5 Aug 1948 to 5 Aug 2021 is NOT a long journey for a Battalion to achieve laurels that many over 150 years of their existence envy. 13 Kumaon has the distinction of the first Battalion raised after independence on 5 Aug 1948 at Kanpur by Lt Col HC Taylor with Sub Maj Bhagwan Singh as the first SM of the Paltan. Since I was born in Kanpur too about half a decade earlier this bond is too strong.
More so, living in Gurgaon, I studied in DSD College where I had many Yadav/Ahir class fellows. Of course, that time I never knew the real difference between a Yadav and an Ahir BUT once I joined the Battalion it was clear. All Ahirs are Yadavs BUT all Yadavs are NOT Ahirs.
Ahirs belong to Ahirwal region consisting of Narnaul, Kosli, Mahendargarh belt spanning parts of southern Haryana and north-eastern Rajasthan, was once a small principality based in the town of Rewari and controlled by members of the Ahir community from around the time when the Mughal Empire was on decline. So, while Mulayam Singh or Lalu Prasad are Yadavs BUT it is only Rao Inderjeet Singh or likes of Sub Maj Bhagwan Singh who are Ahirs!
The Ahirs are mostly agriculturists and live in the villages. They have strong joint family system and family ties and lead frugal living. After farming, soldiering is their first love. They are mostly vegetarian and eschew alcoholic drinks, but these trends are fast changing in the armed forces.
In marriages Ahirs are strictly exogamous and thus do not marry into closely related gotras. Widow re-marriage has been traditionally permitted for economic reasons and to keep family ties and simple re-marriage of the widow to the younger brother or cousin of the deceases is encouraged. Ahir women are hardy and work alongside their men in the fields. They, however, observe purdah.
Rao Tula Ram was one of the most important Ahir leaders of the 1857 War of Independence. He was born on 9 Dec1825 in the well-known Rao family in village Rampura in Rewari. He was educated according to the then prevalent customs and knew Persian, Urdu, Hindi, and a smattering of English.
In November 1839, Rao Tula Ram ascended the throne on the death of his father. Along with Meerut, the people of Rewari under the dynamic leadership of Rao Tula Ram and his cousin Gopal Dev revolted against the Raj in a big way. He fought many battles against British Raj along with the forces of the last Mughal King Bahadur Shah, the Marathas and the Rajput princes.
The battle of Narnaul was undoubtedly one of the most decisive battles of the Uprising of 1857 fought by Rao Tula Ram that left English jubilant over their success. On l7 May 1857, the Rao went to the tehsil headquarters at Rewari with four to five hundred followers and deposed the tahsildar and the thanedar.
They appropriated the cash from the tehsil treasury, took all the government buildings in their possession and proclaimed, under the sanction of Emperor Bahadur Shah, their rule over the Pargana of Rewari, Bhora and Shahjahanpur. Their headquarters was in Rampura, a small, fortified village, one mile south-west of Rewari.
While Tula Ram became the Raja, he appointed his cousin Gopal Dev as his Commander-in-Chief. However, the Britishers sent a 1500 strong column under Col John Grant Gerrard, an officer of conspicuous merit who on 6 Oct 1857 who captured Rampura mud fort after minor skirmishes. On 16 Nov 1857, while Gerrard forces were bogged down in the desert terrain at Nasibpur, a small village two miles Northwest of Narnaul, the rebel forces under Rao Tula Ram pounced on them.
Rao Tula Ram's first charge was irresistible, and the British forces scattered before them. The Patiala Infantry and the Multani Horse of the British forces were completely disheartened but the Guides and the Carabineers came to their rescue and saved the situation under intense artillery fire. But soon the situation took an unexpected turn when Col Gerrard was mortally wounded by a musket ball demoralising the British.
Rao Tula Ram took advantage of the situation swooped down upon them forcing them to withdraw. However, though his forces fought valiantly, suffering heavy causalities they could not with stand intense artillery bombardment followed by repeated charges by the British cavalry and infantry and were forced to retreat. The pursuit of the fleeing soldiers was quick and inexorable, and they were very soon driven out of the town.
After a little fighting Rao Tula Ram lost the day and, when the sun went down, there remained none in Narnaul except heaps of corpses here and there, but Rao Tula Ram managed to escape to Rajasthan and joined Tantia Tope's forces. Since he was refused pardon after the revolt, he escaped to Iran in 1862 and then to Afghanistan in the winter of 1862, where he died of dysentery at Kabul on 23 Sep 1863 at a young age of 38.
Gopal Dev also died in oblivion in 1862 and both were dispossessed of their Jagirs. Many raganishave been composed and sung by the Ahirs as folklores glorifying their valour and honour. Like all peasant communities, their music is simple, with minimum of instruments and raganis form their repertoire. In 13 Kumaon ‘Athara November Basath Ko, Ek Hua Ghor Sangram, Suno Sajjno’ and ‘Rewari Motar Adde Par’ are two such raganis always sung in unison with josh and vigour!
Ahirs excel both in sports and combat. Havildar Umrao Singh of Palra village in Jhajjar (Rohtak) was the only Ahir and gunner awarded Victoria Cross in Arakans during Burma Campaign in the Second World War Smart, erect, slim, and handsome when he went for Victoria Cross Reunion in UK some years back, Queen Elizabeth II was so impressed by him that she went and shook hand with Umrao Singh.
This brave son of Haryana died at the age of 85 years on 21 November 2005 and was cremated with full military honours in his native village Palra. Beside 13 KUMAON, many brave Ahir soldiers from Haryana and other parts of the country have made their mark in the various wars fought by the Indian Army and won gallantry medals.
Among them are Brig RS Yadav, MVC, Commodore BB Yadav, MVC, and Leading Seaman CS Yadav, MVC. Grenadier Yogendra Singh Yadav born) of 18 Grenadiers was the first and the youngest recipient of the PVC in the Kargil War. Incidentally, his father served in the Kumaon Regiment and took part in 1965 and 1971 Indo- Pak Wars.
Immediately after its raising, the Battalion was part of 202 Infantry Brigade in Barrackpore. A couple of months later it moved to Fort William (Calcutta) with operational task to man India’s border with what was East Pakistan. It was called out to deal with disturbances in Calcutta in February 1950 to April 1950. Thereafter, it moved to Bangaon in July 1951 and placed under 9 infantry Brigade.
In February 1952 it was ordered to move to Kashmir under 19 (Independent) Infantry Brigade. Three months later, it moved under 80 Infantry Brigade, relieving 6/5 Gorkha Rifles, taking over the defences at Pir Thil Nakka, Susiloti Dhar, Bagla, Point 3327 and Darhal Fort with major task to prevent infiltration from across the Cease Fire Line (CFL).
On return from Kashmir, 13 Kumaon moved to Ramgarh where it did not stay long and moved to Ranchi in February 1955. Later, they did stint at Fazilka and Sulemanki Headworks. Then came the call to Naga Hills and while headquarters was at Wokha in Lotha area, the battalion set up a number of posts with strength ranging from a platoon to a company, the most important being at Koio, Yekhum, Kotsenyu and Lungsa. Most of the battalion transport was at Kohima while the rear dump was at Dimapur airfield.
Since the Naga trouble was brewing faster, rebel leader Phizo had slipped in Pakistan in December 1956 to internationalize the Naga issue. The major difficulty in dealing with the rebel Nagas was that they frequently shifted their areas of activity and when chased from one place, they merely shifted to another.
It was decided to simultaneously clean-up the entire tribal territory, and towards that end ‘Operation Jhoom’ was launched on 24 April. Both 13 and 15 Kumaon took part in the operation appreciable degree of success was achieved in locating and destroying the hostiles.
Some hostiles and large quantities of arms and ammunition were captured but the top leaders escaped the dragnet. The patrols sent by the battalion had frequent encounters with the hostiles. After successful tenure in Naga Hills, Battalion on 24 April 1960 moved to Ambala to form part of 48 Infantry Brigade.
The class composition of 13 Kumaon on raising was Kumaonis and Ahirs in equal proportions. There was a promotion block for Ahirs due to their small representation in the battalions. In January 1959, Army Headquarters decided that 13 Kumaon be converted to 100 % Ahir unit.
This was to be effected by transferring its Kumaonis to 2nd and 6th Battalions with their Ahirs to 13th and in the process 2ndand 6th also became 100% Kumaoni battalions. It is commendable that changeover was completed smoothly while 13th was operationally committed in the Naga Hills.
I had the two unique privileges- firstly; I perhaps am the only living person of the 13th who had met Lt Col HC Taylor in 1965 as the General Manager of the Great Eastern Hotel in Calcutta where he graciously allowed few officers to enjoy hotel’s hospitality form Friday to Monday morning as we were deployed along the East Pakistan in Krishnanagar Sector beyond 24 Pargana. And secondly, Ahirs joining from 6 Kumaon had served along my elder brother, and I had the opportunity serve and enjoy their camaraderie.
13 Kumaon as the part of 48 Infantry Brigade arrived at Belgaum from Ambala to on 5 December 1961 and took part in ‘Operation Vijav’ in liberation of Goa. The Portuguese surrendered wit in 36 hours and Goa was free after four and a half centuries of foreign rule.
The Battalion was tasked to guard the Portuguese detenues and government buildings, collecting the arms and ammunitions of Portuguese troops and removal of booby traps at Ponda, Panjim and Velha Goa. And it was in the third week of February 1962 that the battalion could return back to Ambala.
The Chinese invasion of India in the fall of 1962 came with a bewildering suddenness. Many consider that the border dispute that preceded it was merely a pretext for the attack and the real motive of the Chinese was to oust India from the leadership of the Afro-Asian countries while the others felt the Chinese motive was to humiliate India and discredit country’s leadership and its democratic system.
The Battalion was then mobilized from Ambala to Baramula and further to Leh. The Battalion reached Chushul on 02 Oct 1962.Under the trying conditions, harsh climate, shortage of arms, ammunition, equipment, and winter clothing, Brave Ahirs donned on them the responsibility to save the Chushul Airfield & Ladakh.
Under the indomitable leadership of late Maj Shaitan Singh, PVC, the Ahirs saga of grit, determination, savage courage, death, and destruction against insurmountable heavy odds has been compared by many military historians with the famed battles of Thermopylae and Saragarhi.
The Battalion coming from the Eastern Sector, had a very hectic tenure in Delhi during the Covid 19 spread and left its indelible mark while on call for field tenure in difficult high-altitude area in the Western Sector. On the Rezang La Day on 18 Nov 2019, my coffee Table Book Coffee Table Book ‘Reminiscing Rezang La Battle’ was released in the presence of Lt Gen BS Sahrawat, the former Colonel of the Regiment (COR) and the new incumbent Lt Gen RP Kalita.
On 18 Nov 2020 Rezang La Day, Lt Gen Bakshi (Retd) released the documentary video on ‘The Battle of Rezang La’.
Reading the book and or watching the video with somewhat the same emotions that run in me, would eventually bind you to my writings-leaving you humming ‘Attarah November Basath Ko Ek Hua Ghor Sangram’ synergizing your enjoyment while unfolding soul stirring Macaulay’s inscription on the Chushul Memorial constructed to commemorate the 114 fallen martyrs who fought against heavy odds on 18 November 1962 in the Rezang La Battle, replicating remarkable story of a valiant last man stand on 12 September 1897 at the Battle of Saragarhi that would reverberate around forever.
13 Kumaon again created history by routing Pakistani 1 PUNJAB plus a Company of 10 PUNJAB in a multi-directional day light attack with almost no artillery support in Longewala desert in the Rajasthan sector in 1971 Indo- Pak War under the dynamic command of Lt Col (later Brig RV Jatar) where Maj (later Lt Col) DS Shekhawat (Shekhu) and Hav Laxmi Narain were decorated with Sena medal each.
On 26 Sep 1994, Subedar Sujjan Singh from Kanina had the unique distinction of being awarded Ashok Chakra-the highest peace time award posthumously while fighting Pakistani sponsored militants in Kupwara district in the Kashmir valley.
13 KUMAON thus earned the most prestigious title of ‘The Bravest of Brave Battalion’ having won the Param Vir Chakra and the Ashok Chakra in its short, checkered history for its excellent services in the defence of the country and was awarded 'The Bravest of the Brave' Trophy by the then COAS General NC Vij.
The Battalion had displayed brave excellence in the following wars and operations:
- Operation Vijay (Liberation of Goa) 1961.
- Sino -India War 1962.
- Indo-Pak War 1971.
- Operation Rakshak 1992-1995.
- Operation Meghdoot 1999.
- Operation Vijay 1999 (Kargil).
- Operation Prakram 2002.
- United Nation Mission in Ethiopia and Eretria (UNMEE), 2004-05.
The following Gallantry Bravery/Distinguished Service Medals and awards have been awarded to the Battalion for their formidable courage, bravery and sacrifices:
- PVC - 01 (Posthumous).
- AC - 01 (Posthumous).
- AVSM – 01.
- VSM – 01.
- VrC - 08 (Posthumous-06).
- SC - 02 (Posthumous).
- Bar to SM – 01.
- SM - 26 (Posthumous-06).
- Jeevan Raksha Padak – 01.
- Mentioned-in-Dispatches - 19 (Posthumous-03).
- COAS Commendation Cards – 40.
- GOC-in-C Northern Command Commendation Cards- 50.
- Force Commander’s Commendation Cards (UN) – 43.
- CISC Commendation Card – 03.
- DG NSG Commendation Card – 01
- Battle Honour ‘Rezang La’ – 1962.
- Theatre Honour ‘Ladakh’ – 1962.
- Theatre Honour ‘Sindh’ – 1971.
- COAS Unit Citation.
- Silver Salver by Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, 1994.
- THE BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE Citation.
- Force Commander Unit Citation, UNMEE.
‘And how can a man die better? Than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the Temples of his gods.’
I and former COR Lt Gen BS Sahrawat, (Retd) bade adieu to Paltan on 13 Jul 2021 on way to their field tenure in high altitude area in the Western Sector and met Col Amit Malik, CO, Sub Maj Ashok Kumar, and some officers, JCOS, NCOs and Jawans.
The present COR Lt Gen Kalita did same a day before reminding Chorras, to keep maintaining the high standards of professionalism, bravery, and administration in protecting NAAM, NAMAK & NISHAN. For the defence of motherland in its glorious history, 155 braves Ahirs had laid down their lives.
The War Cry of the Battalion is ‘Dada Krishan Ki Jai’. On this 5 Aug 2021 auspicious 74th historical Raising Day, all Kumaonis pay homage warriors and martyrs and take a solemn Oath and pray to Unit Deity ‘Dada Krishan’ that we will perform our duties with honesty and loyalty so that the name of our Paltan may touch many more such greater heights in the service of our vibrant country.
So, this is how the story of Ahirs of 13 KUMAON goes on and on and on till eternity motivating generations after generations...!!
About the author
Col NN Bhatia, popularly known as Nini Bhatia was commissioned in 13 Kumaon & commanded 2 Kumaon (Berar), one of the oldest Indian Army Battalions. Retired in Sept 1995 after 32 years of distinguished service, and spent eight years in the Intelligence Bureau he is a die-hard Kumaoni & has penned five books- Kumaoni Nostalgia, Industrial & Infrastructure Security in two volumes, biography of another die hard Kumaoni mountaineer of international fame- 'Soldier Mountaineer' and Coffee Table Book ‘Reminiscing Battle of Rezang La’. He is prolific writer & has been columnist with the 'Lahore Times', 'Turkey Tribune,' AGNI, Fauji India & numerous magazines/journals.