Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was born on 15 March 1977 in Kozhikode, Kerala. Maj Sandeep Unnikrishnan came from a Nair family residing in Bangalore, where they had moved from Cheruvannur, in Kozhikode District of Kerala. He was the only son of retired ISRO officer K. Unnikrishnan and Dhanalakshmi Unnikrishnan. Maj Unnikrishnan spent 14 years at the Frank Anthony Public School in Bangalore before graduating in 1995 in the Science stream. He wanted to join the Army, right from his school days and did well in school activities and sports events. He was also a member of the school choir and enjoyed watching movies.
Maj Unnikrishnan joined the National Defence Academy (NDA), Pune, Maharashtra in 1995 and was a graduate of the 94th Course of NDA. His NDA friends remember him as “selfless”, “generous” and “calm and composed”. He was commissioned as a lieutenant to the 7th Battalion of the Bihar Regiment (Infantry) on 12 July 1999.
After serving the Indian Army in different locations in Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan during counter insurgencies for two terms, he was selected to join the National Security Guards. On completion of training, he was assigned to the Special Action Group (SAG) of NSG in January 2007 and participated in various operations of the NSG. During the ‘Ghatak course’ (at the Commando Wing (Infantry School), Belgaum), the most difficult course of the Army, Unnikrishnan topped the course, earning an “Instructor Grading” and commendation. He opted for the NSG commando service which he joined on deputation in 2006.
Major Sandeep also participated in Operation Vijay in July 1999, and was deployed at the forward posts in the face of heavy artillery firing and small arms fire by Pakistan troops. On the evening of 31 Dec 1999, Major Unnikrishnan led a team of six soldiers and managed to establish a post 200 meters from the opposing side against heavy opposition and fire.
Operation Black Tornado : Nov 2008
On the night of 26 November 2008, several iconic buildings in South Mumbai were attacked. One of the buildings where hostage were held was the 100-year-old Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Major Unnikrishnan was the team commander of 51 Special Action Group (51 SAG) deployed in the operation at the hotel to rescue the hostages. He entered the hotel with a group of 10 commandos and reached the sixth floor through the staircase. As the team descended the stairs, they suspected perpetrators on the third floor. A few women were held as hostages in a room which was locked from the inside.
The team decided to break open the door and when it was done the team faced barrage of fire from the terrorists. The rounds of fire by the perpetrators hit Commando Sunil Yadav, who was Major Unnikrishnan’s colleague. Major Unnikrishnan engaged the perpetrators in a firefight and arranged for Yadav’s evacuation. Later Major Unnikrishnan gave a chase to the terrorists who had escaped to another floor of the hotel. In the encounter that followed, he was shot from the back which proved fatal. His last words, according to NSG officials were, “Do not come up, I will handle them,” . His exceptional courage and leadership motivated his comrades to eliminate all the terrorists and complete the assigned mission successfully.
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was given the nation’s highest peace time gallantry award “Ashok Chakra” for his outstanding courage, unyielding fighting spirit and supreme sacrifice.
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan is survived by his father K. Unnikrishnan and mother Dhanalakshmi Unnikrishnan.
The citation for the Ashoka Chakra awarded to him reads:
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan led the commando operation launched on 27th November 2008 to flush out terrorists from Hotel Taj Mahal, Mumbai in which he rescued 14 hostages. During the operation, his team came under intense hostile fire, in which one of his team members got grievously injured. Major Sandeep pinned down the terrorists with accurate fire and rescued the injured commando to safety. In the process, he was shot in his right arm. Despite his injuries, he continued to fight the terrorists till his last breath. Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan displayed most conspicuous bravery besides camaraderie and leadership of the highest order and made the supreme sacrifice for the nation.