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Interview with Captain Bana Singh Param Vir Chakra

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Captain Bana Singh is one of the three living recipients of the Param Vir Chakra, the highest Indian bravery Award. He earned his award in capturing the most strategic post on the Saltoro range near the Siachen glacier in Ladakh.

Claude: Tell us about your origin, where are you born, when did you
join the Army?
BS: I am born in 1949 in Kadyal district of Jammu province. My father
was farmer though many of my uncles had joined the Army. My father
used to tell me that Army’s life is a very prestigious. He also wanted
me to join that Army because a farmer’s life is very harsh. I remember
when I was a kid, I used to be so happy each time I saw off-duty Army
officers or jawans visited our village.

C: What was your motivation to join the Army?
BS: I decided that I wanted to do something for my country. That is
why I joined the Army.

C: Why did you join the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI)?
BS: Because it was the State force of Jammu and Kashmir, so being a
Kashmiri I naturally joined the J&K forces.

C: When were you posted first in Siachen glacier?
BS: On April 20 1987

C: Did you practice mountain climbing before being posted in Siachen
at such a high altitude?
BS: I was trained at the High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg (in
Kashmir) and also at another school at Sonamarg. My battalion was
trained there. Though the altitude is not as high as in the Siachen
area, we learnt mountain warfare, how to climb, how to fight in the
snows, how to move on a glacier.
When I was in Gulmarg, there were three battalions: the 10 Dogras,
the 8 JAK LI and the 5 Guard. The mountain training is imparted to
formations from all over India, but more particularly to this Mountain
Brigade which was specially established by the Government of India to
look after the Siachen glacier. It is not only an opportunity for the
battalions to be trained, but also to acclimatize at relative high
altitude.
Then we moved to the base camp of the glacier which is located at
18,000 feet. It takes 7 days to be fully acclimatized, during this period
we move to the base camp for the day and come back the next day.
This is No 1 camp.

C: When you got posted on the Siachen in April 1987, was the Quaid
Post already occupied by the Pakistanis?
BS: Yes, they had occupied it earlier. Around that time, the Pakistanis
started firing on our patrols and helicopters from the post.
My Commanding Officer (CO) decided with the Brigade Commander to
send a patrol to find out the position of the Pakistanis and how many
of them were manning the Post.
On May 29, a patrol of 8 JAK LI was sent for a reconnaissance of the
possible approaches to the Quaid Post. The patrol leader was Lt. Rajiv
Pande. He had 10 men with him. Unfortunately, they were sighted by
the Pakistanis commandos. Most of them, including Rajiv Pande were
killed.

C: Why this post was called the ‘Quaid’ Post
BS: This is the name of Mohamed Ali Jinnah, the father of Pakistan.
This is the most important and highest post in the area. From the top
you can see 80 km around. You can see the entire Saltoro range, all
the other posts like the Amar and Sonam Posts which can only be
supplied by choppers. If you control this post, you can prevent the
supply of these posts located on the Saltoro. That is why it had such
an importance for Pakistan (and why they call it after Jinnah).
My CO had therefore to prepare a secret plan to recapture the post
otherwise we would not be able to hold the other posts in the area.

C: How did the Pakistanis capture the Post?
BS: I do not know. It must have captured long ago. The Pakistanis
started occupying the glacier in 1984. When I arrived in 1987, it was
already occupied.

C: How many people were killed on May 29?
BS: Lt Pande, a JCO and 8 jawans. Total 10 people [three survived].

C: What was then decided by your CO and the Army HQ in Delhi?
BS: [Before Lt Pande’s reconnaissance patrol], a very secret operation
had been planned. It could not be disclosed to anybody. We had to
find the different accesses and the one which would easier to get to
the Post. The first patrol was sent for this purpose. With this
information, my CO and the Army Commander were able to decide the
next step.

C: When was the second patrol was sent?
BS: It was not a patrol. It was troops for fighting purpose, to capture
the Post. It was in June.

C: How was the approach route to reach the Post at 21,000?
BS: There was a 90° climb on a distance of 1,500 km and ice walls. Lt
Pande had managed to fix ropes, but due to heavy snow fall, the rope
had got completely lost when the troops tried to reach the Post in
June. Ropes had to be fixed again.
In the meantime, to divert the attention of the Pakistanis, Indian
troops had been firing at the Post. There was no artillery fire, only
machine guns. It is only when the attack started that artillery was
used from the base camp.

C: Was artillery not dangerous for the climbing troops?
BS: It was at the beginning. We were climbing from the other side
when the Post was fired at.

C: Tell us now about your operation, it was the third attempt?
BS: A total of 62 people participated to the final operation. Two
officers, 3 JCO and 57 jawans were selected. The operation was
conducted in three phases on June 23, June 25 and June 26, 1987.
A first platoon was sent under Major Varinder Singh on 23rd but
unfortunately they had to come back. Two soldiers were killed.
The second platoon led by Subedar Harnam Singh with 10 jawans
made an attempt on June 25. At that time, there was no problem with
the rope, but due to some communication gap with us, the mission
had to be aborted.
The next day, on 26th, I started early and was told that we will try
another attack and capture the Post from the enemy today itself. A
message was passed from the Major General who was the Task Force
Commander and we got the green light.

C: All the 62 were volunteers?
BS: We had been selected by our CO.

C: Could you refuse to go?
BS: Yes, of course! But we all said that we were ready.

C: Tell us now about your assault? What did you feel?
BS: It is at day time, but because of the snow fall, you could not say if
it was the day or the night. It was snowing so heavily.

C: The Pakistanis Commandos couldn’t see you?
BS: No, but they must be have knowing that something was going on
because the firing from the base camp (to divert their attention).
We had been trained for such a fight and how to lob grenades. At that
time, some Pakistanis tried to fight, but unfortunately he is injured and
he
My Commander had told us before that we should try to get them
alive, but I told him: “Sir, it is not possible”. There was a single bunker
on the top. I threw a grenade inside and closed the door. At the end, a
total of six Pakistanis were killed. We brought back their bodies which
were later handed over to the Pakistanis authorities during a flag
meeting in Kargil.

C: Some sources say that there were 17 persons manning the Post.
BS: Some must have escaped towards the Pakistani side, perhaps over
the cliff. But only six were killed. I think, we bayoneted three or four
persons, I don’t remember now.
When you are fighting for your life, you can not say

C: How long lasted the operation?
BS: We left by noon. The entire operation was completed by 5 pm., so
5 hours (including the climb).

A: Were you cold or tired?
BS: In these conditions, when you face death, you do not feel cold,
you don’t feel fear. You don’t think that you are going to die or fail.

C: Did you think of your wife or your dear ones?
BS: No, never. But I prayed the Gurus before and after the operation.
After having been successful in my task, I considered myself as a lucky
man.
I must tell you, a strange thing happened one day before the assault.
As I was feeling depressed, I heard the voice of Guru Gobind Singh
who said: “I was only testing you”. Then my depression disappeared.
It is the first (and last) time that I had such an experience.

C: When the silence fell back on the Post, what happened?
BS: All the officers started congratulate me, to pat me: “You have
done very well, Bana, Congratulations”. All this through wireless.

C: Three months later there was a major Pakistani attack on the
Bilafond; they had apparently been very upset to lose the Jinnah Post.
Did you participate to the defense of Bilafond?
BS: Yes, it was in September. I did not participate because I was not
posted in this area. But about 1000 Pakistani men must have died.
General Musharraf was then the Brigade Commander [of the Special
Security Group]. He had himself planned the operation.

C: In one way, he is a looser. He lost the Jinnah Post, then in
September on the Bilafond, then again in 1998 in Kargil. Do you think
that there is a link between these three events?
BS: No, but Musharraf was very upset when I captured the Post.

C: There are rumours that an agreement will be signed between India
and Pakistan on the Siachen and that the glacier and the Saltoro range
will be demilitarized. What are comments?
BS: I feel that it is not good, but I do not want to comment further
because in the past my words have been distorted. But the point is
that so many people died for this glacier, it would not be good to give
it to Pakistan. I have told this so many times to the media persons.
Politicians do not know the value of the lives of the jawans. They know
only how to maraud the money.
If they knew what has happened to the glacier, if they knew
everything,

C: If tomorrow India withdraws, the Pakistanis make take the post
again and call it again Jinnah Post.
BS: Everyone knows that in Kargil it was the decision of Musharraf and
the military to start the conflict, but he says that it was Nawaz Shariff
and the politicians who gave the order. Everyone knows that it is a lie.
Tomorrow, if India withdraw, the Pakistanis will take the Siachen,
Pakistan will take it over, because they will always tell lies [to the
Indian Government]. But please don’t quote me.
Sometimes I received threat from the Pakistani side. Since I am
retired, I attend some functions, but I still need permission from the
Army HQ. Unless, I get the permission, I can not go and attend official
functions. I have two PSOs protecting me.

C: But you are stronger than your own PSOs.
BS: Yes and I am not worried about my life (laughing)

C: I understand that you had a good offer from the Punjab
Government?
BS: The Punjab Government has a deep respect for the Indian Army.
They have offered me Rs 25 lakhs and a monthly allowance of Rs
15,000 and a 25 acre plot if I accept to move to Punjab. But I refused.

C: Why?
BS: Because I consider myself a State Subject of Jammu and Kashmir.
My own State gives me Rs 160/month only as an allowance for having
won the Param Vir Chakra, the highest bravery award. It is the way we
are treated in Jammu and Kashmir.

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