Kashmiri Pandits (KP) are known to be highly educated, articulate and achievers in various fields. They carry their tradition of excellence into the military, contributing a number of senior commanders and gallantry awardees. The first KP general was Major General Hira Lal Atal, who was commissioned in 1925.
He served with the 16th Light Cavalry and was the first Indian Adjutant General. His brother Brigadier Kanhaiya Lal Atal was commissioned with the Indian Military Academy's first batch, winning the Maha Vir Chakra while winning back Zoji La-Kargil in command of 77 Parachute Brigade in 1948.
Senior commanders from the KP community include General TN Raina and Air Chief Marshal SK Kaul, Chiefs of their respective Services. Other distinguished military men include Lieutenant Generals TK Sapru, Hirdey Kaul, Ashok Handoo, Moti Dhar, Vijay Madan, Vice-Admiral BK Kaul, Air Marshal SK Bhan and Air Vice-Marshal Kapil Kak, the noted defence analyst. Both General TN Raina and Air Chief Marshal SK Kaul were decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra.
Other war heroes include Captain MN Mulla, MVC, the valiant commanding officer of INS Khukri; Captain Gautam Mubayi, 2 Dogra, posthumously decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra for gallantry shown in the capture of OP Hill in J&K in November 1965; Colonel Anil Kaul, 65 Armoured Regiment, who won the Vir Chakra at the Battle of Jaffna in October 1987; and Colonel VN Madan, Vir Chakra, 4 Madras. SK Razdan, despite being a paraplegic, rose to the rank of Major General after winning the Kirti Chakra in action against terrorists in J&K.
The question is why are the Kashmiri Pandits refugees in their own homeland even after nearly a quarter century? Why are no firm steps being taken to settle them back in their original homes by the civil society as much as by the government? Freedom will have little meaning for us until we grant equal rights to this achievement-oriented community.
Major Navdeep Singh: lawyer for soldiers' cause
Major Navdeep Singh, practising law at Punjab and Haryana high court, is a Territorial Army officer with a difference. His TA service usually meant embodiment for 14 days every year, mostly in operational areas during high court vacations. The recipient of three Army Chief's commendation cards, one from AOC-in-C and five from Army Commander (which is something of a record), he continues to fight for the rights of men in uniform while out of uniform too.
His achievements include successfully fighting for pension benefits for World War-2 veterans and for toll tax exemption to private vehicles of defence personnel from private toll operators under the Indian Tolls (Army & Air Force) Act, 1901. Navdeep is actively involved in the welfare of disabled soldiers and war widows as well as working for systemic improvements in military justice and personnel and administrative issues.
Navdeep takes particular satisfaction in getting the grievances of disabled soldiers resolved even if he has to take on the establishment or even the system while doing so.
Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM) is an essential part of counter-insurgency operations. Operation Sadbhavana launched in 1998 is a unique attempt by the Army to apply the healing touch to the people of J&K by promoting developmental activities. One component of this programme is educational and motivational tours of various parts of the country organised by Army units for students, senior citizens and other residents.
I recently interacted with 30 girl students from Kishtwar district on a tour of Jammu, Chandigarh, Kapurthala and Amritsar organised by 17 Rashtriya Rifles (Maratha LI). Their enthusiasm and liveliness was infectious! Captain Sunil Pehal and his charming wife who chaperoned them told me that the girls were in awe of the opportunities awaiting them in the country.
During a conversation with me, the girls expressed their keen desire to study at the sprawling campus of the Panjab University in Chandigarh.
An interesting place on their itinerary was the Pushpa Gujral Science City at Kapurthala. The result of these laudable tours is often the broadening of horizons of those who undertake them. Impressionable minds like those of the young students one interacted with react positively to the affection and interest shown by their compatriots. The result is a win-win situation for the national interest.
Soldiers' grievance from Mirthal
Soldiers from 5 Guards and civilians from around Mirthal military station in Pathankot district complain that very few long distance trains stop at their railway station. They have to go to Pathankot to catch them. Maybe, local Member of Parliament, Partap Singh Bajwa, known to take up serving soldiers' issues in the Lok Sabha, can take up the matter with railway minister Pawan Bansal. The redress of grievances of men in uniform by the civilian authorities gives a big boost to their morale.
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