On July 26, 1999, the Indian Armed Forces won a gritty and decisive war against Pakistan. In the ferocious battle, many brave young soldiers laid down their lives defending their nation on the inhospitable battlefield of Kargil.
It’s been seventeen years since then, but the unparalleled bravery and sacrifice of Kargil brave hearts are still etched in the collective memory of the country. However, few people know about Lieutenant Keishing Clifford Nongrum and his act of extraordinary courage that was responsible for giving the Indian army a crucial edge in the Kargil war.
This is the story of an unsung hero and his tremendous sacrifice.
Hailing from Shillong in Meghalaya, Lieutenant Keishing Clifford Nongrum was born on March 7, 1975. His father, Keishing Peter, worked at the State Bank of India while his mother, Baily Nongrum, was a homemaker. As a child, Nongrum was a sincere and obedient student, an avid music lover and the captain of the school football team. He regularly played football to keep himself fit so that he would be able to join the army.
After graduating in political science, his passion for the Armed Forces led him to join the 64th SSC course at the Officer Training Academy in 1996. On completion of training, Nongrum was commissioned into the 12th Battalion of the JAK Light Infantry. Lieutenant Keishing Clifford Nongrum was just 24 when the Kargil war begun. In the war, his battalion (12 JAK Light Infantry) was posted at the Batalik Sector.
On the night of June 30, 1999, Lt Nongrum’s unit was given the responsibility of securing Point 4812, a peak whose strategic location made it a top priority for the army. In this operation, Lieutenant Keishing Clifford Nongrum was assigned the task of executing the assault on the cliff feature of Point 4812. Climbing the vertical peak from the south eastern direction was nearly impossible, but Lt Nongrum and his determined platoon took up the challenge. They steadily and stealthily clambered up the steep slopes to reach the enemy bunkers at the top.
On the peak, Pakistani infiltrators had entrenched themselves in interconnected bunkers carved out of boulders. This had made them immune to even artillery fire. As a result, on completing their ascent, Lt Nongrum and his battalion had to face strong enemy opposition in the form of heavy mortar and automatic machine gun fire.
Pinned down for about two hours by the heavy and consistent firing, Lt Nongrum decided to do something that would turn the tide for his platoon. With utter disregard for his personal safety, he charged through the fire zone, firing and lobbing grenades at the enemy bunkers. His grenades killed six enemy soldiers holed up in the bunkers, but while throwing them, Lt Nongrum was hit by several bullets.
Severely injured, Lt Nongrum continued to fight hand-to-hand (he was a boxer too) with the Pakistani soldiers in an attempt to snatch the machine gun in the remaining bunker. In a supreme sacrifice, he chose to fight till his last breath and refused to be rescued. He kept fighting valiantly till he finally succumbed to his injuries on the battlefield.
This extraordinarily brave move of Lt Nongrum stunned the enemy, giving valuable time to his troops who closed in to finally clear the position. Thanks to Lt Nongrum and his team, the Indian Army had finally captured Point 4812.
For his selflessness, dogged determination and raw courage in the face of the enemy, Lt Keishing Clifford Nongrum was posthumously awarded the Nation’s second highest wartime gallantry award, Maha Vir Chakra, on August 15, 1999.
In 2011, Lt Nongrum’s father, Peter Keishing, made a personal pilgrimage to the spot where his son had single-handedly killed six enemy soldiers before breathing his last. He came back deeply moved and proud of his son who had made the supreme sacrifice in the service of his nation.
In 2015, a long cherished wish of his parents was also fulfilled when the bust of the war hero was unveiled at the Rhino Museum in Shillong by Lt Gen R N Nair of the JAK Light Infantry Regiment. The unveiling ceremony was organised by the local Army unit and was well attended by a host of dignitaries as well as Lt Nongrum’s proud family, friends, neighbours and teachers.
On Kargil Vijay Diwas, we remember and salute this heroic warrior who laid down his life fighting to protect his nation and his fellow countrymen. It’s time we gave these unsung heroes and their families the recognition and respect they deserve.