recommendations of Lt. Gen. Russell, the Army Commander, who for tactical and logistic compulsions, wanted to pull out of Poonch. On December 6, 1947, the PM met Gen. Russell at Jammu, and the final decision to defend Poonch was taken, although Russell had his reservations, and thought that a lot of good luck was required to hold on to it. Later, the fall of Jhangar brought into sharp focus his worst fears, but that is another story.

At Poonch, a fierce struggle had commenced. Ground was being taken, lost, to be retaken again, where blows were being absorbed and delivered back with greater ferocity, where cries came with every dawn, the battle to push the enemy further and further away and capturing the heights surrounding Poonch was being pursued relentlessly.

To feed the people holed up inside Poonch, Pritam started raiding the surrounding villages under enemy occupation for food grains and livestock. In this way, a total of 90,000 maunds of grain was collected during the yearlong siege. There were casualties during these raids, depleting the strength of the garrison. Simultaneously, the construction of a runway was taken in hand. Men, women and children came out in thousands to pull down buildings, clear the debris and fill the `nallah' bed, often working under enemy fire.

In the second week of December, the Indian Air Force started landing Dakotas at Poonch. Pritam galvanised the citizenry and infused in them a new spirit of defiance and sacrifice. Two militia battalions (11 & 8 JK Militia) were raised from out of able-bodied men at Poonch and they fought along with regular troops. From December 6, Pritam was promoted to the rank of a Brigadier and his Second-in-Command, Maj. Dharam Singh, took over 1 Para Bn. in the rank of Lt. Col.

During January-February 1948, 3/9 GR. was flown into Poonch. In February, enemy attacked in the Khanetar ridge and pushed back 1 Para Bn, which left behind many dead, wounded and weapons. The Co and his Adjutant, to make light their movements, had thrown their weapons and later put the loss on their respective orderlies. This seriously affected the morale of the battalion.

On March 17, 1948, enemy deployed mountain guns against Poonch and started shelling the airfield, and severed the air link. The situation once again became desperate. On March 21, Pritam was wounded. A rumour that Pritam had died, spread chaos and panic through the town. To quash this, Pritam was propped up in a jeep and driven around Poonch. Then there was the message from the Brigade, instructing the garrison to prepare to pull out from Poonch. Pritam, though still confined to bed, would not hear of it. Later, personally leading the attack, he drove the enemy outside gun range and with 1 Para and two Companies of Jammu and Kashmir militia, took back Khanetar ridge.

In April 1948, Sheikh Abdullah and Bakhshi Gulam Mohammad visited Poonch, and the former addressed a public meeting, in which he chided the refugees for killing Muslims in the town as well as during their march (escape?). There was hardly a refugee in that audience, who had not lost some member of the family and suffered extreme brutalities at the hands of raiders and others. Instead of a word of sympathy, they were being condemned. Swords were drawn, and slogans rented the air. With difficulty, troops were able to save the Sheikh, and he had to be packed off in the first available aircraft, though a bit unceremoniously. The memory of this ignominious departure must have haunted the Sheikh.

In May, 1948, Maj. Gen. Atma Singh took over Jammu Area Division from Maj. Gen. Kulwant Singh, and from the very beginning a hiatus developed between Atma and Pritam. Atma started working towards bringing about a disaster at Poonch and ruination of Pritam's career. He took away 1 Para Bn, when the only other regular battalion 3/9 GR had suffered a serious setback, and its morale was low, and the enemy pressure was on the increase.

Leave parties, about 300 strong, awaiting airlift to Poonch were held back as division reserve, at a time, when units were at 50 per cent of their strength.

When 1 Para Bn, was leaving, Pritam received reports that the battalion was carrying away valuables from the place. There was also a letter from the Army Commander instructing him to ensure safety of Raja's property.

Here Pritam committed a cardinal error of command. He ordered a search of the luggage of 1 Para Bn, while it was loaded in the aircraft. Notwithstanding the background, there was no justification to subject the battalion to a search. To thus humiliate troops who had followed him through the very fires of hell and beyond, who had taken such heavy casualties without a demur, had covered themselves with glory, accepted hardships of the siege with stoicism and fought like crusaders, was sacrilege. What did the search uncover ? One ivory handled cane and two shooting sticks from Co.'s baggage, a few silk cushions from Sub. Major's box and two old table fans from the QM. This action turned the battalion against Pritam, and Atma exploited these injured feelings to the maximum.

Atma started subverting the loyalty of Pritam's officers and building cases against him. In a letter dated August 19, 1948, he informed Western Command that, "Lt. Col. Palit (Ex Co. 3/9 GR) had told Col. Sathe of I.A. Division that Pritam had shot a Hindu porter and made his Brig. Major shoot Muslim prisoners. In case this is true ... Pritam must be held guilty of murder and charged accordingly."

While Atma's lack of conspectuity and disposition can be judged from this letter, there were many officers keen on cashing in on his hostility towards Pritam. Their differences reached a point where Pritam complained to the Army Commander who in turn decided to move him to the Valley in exchange of Brig. Dathania. The Sri Nagar Division Commander, Thimaya, welcomed the move, but warned the Army Commander that if with Pritam's move there was disaster at Poonch, then he would not like to be associated with it. Nothing more was heard of this move. All this while enemy kept badgering at Poonch with ever greater vigour, and in September 1948, deployed field guns. But nothing could break the resolve of the defender.

It appears that around this time the Army Commander told Atma to go easy on Pritam. Consequently, during the final link-up with Poonch, in November 1948, Atma told Pritam that he had been misinformed and wanted him to forget everything. During the celebrations of the link-up in the 19th Infantry Brigade, Officers Mess at Rajouri, in the presence of many officers, Atma said, "Pritam, I am going to put you up for the highest gallantry award." Yet, behind his back, Atma renewed his efforts to build more cases against Pritam.

When the guns went silent and the dangers receded, many small men, fired by intense jealousy came into their own and joined hands with Atma. Calumny, pavity, slander and a dis-information campaign followed.

The campaign of vilification came to the head when Western Command ordered an enquiry into the charges and countercharges between Atma and Pritam. A few days later, Atma and Pritam were called by the C-in-C, Gen. Cariappa, who told them that Pritam had done a great job at Poonch and that the whole case needed to be closed. However, a few days later, Army HQ. ordered an enquiry into the case with Maj. General Khanolkar as the Presiding Officer and Brig. B.M. Kaul as one of the members. What pressures came into play to make the C-in-C change his mind ?

The Court of Inquiry distinguished itself by its bias, prejudice, partisan behaviour, unseemly demeanour, breach of procedures, norms and canons of natural justice. The Court would not allow Pritam to cross examine witnesses. It would record evidence in its own language rather than in the exact words of the witnesses, and the same would not be read out. So, the accused did not know what was recorded.

The Court went from Meerut to Dehra Dun and recorded the statement of the Raja of Poonch, an important prosecution witness, behind Pritam's back, and in complete contravention of army rules. If any witness said anything which went in favour of Pritam, he was threatened by the Court. The Court members would often shout at Pritam and try to browbeat him.

The Court went to Poonch and took with it Atma, a political advisor to Sheikh Abdullah, Raina, Ex-Wazir of Poonch, Lt. Col. Dharam Singh, but not Pritam. From there, two members of the Court, along with Atma and Raina, went to Srinagar in an air force plane, demanded for the purpose. Who did they confabulate with at Srinagar ? Pritam appealed against the Court, but to no avail.

See the irony of the drama of this Court. The dramatis personae displaying temper, browbeating, shouting, threatening and thumping the table at Pritam, the bravest of the brave, whose stand at Poonch had brought such glory to the Indian army and done the nation proud, was Brig. B.M. Kaul. Some 11 years later, Kaul, as the Corps Commander in NEFA in 1962, was to prove himself incompetent.

Predictably, the finds and opinion of this Court led to the slapping of 26 charges against Pritam. Eighteen out of these were for abetment of commission of offence of murder by Maj. Pran Nath, one for abetment of theft of a carpet (12 ft by 12 ft) by Sub. Maj. Sher Singh, two for criminal breach of trust in regard to public funds, and three for voluntarily causing hurt to three police personnel.

At the summary of evidence, the prosecution case pertaining to charges of abetment of murder could not stand scrutiny. On the issue of Pritam's attitude towards Muslims, the defence produced evidence to establish that before Pritam's arrival, some Muslims were killed at Poonch ... Within a few days of Pritam taking over as the Garrison Commander, Muslims could freely move around in the town. Suleiman, an electrician, was attacked by refugees and Pritam himself had rushed forward to rescue him. From time to time, Muslim prisoners were released into the territory held by Pakistan, and often Pritam gave them money from his pocket. Lt. Col. Chandar Singh deposed that on one occasion Pritam had borrowed Rs. 25/- from him to give to the prisoners being released.

Some police personnel, while escorting prisoners up to the border, had let the refugees kill them. At this incident, Pritam immediately went to the site and brought back the only surviving prisoner, who was badly wounded and was hiding in the bushes and had him admitted to hospital. That is where he gave the taste of the rough end of his stick to the concerned police personnel. Pakistan complained about ill-treatment of Muslims by the Indian troops in other sectors, but none against those at Poonch.

I asked Lt. Col. Bakshish Singh (Retd.), one of the company commanders at Poonch during the siege and a veteran of many battles of World War II, about the treatment of prisoners by Pritam. He says that, "from time to time, prisoners were released because there was no food to spare those days. Pritam was too brave a man to order his troops to carry out the cowardly act of shooting prisoners. In fact, he was more favorably inclined to Muslims than Hindus and Sikhs, because the Muslims were the underdogs at Poonch."

While the charges of abetment to murders had no chance of sticking, they had their own propaganda value, and at the same time showed the extent to which Pritam's detractors were stretching out to get at him.

The Court Martial assembled in January 1951, at Dehra Dun, with Maj. General J.N. Chaudhary as the Presiding Officer. There were finally a total of six charges, three relating to causing hurt to police personnel, two for financial irregularities and one pertaining to a theft of a carpet.

As regards the first three, Sub-Inspector Sham Lal and Head Constable Uttam Chand had received the rough end of Pritam's stick for letting the refugees kill prisoners in their charge, while the third policeman had taken a bribe of Rs. 10/- and released a prisoner held in police custody for illegally felling trees. While these police personnel must have been under great pressure to file cases against Pritam, their conscience prevailed and they pleaded for withdrawal of their cases, stating that they owed their lives and those of their families to Pritam. But for him, no one would have survived at Poonch and they got from him much less than what they actually deserved.

The case pertaining to the alleged theft of a carpet was something like this. In May 1948, the carpet was sent from Poonch to Jammu for onward despatch to the I.A.F. at Palam and temporarily put with the heavy baggage of 1 Para Bn. On July 5, 1948, Pritam placed this carpet with the Air Transport Unit at the airfield with instructions that it be handed over to Maj. M.S. Grewal, Air Liaison Transport officer (ALTO), who was to send it to Palam for handing it over to the Air Force as a present from the Raja of Poonch.

On July 9, 1948, Subedar Maj. Sher Singh was brought before Maj. Gen. Atma Singh in connection with the items from the palace found in his baggage during the search at Poonch airfield. Besides other complaints against Pritam, he also made a mention of this carpet to him. Consequently, an enquiry regarding the carpet was conducted on July 16, 1948, by Maj. Joshi. On July 28, 1948, the carpet was seized on orders of Atma and placed at Jammu. Brig. Pritam protested against this and took up the issue.

At the Court Martial, the prosecution case was that Pritam wanted to take the said carpet for himself. The Sub. Major produced a Memo, dated July 3, 1948, signed by him, 2nd Lt. Rai (Head clerk of 1 Para) and some others stating that a carpet, 14'-9'' x 14'-9'' had been handed over to Brig. Pritam Singh in their presence and for the purposes of identification at a later date a portion of its jhallar was cut and a gash made in one corner of the carpet. During cross examination, it transpired that the prosecution witnesses had made no mention of this memo, the cutting of the jhallar or the gash during the inquiry held by Maj. Joshi, or at the Court of Inquiry (C of I).

It was evident that this memo was a forged document and had been introduced at a later date. Prosecution also failed to produce 2nd Lt. Rai, who allegedly wrote the said memo. Thus, from various lacunae in statements about the size and the identification of the carpet, it was evident that a substitute carpet had been produced at the Court Martial. During the cross examination, the Raja admitted that in April, 1948, when he was in Poonch to collect his luggage, he had discussed with Pritam the presentation of a carpet to the Air Force.

Major Grewal, ALTO, deposed that Pritam had instructed him in July 1948 that the carpet, with the Air Maintenance Unit at Jammu, be sent to Palam for delivery to the Indian Air Force. Further, that from July 5 to July 28, 1948, no aircraft went from Jammu to Palam airport.

The prosecution case of the alleged theft of a carpet by Brig. Pritam Singh was thus hopelessly flawed, and there was reason to believe that a forged document and false evidence had been introduced.

The remaining two charges related to intent to defraud public funds (imprest account) in two claims of Rs. 13,182 and eight annas in one case and Rs. 2,603 and two annas in another. The prosecution case was that the claims for the above amounts were in excess of the actual expenditure on local purchase of firewood, rations, etc., and that Brig. Pritam Singh wanted to keep to himself the excess amount of Rs 10,062 and nine annas. It was alleged that while Lt. Col. Dharam Singh was appointed CO. of 1 Para with effect from December 1947, he was in fact only the operational Commander of the battalion to the total exclusion of administration, discipline and such related duties, and, therefore, did not know that these claims were false.

The prosecution case rested on a routine Brigade order (B.R.O.) No 104 dated March 13, 1948, wherein it was stated that Dharam would be the operational commander and that Pritam would attend to matters of administration, discipline, etc., and thereby the quarter master, Maj. Sukhdarshan Singh, had dealt with Pritam on the issue of these claims without the knowledge of Dharam. Further, on July 23, 1948, Sukhdarshan gave the surplus amount of Rs. 10,062 odd to Pritam. Sub. Maj. Sher Singh deposed that Brig. Pritam Singh gave him this amount on July 27, 1948, for safe keeping in the unit treasury chest saying that it was his money.

The defence case was that B.R.O. No. 104 was published after the Khanetar fiasco, where Dharam and his adjutant had thrown their weapons in the face of the enemy and ran away leaving behind many dead, wounded and heavy weapons. This incident had lowered the morale of the unit, and it was felt that the continued direct association of Pritam with the unit be shown to the troops. Whereas in actuality, there was no change in the Command and Control of the battalion. In any case, this B.R.O. was published on March 13, whereas the claim for local purchase was made on January 24 and 28. Further, during this period, Dharam, on his own admission, had conducted Summary Court-Martials and initiated confidential reports of officers. Only a CO. with full administrative and disciplinary powers can hold a Summary Court-Martial and initiate confidential reports on his officers.

The defence also produced another B.R.O. on April 24, 1948, which read, "Hereafter all matters pertaining to the battalion be referred to Lt. Col. Dharam Singh." This explained the rationale of the earlier B.R.O., because this second B.R.O. was published after Khanetar ridge had been recaptured. It was also brought out that the two contingent bills for Rs. 13,182 odd and Rs. 2,603 odd were signed on January 24 and 28, 1948, by Lt. Col. Dharam Singh along with the three obligatory certificates on each, as to their authenticity and truthfulness in the capacity of CO., 1 Para BN. These were then countersigned by HQ. Western Command. At that time, Pritam was only the imprest holder of Poonch, and, as such, had signed the monthly account of sum received and expended for all units at Poonch. The responsibility for the correctness of individual contingent bills was that of the respective CO.s and the countersigning authority.

Maj. Sukhdarshan Singh, who was the 2nd IC of the battalion, deposed that in June, 1948, in his presence, Dharam informed Pritam that there were Rs. 10,000 odd made surplus in local purchase and wanted to credit the same in the battalion's private funds. To this Pritam had told him that he would obtain orders from the G.O.C.

Major Sukhdarshan Singh's statement that he handed over Rs. 10,000 odd to Pritam in his office on July 23, 1948, needs to be seen in the light of the fact that Pritam was wounded on July 21, 1948, and confined to bed for two weeks and, therefore, could not have been in his office to receive the said cash, nor could he have handed over this money to the Sub. Major on July 27, when there was also a treasury chest in the brigade H.Q. itself.

A number of witnesses, including Maj. Gen. Kalwant Singh, who was G.O.C Jammu I.A. Division during the period under reference and had visited Poonch five to six times, deposed that Dharam was the CO. in every respect. On the prosecution's plea and Dharam's deposition that he was not the CO., Sardar Swaran Singh, later India's Central Minister and then Defence Counsel, at Pritam's Court Martial, made the most daring observation. Addressing the Court he said, "If Lt. Col. Dharam Singh was not the CO., then, how could he have dealt with disciplinary cases ? He admits having tried men of his unit by Summary Court-Martial (S.C.M.). He now wishes you to believe that he used to consult the accused (Pritam) before disposing them off. In a S.C.M. the CO. constitutes the Court, and it is he who takes the oath. If this is what the witness had in fact been doing, then my submission is that the witness is not worthy of any credit. Besides being a liar, he is utterly dishonest."

Poonch was under siege with ever increasing pressure from the enemy. Pritam was mounting, on an average, one operation a week to capture the surrounding heights and raids for collection of food grains for the population. He raised and trained two battalions from the town and administered the brigade comprising large number of units. With these commitments, would he have had the time or inclination to go into the internal administration of 1. Para., when his association with the unit was of only two months ? Whereas Dharam had been with the unit for six years. Then there was the letter introduced by the prosecution from Dharam to I.A. Division dated July 16, 1948, reporting theft of a carpet and defrauding of public funds by Pritam. This letter had no stamp of I.A. Division or initials of an officer. The A.O. stated that he never saw this letter at Jammu Division. The letter appeared to have been introduced later and was perhaps forged.

Thus, the prosecution case against Pritam defrauding public funds had no merit. Instead it was Lt. Col. Dharam Singh who stood indicted for defrauding in the instant case, and on his own admission, in the case of four other claims amounting to Rupees 11,423 and odd, preferred by him in the month of June, 1948. Yet, the court returned a verdict of guilty on this charge against Brig. Pritam Singh, MC.

During my meetings with Sardar Swaran Singh, I asked him how could a court, composed of such experienced officers, accept a patently absurd contention of the prosecution that Lt. Col. Dharam Singh was only an operational CO. to the total exclusion of administration and such other duties in the face of such clinching evidence and return a verdict of guilty. He could not recall all the details after a lapse of nearly 43 years, but remembered Pritam as an honourable and a courageous man. He maintained that there was no case against Pritam and that his conviction was a political vendetta where Sheikh Abdullah and others had used their clout at Delhi to obtain a verdict of guilty for Pritam. I asked Maj. Gen. Niranjan Prasad, a contemporary of Pritam, as to how Maj. Gen. Chaudhary, as Presiding Officer, could accept the impossible stand of prosecution. He observed, "Over-ambition can destroy a conscience." Maj. Gen. Varindera Singh, another contemporary of Pritam, says that it was Bijjee Kaul (B.M. Kaul) who was working overtime, along with others in Delhi, to hunt down Pritam.

Within the service, Pritam had not only superseded quite a few, but had emerged as a great military leader to the envy of many. Outside the service, was this political and allied vengeful animosity born out of propaganda blitz and dis-information campaign mounted by certain people in the state ? The levelling of the graveyard to prepare the landing strip, propaganda regarding shooting of Muslim prisoners, treatment meted out to Sheikh Abdullah and others by the refugees at Poonch, and Wazir's removal and making him part with the gold-threaded Choga and diamond-studded sword, were some of the contributory factors to this animus.

Atma claimed to have produced two Muslim women from Poonch before Bakhshi Ghulam Mohd at Jammu. (During the siege these two women were accosted by the police for some nefarious activities in connivance with a National Conference worker, who escaped before he could be arrested). These women were instructed to tell Bakhshi that they were assaulted by Pritam.

The C-in-C approved the verdict of `guilty' against the charge of fraud, but did not approve the verdict of `not guilty,' against the charge of theft of a carpet. The theft of carpets (not just a carpet) had been given so much publicity that a verdict of `not guilty' against this charge became extremely embarrassing for Pritam's detractors, because it exposed the mendacious nature of the charges.

After the war, the opposing Commanders met frequently. Referring to these meetings, Gen. Thimayya states, "I do not remember them (Pakistani officers) ever complaining (of ill-treatment of prisoners) against Pritam. In fact, on my first meeting, late Brig. Sher Khan mentioned that if he admired anybody at all on the Indian side, it was Pritam, who fought most gallantly against an overwhelming force around Poonch."

Today very few know of this great son of India, but to the people of Poonch and those 49,000 refugees, he was the saviour. His picture adorns every house in Poonch and those who lived through that yearlong ordeal and had a glimpse of the iron of his soul, his resolve, courage and love for the country, hold him in great reverence.

The Court-Martial deprived him of his service and, hold your breath, his "Independence Day Medal." What they could not take away from him was the Military Cross and medals won during the Great War. The detractors not only maligned and sullied Pritam's reputation, but buried for good measure the story of siege of Poonch, a siege unique in itself and worthy to rank amongst the great sieges in history, which would otherwise have been a subject of study in military schools all over the world.

Nations that treat their heroes in this manner, do not produce them in great numbers. Therefore, some 11 years later, when the Chinese came to push us down from the mountain tops, the Indian Army could not field, from Kibbutoo (NEFA) to Karakoram, one single Pritam Singh who could arrest the flights of the best of men. Many officers and men, loath at yielding ground, went down fighting at their posts, but the mass of them did, in vain, look for a Commander who could rally them and give no quarter to the enemy, one who would rather stand and perish than suffer the ignominy of a rout. Nor could the nation throw up a leader with resolve and defiance to stand up to the Chinese in that moment of crisis, stand up for just a few weeks, as India's greatest ally, the Himalayan winter was already menacingly closing in on the enemy.

Pritam's appeal for justice and equity to his Chief was of no avail. Here then was a man, who stood by the Tricolour all through that great storm which raged at Poonch, had no one to stand for him, neither his Chief, nor any public spirited men, nor the press. Here then was a man, whom the might of Pakistan army in its year-long endeavour could not pull down, was finally felled by his own people.

When he had been hounded from pillar to post for two years, called a murderer, a sadist, a thief and a cheat, he wrote : "Sometimes serious doubts assail me whether it would have been better to have let the state forces garrison slip out of Poonch and merely follow it, than to have put up that tenacious fight, but I dispel them with my conviction that I have done my duty to India and that one day the truth will come out."

In 1896, occurred the famous incident which split the French opinion and had a far-reaching effect on the Republic. It was alleged that Capt. Dreyfus, a Jewish Army officer, had been convicted and punished by a military tribunal on false charge and forged documents. Emile Zola jumped into the fray with his famous, `I accuse.' Finally, public opinion obtained his clemency. Lord Clive and Warren Hastings, notwithstanding their many wrong-doings, earned pardon on the strength of their services to the Empire.

Is there no reprieve and clemency for the 1947-48 Kashmir War's greatest hero, who did no wrong, but was framed based on forged documents and false charges ? Is there no restoration of his honour by the President ?

Pritam died some years ago in the anonymity of Punjab countryside, with no newspaper writing even a two-line obituary to him. May the Lord rest his soul in peace !


This article was taken off the Internet.