In the chilling night of December at an altitude of 12,000 feet, he was lying next to a tall Chinar Tree, bleeding profusely. Already been hit with four bullets in his abdomen, he was barely able to breathe. Though the accompanying nursing assistant had already given him morphine and first aid, it seemed difficult to ascertain that he would survive until the helicopter came to pick him up.
As per the old saying, whenever a person is at his death bed, the entirety of his life appears in front of his eyes. The same was happening with brave Lance Naik Kulwinder Singh, the only son of a farmer from Sangrur District, who was true to the traditions of Khalsa.
1971 was the year when Sardaar Kuldeep Singh and Sardaarni Prabhjyot Kaur were blessed with a son. The country was witnessing a war with Pakistan and every countryman was thankful to the soldiers fighting for them on the front. India’s previous Prime Minister gave a slogan in 1965 after another war with Pakistan, “Jai Jawan - Jai Kisan”. Sardaar Kuldeep Singh was a true Kisan (Farmer) so the onus lay on his newly-born son to complete the slogan by becoming a soldier, a Jawan.
Kulwinder was a naughty but brave boy throughout childhood. When Kulwinder was 12 years old, a small kid accidently fell into the well. He immediately jumped in the well and rescued him. The village Pradhan asked him “Puttar! Tennu dar nahi lagya? Agar mar jaata to?” (Dear son! Weren’t you afraid of this? What if you had died?) Kulwinder immediately replied “Sardaarji! Maut te ek na ek din aani hi hai, wo apne time se aayegi. Manu kis liye chinta karni hai?” (Dear Grandpa! Death has to come one day or the other, then why should I get worried about it?).
A soldier was in the making.
Kulwinder grew up very quickly and became a strong and well-built young man. He was a 6-feet tall, smart Jat-Sikh and in order to follow the real Khalsa traditions, he attended one of the many recruitment rallies in Barnala, a nearby town. This was in 1990; Kulwinder was just a 19-year-old young fellow. In the very first attempt, he got selected and was sent for training to Deolali, a centre for artillery recruits. The following year went smoothly as Kulwinder completed his training and got posted to one of the finest Field Artillery Regiments. He was now Gunner Kulwinder Singh.
As a tradition in Punjab, the parents started looking for a bride for the boy immediately after he was employed. His parents found a girl named Rupinder Kaur and got him married the moment he turned 21.
Things moved quite fast and the very next year Kulwinder was father to a pretty girl. He named her Balraj Kaur.
In 1995, the times got worse. The levels of insurgency in Kashmir were reaching their peak. Large groups of Kashmiri Pandits were becoming refugees in their own country. They lost everything — house, property, money and even family members. Kulwinder’s regiment got posted to an area called Ramban, in Jammu area, to facilitate the movement of refugees from the Kashmir valley. It was his first exposure to the mountains. Who thought at that time that he would live in those mountains and die in those mountains?
Very soon, Kulwinder was an expert at trekking on mountains. He used to climb hills even better than a local mountain man. He would literally run over the slopes and pathways.
The next two years passed in those mountains. Kulwinder felt he was a part of them. Soon, the tenure of the unit was complete and his regiment moved to Pune, a city he did not like much. The soldier in him always longed for some action. In the year 1998, he volunteered for Rashtriya Rifles, a deadly counter-insurgency force operating in Jammu and Kashmir which is constituted with Indian Army Soldiers on deputation.
The mountains were calling and Gunner Kulwinder Singh now was Sepoy Kulwinder Singh of Alpha Company; 78 Rashtriya Rifles in Kupwara Area. Kupwara was an extremely disturbed area since it was the main transit route from Pakistan to the Kashmir Valley. Even today, after 20 years, it is still the hotbed of insurgency.
Kulwinder was the fittest among all the soldiers and was extremely bright. Soon, he became a part of Company Commanders’ own QRT (Quick Reaction Team), a group of the best soldiers tasked to move with the Company Commander for all high value operations.
Within the next one and half years, Alpha Company was successful in hunting down more than twenty high value terrorists in that area. Kulwinder was instrumental in all the operations as he was a part of the core team. By the next year he was promoted and made Lance Naik.
On the 22nd of October 1999, Kulwinder had just returned from his leave, from his home where he spent two full months playing with his daughter and enjoying with his family. He had fulfilled the dream of his father by having “Jai Jawan - Jai Kisan” in the family.
The company Commander, Major Harmeet told him that since he had just returned, he could relax and acclimatize himself. He was told to start operations in the next 3-4 days. But that day was the fateful day. By evening, an input was received from local source that a group of 4 hardcore terrorists would try to cross their area of operation. Kulwinder requested his company commander to let him go along. Initially, Major Harmeet refused but since Kulwinder was a sharpshooter and a seasoned fighter, he allowed him to go. The party reached a high ridge to lay an ambush for the incoming terrorists that night. They waited with patience till the wee hours, when they saw a party of four terrorists approaching from western side. The boys were alert and ready for any eventuality.
Major Harmeet decided to let them come closer within the clear range of their weapons so that all four could be hunted down. However, sometimes things don’t happen as expected. As the group of terrorists was approaching, one of them noticed some movement and alerted his fellow terrorists. They hid in the bushes and started sliding downwards in the valley. Major Harmeet smelled something wrong and looked at Kulwinder. A seasoned Kulwinder had already participated in many operations by now and had started understanding the psyche of terrorists. He immediately whispered that the group may have gone down in the river valley. If not stopped, they would reach Kashmir Valley area to wreak havoc.
He asked for Major Harmeet’s permission to go as a scout and look for them. A scout is usually a group of two or more soldiers who move a little ahead of the main party to sanitize the area, looking for any tell-tale signs of terrorists.
Major Harmeet told him to move with another soldier. Kulwinder selected a soldier who was from Rajasthan, Abhay Ram Bishnoi, as fit as him. Both of them were together in Artillery Centre Deolali. They were good buddies. In the low light of the dawn, both slid slowly to the valley below while the rest of the group under Major Harmeet followed them.
They could move barely about 500 meters, when a volley of fire came from right hand side. The terrorists had not gone down into the valley. They had fortified their positions, in anticipation that the Rashtriya Rifles Soldiers would come searching for them. For the first time, the anticipation of Kulwinder went wrong. He immediately dashed to one side and hid behind a boulder. As the dust settled, he saw Abhay Ram Bishnoi lying in a pool of blood. He was dead.
Without getting perturbed, he signaled Major Harmeet’s party to stop. This was necessary, otherwise there would have been dozens of dead bodies. Flushing out the terrorists was equally necessary though, so he decided to do this on his own. With magnificent presence of mind, he observed the area to predict the locations of terrorists. He communicated to Major Harmeet to fire at few boulders so he would come to know their locations by seeing retaliatory fire.
As the sun was barely visible in the eastern sky, he was able to locate all four of them. Two were just 20 meters away from him behind a boulder while other two had taken up positions in the tree-line. Major Harmeet’s party was still about 50 meters away. It was not possible for them to immediately react as they were in the firing area of these terrorists.
Kulwinder slowly crawled towards first two terrorists and reached behind them. He calculated his position, their positions, the range and the right moment to fire. One. Two. Three. His Kalashnikov started roaring. Within the next 3-4 seconds, both of them were dead. Kulwinder was happy, but he could not save himself from the fire of the balance two terrorists. They fired heavily. Kulwinder was shot in his abdomen. He was breathless but saw the two terrorists fleeing in the uphill side. Sensing the danger to his own team, he started chasing them despite of injuries. He recharged his magazine while chasing them and fired with an accurate aim. The terrorist in the front lay dead with a burst of bullets piercing through his head.
His last and final battle was still not over. The last terrorist realised that he would also be killed and he jumped over Kulwinder. He knew that if he was able to overpower this soldier, he would be able to escape as Harmeet’s party was still away. He dashed barely 1 meter from Kulwinder and emptied the rest of his magazine over him. Some of them missed but some hit Kulwinder badly. As he dropped on the ground, the terrorist cried, “Allah – o - Akbar” and started moving uphill, back to Pakistan. But that was not to be. Kulwinder opened his eyes and aimed. He fired a single shot from his gun which pierced the neck of the terrorist. Another volley of fire came from Major Harmeet’s party which had reached the spot by now. The terrorist’s body got riddled with dozens and dozens of bullets. Within the next few seconds, the Operation had ended. But the country suffered a great loss.
Major Harmeet rushed to him. He immediately ordered the helicopter for evacuation but destiny had something else in mind.
Kulwinder’s eyes were shining as he could see Waheguru Ji coming from the sky to take him along. Kulwinder breathed his last that day.
L/Nk Kulwinder Singh showed exemplary courage which led to the killing of four hardcore Pakistani Terrorists. All of them belonged to Harkat-Ul-Ansar, a dreaded Mercenary group mainly consisting of Pakhtun Fighters from the Pak-Afghan border. These were the same fighters who fought against mighty Soviet forces in the Afghan War.
For this act of inconspicuous bravery, Lance Naik Kulwinder Singh was awarded Shaurya Chakra (posthumously) by the President of India.
Sepoy Abhay Ram Bishnoi made a supreme sacrifice for the nation. He belonged to the Sikar District of Rajasthan. The Indian Army has done whatever was possible to provide the best of assistance to his family. He is survived by one son and one daughter. Unfortunately, all the aids given by the Government of India were grabbed by his parents and his elder brother, leaving his wife and children with nothing except pension.
Despite all the hardships, his wife— Anita Kanwar— brought up the kids very well. Since pension was not sufficient, she started working as an Anganwari Worker to earn some more money. Their son completed his Engineering and is now working as a Systems Engineer with Wipro Limited in Bengaluru. Anita Kanwar knew very well that education is a must for the girl child too. She was duped of all the money by her in-laws because of being poorly educated. She did not want the same to happen with her daughter, ever. Her daughter studied well and is now appointed as a teacher in one of the government schools in the Bhilwara District of Rajasthan. She is also married to an Indian Army soldier.
Rupinder Kaur, the wife of Lance Naik Kulwinder Singh, Shaurya Chakra (posthumous), concentrated on her daughter. Kulwinder always used to tell her, “Whenever we have a son, I shall enroll him into Indian Army.” He wanted to see his son in the uniform. Rupinder Kaur decided to fulfill the wish of her martyr husband. She made Balraj Kaur study in the best of institutions so that she could accomplish the desire of her father. In early 2017, a physically fit and robust-minded Balraj Kaur was selected to be one of the cadets at Officers Training Academy, Chennai, which prepares officers for the Indian Army. She has recently joined the training and is expected to become a proud Lieutenant in the Indian Army in the year 2018. Kulwinder will be happy to see his daughter in uniform from the heavenly abode.
Major Harmeet took voluntary retirement few years later and is now heading the global Operations of an Indian MNC.
Note - This is a true story, however, names of people and places have been changed for security reasons.
Author : An Anonymous Soldier who wanted his identity to be kept hidden.