The heroes of 1962

NAT

In the two hours that it takes to drive from Delhi to the town of Rewari in Haryana, there is not much that reminds one of the turbulent days of half a century ago when the fear of a Chinese invasion struck at the nation's heart. That's until you branch off from the Delhi-Jaipur highway to the narrow road leading to Rewari. Fifty years ago, the mail van would have trundled down this very road, carrying condolence telegrams to 60-odd families who had never heard of Rezang La, the icy pass in Ladakh where their kin had fought to death against impossible odds.

Down this road stands a small, gated memorial that celebrates the battle of Rezang La, fought at a height of 17,000 feet and which finds its place in the history books for the staunch defence put up by Charlie Company or 'C' Company, led by Major Shaitan Singh of the 13 Kumaon Regiment. His name, translated literally, meant The Devil. The Major and his band of 123 soldiers lived up to that name as they valiantly fought off the Chinese for five hours at Rezang La on a cold November night 50 years ago.

The 1962 war is mostly associated with defeat—an under-equipped, demoralised Indian Army retreating under the onslaught of a determined Chinese attack to push back Indian positions on the disputed border. The battle of Rezang La on November 8, 1962 is, however, one bright spot, a shining example of bravery by a company-sized formation that stopped an estimated 3,000-strong Chinese formation, denying them access across the mountains and into the Chushul valley.

For Rewari—and the entire Ahirwal belt—the battle has special significance as most of the soldiers from the now famous Charlie Company belonged to this region. Of the original company of 123 Kumaonis, 109 were killed while defending the pass. Their sacrifice was not in vain. The Chinese never crossed Rezang La to enter Chushul valley, from where it would have been a free run to the town of Leh. Two days after the epic battle, Beijing sounded a unilateral ceasefire across the border, bringing to close the month-long war with India.

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