When a soldier decides to go beyond the call of duty on the battlefield, it is but a split second decision.
Such distinguished acts of valour are recognised by the Param Vir Chakra award of the Indian Army, and Subedar Yogendra Yadav and Naib Subedar Sanjay Kumar are the only serving awardees in the Indian Army.
Yadav was only 19 when he received the award. Serving the nation runs in Yadav’s blood—he is the son of a former soldier and was recruited to The Grenadiers, an infantry regiment of the Indian Army when he was only a 16-year-old.
Kumar was a 23-year old jawan, in the 13 JAK Rifles at the time of the Kargil war.
Both these soldiers displayed exemplary bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable danger, and this is the story of the events as they unfolded amongst the snow-capped mountains and deep valleys.
It was the summer of 1999. Yadav had come home to Bulandshahr on May 5 for his wedding and returned on May 20 to join his battalion in Drass, where the soldiers were given a mission—capture the Tololing Peak, held by Pakistani intruders.
It was a brutal contest, and in 21 days, the Indian Army lost two officers, two junior commissioned officers and 21 jawans.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, Yadav says that there was a certain eerie normalcy about death.
Enlisted with 18 Grenadiers, he was part of the ‘Ghatak’ commando platoon, tasked with attacking Pakistani posts from a steep, unused path. Yadav and his fellow soldiers climbed two nights and a day and reached the Pakistani post at the top of the hilltop.
“We had to use ropes to climb the final stretch. Even though we tried to climb soundlessly, some rocks slipped, and the enemy opened fire on us. Only seven of us made it to the top,” Yadav recounts to HT.
In the ensuing battle, the soldiers killed four Pakistani soldiers, and then holed up in their bunker. After enduring five hours of crossfire, the men decided to conserve their ammunition and wait.
The Pakistani soldiers took them for dead and were in for a shock when they came back to check. Yadav and the other soldiers opened fire and killed all enemy soldiers except one, who returned with reinforcements and attacked Yadav and his team.
Only Yadav survived, careful to play dead even as enemy soldiers kept pumping bullets into dead Indian soldiers, and discussed what they would do next.
While a bullet hit Yadav’s chest, it ricocheted after hitting coins in his wallet. He took that as a sign that he would live and be able to warn his comrades. Yadav, with 18 bullets in his body, and a bone jutting out of his left arm, lobbed a grenade at a departing soldier, who fled thinking the Indians had returned. Yadav took this chance to crawl down a nullah, to warn his platoon. He was later hospitalised and took 16 months to recover.
Naib Subedar Sanjay Kumar, a soldier in the 13th Battalion, Jammu and Kashmir Rifles, volunteered to be the leading scout of the attacking column whose mission was to capture Flat Top of Point 4875 in the Mushkoh Valley on 4 July.
It is interesting to know that prior to the war, Kumar worked as a taxi driver in New Delhi, to earn a living. The determined Kumar tried for the Indian Army and was rejected thrice. Undeterred, he applied again and was finally being accepted.
Kumar is a Himachali, and is used to climbing mountains. The team scaled the cliff, and was pinned down by machine gun fire, from an enemy bunker around 150 metres away.
Displaying unreal bravery, Kumar crawled up the ledge alone, along a flank and charged toward the enemy, facing a hail of automatic fire.
Without a care for his safety, he engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, and killed three intruders, sustaining severe injuries, which he ignored and charged into the second bunker, shocking the enemy, who beat a hasty retreat.
Despite bleeding profusely, Kumar didn’t want to be evacuated, and that bolstered the courage of his comrades, who wrested the area of Flat Top from the enemy.
You may also like: Sher Shah of Kargil: The Story of Indian Army Legend, Captain Vikram Batra
The Kargil war ended up changing the lives of the two heroes forever. However, despite their immense courage and selflessness in the face of grave danger, they wear their bravery lightly, with Yadav saying that they did what “had to be done.”
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)