25 Jun 2017, holy day of Eid, time 12 noon, Veteran Petty officer Kaushik Pipalva was holidaying in Union Territory of Diu. He went to pay Floral Tributes to the Martyrs of INS Khukri at the ship’s War memorial situated near Diu.
The memorial also displays names of the Brave Sailors of INS Khukri, who lost their lives on the fateful day 09 Dec 1971. These names are engraved on a stone Plaque. Mr. Pipalva’s visit to the INS Khukri war memorial ended in a disaster full of pain and Insult to the Jawan and JCO fraternity, when he saw horrible and deliberate mistakes in the engraved names of martyrs.
It seems that immense sacrifices made by Jawans are forgotten throughout their lives and even after their death the horrendous neglect continues.
Out of 194 martyrs of INS Khukri 17 were officers, their full names are engraved in the plaque prefixed with their respective Ranks. But, incomplete and shortened names i.e. A. SINGH, B. SINGH, of the Brave 177 martyrs are engraved without any mention of their Ranks.
The true reason behind the enormous, heartfelt pain is the Rank Apartheid that is still being practiced by the Indian Navy with sailor fraternity. After 46 years of their sacrifice, when they laid down their lives on the fateful day, 9th December 1971. The Indian Navy does not consider the necessity to write their full names and Ranks in the War Memorial.
The erroneous portrayal, engraving of Martyrs Names on the STONE PLAQUE is a National Shame and displays our lack of respect towards Martyrs.
The poor families of martyrs of INS Khukri(F–149) must be enraged and unhappy over treatment mated out to their loved ones. Every common visitor of the war memorial is also furious and feeling the agony of mistreatment towards Nation’s Heroes.
When my senior Veteran Petty officer Pipalva sees and feels the gross injustice towards our martyrs, in the rage of anger, he asks some very tough questions to the Indian Navy.
Were those Brave Souls CIVILIANS? Who went onboard the fateful ship for some family day at sea or Picnic? Were they some personal servants of the officers or the soldiers of Mother India? Were they civilian bearers or Washer men or Barbers? Or they were Sailors of a Warship, who were there fighting a bloody war and saving the ungrateful Nation’s back? If they were Soldiers then where are their Ranks?
This writer visited INS Khukri war Memorial in the year 2015, saw this gross injustice and immediately wrote a letter of grievance to the Prime Minister’s Office vide PMOPG/E/2015/0081929 dated 31-08-2015 (status can be checked online). The PMO took immediate action and directed the Indian Navy to take necessary action in the matter. We were sure that on receipt of orders from the PMO the Indian Navy will surely correct the Stone plaque and the mistakes will be amended.
Even direct Orders from the PMO itself cannot deter the thick skinned officers of Naval Headquarters. The shameful practice of Rank Apartheid still continues.
We request the Government of India and the Indian Navy to immediately replace the plaque with a new ameliorated one, mentioning Full Names and Rank of each of the martyr and pay proper respect to the Brave souls .
It is not the only controversy surrounding the sinking of INS Khukri.
As per the Indian Navy’s official statement, INS Khukri, the Blackwood class frigate sank after being hit by a torpedo from Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor.
Tehlka.com website interviewed a survivor of the ill-fated ship, Veteran Ship Wright Chanchal Singh Gill who claimed that INS Khukri was hit and sunk by torpedoes fired from an American nuclear powered submarine to deter Indian Navy from attacking Pakistan furthermore.
It was impossible from under siege Pakistan to send its submarine so much deep inside the Indian Territory. INS Khukri and INS Kirpan were patrolling the area since three days no Pakistani submarine had the ability to stay continuously underwater till these many days. Such capabilities were only with the US 7th fleet which was sailing nearby.
The Indian Navy continuously portrays Late Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla (MVC) as a Great Hero. He is our National hero and the Nation salutes him from the bottom of heart. But, the supreme sacrifices of those valiant 177 sailors was also equally great. We are asking these difficult questions today and vouch for equal respect towards their deaths in the line of duty.
This is a very sad saga of ‘SELECTIVE SOCIALISM’ in our Armed forces. While mostly awarding the top most people in the ladder you tend to forget that the ladder is built with the blood and toil of the people down below. The very last person, ‘The Sepoy, The Sailor and The Airman have been continuously putting their lives on pedestal to keep these vintage, old and obsolete warships, Aircrafts, Tanks and guns operational and fighting fit.
Developed countries never keep obsolete weapons, warships or aircrafts in their kitty. But, In India we do not have that luxury of having fresh weapon systems all the time. Neither, we have the money nor the technological capabilities to build such advanced weaponry.
This handicap puts immense burden on the operators and maintainers to keep these old and obsolete machineries afloat and healthy. They work round the clock ensuring this. INS Khukri was also one such obsolete ship, which wasn’t equipped with latest sonar technology of those times and thus is laying at the bottom of the sea along with my fellow sailors.
All most everyone onboard sunk with the ship. INS Khukri went down to the bottom of the ocean within three minutes of being hit by torpedoes. If Captain Mulla can be awarded Mahavir Chakra for his bravery within those three fateful minutes then those three minutes should be sufficient enough for the whole ship’s company to be deservingly awarded Nausena Medal. The captain decided to go down with the ship. How many of us actually believe in the Titanic type story? If drowning makes Captain Mulla a ‘MAHAVIR’. The remaining 193 who lost their lives in the line of their duty could not even become ‘VIR’! If death by choice is a standard then every time when an aircraft crashes the Pilot should be asked to DIE to win medals.
Veteran Gill claims that at the time of torpedo hit, all the officers were celebrating the news of sinking of PNS Gazi in the officer’s wardroom. So, when was the decision to die taken in those three fateful minutes?
The Indian Navy also has to answer some uncomfortable questions. Instead of saving drowning sailors of INS Khukri , the commanding officer of INS Kirpan, ran away from the scene of action but was subsequently awarded with VIR Chakra and the martyred colonel in recent pathankot terror attack is decorated with Shaurya chakra. With such criterion each soldier dying in the line of duty should be awarded Sena Medal to say the least.
Whenever an officer dies in the line of duty, there has never been any delay in writing a citation and recommending him for bravery in the Indian armed forces. Which is really a good sign. Although, every soldier knows about the elements of truth and story in the citation. Nobody wrote citations for any of the Khukri Martyrs.
It is our heartfelt request to the Government of the day that citations, awarding of medals should be freed from a class specific environment. In a mature democracy each soldier should be equally rewarded and awarded for his bravery and sacrifice.
Since its liberation before 240 years, the United States of America has awarded 3515 Medals of Honor, i.e. US’ highest Gallantry award like our Paramvir Chakra, to its soldiers. That comes down to 14 topmost bravery awards each year.
Since our independence in 1947, The very conservative India has only awarded 21 Paramvir Chakra to its Bravest of the Brave. Hundreds of soldiers have set examples of unparalleled bravery through their selfless sacrifices in the line of their duty. Our Tricolor does not fly because the wind blows it; it flies with the last breath of every soldier who died defending it.
Shamefully though, the nation is forgetting their sacrifices. When consecutive governments are mean-spirited and only allots scanty medals, our hopes are demeaning.
Ati Vishisth Sewa Medal, Param Vishishth Sewa Medal, Yudh Sewa Medal are awarded to only senior officers, in the ranks of Brigadiers and Generals aka Arm chair Generals. These are allotments and not awards but are cunningly classified as Gallantry, Bravery awards. If these arm chair generals are so brave let us send them to Nathu-la post and withdraw the brave Jawans from there. The Bravest of the Brave are deprived from their deserving recognitions.
After 70 long years of independence and martyrdoms of thousands of soldiers while protecting the nation the continued Discrimination prevalent in awarding Medals should stop forthwith.
Jai Hind, Jai Sainik Swaraj
Manan Bhatt is a Retired Petty Officer of Indian Navy. This article has been posted with the author’s permission. The views expressed are personal.