Captain Saurabh Kalia, Indian Army

Captain Saurabh Kalia

Born in Palampur district in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, Captain Saurabh Kalia was brilliant in academics and effortlessly secured scholarships throughout his schooling years. After completing his graduation in May 1997, Saurabh was selected in the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun in August 1997, through the Combined Defence Services and was commissioned on December 12, 1998.

Lt. Saurabh was posted with the 4 JAT Regiment (Infantry) in the Kargil Sector. In the first fortnight of May 1999, he went out for Patrol Duty three times to check the infiltration in the Kaksar area of Kargil. Lt. Saurabh was hailed as the First Officer to give information of the large-scale intrusion of the Pakistan Army and infilitrators in the area.

After the intrusion was detected in area, his Commanding Officer deputed a slightly older Junior Officer to check the strategic Bajrang Post. Lt. Saurabh, however, volunteered to go there himself and went in place of the deputed officer. Here, the troops were fired upon by the enemy. These brave Indian soldiers kept fighting as reinforcements couldn't reach in the day, any movement in the daylight would come under the direct enemy fire.

The Indian troops ran out of ammunition, their signal instrument went out of order and finally they got encircled by about 200 Pakistan soldiers and were captured alive, before the reinforcement reached at that height.

No trace of this entire patrol was left and Skardu Radio of Pakistan reported that Lt. Saurabh Kalia and his five men were captured alive. They were in their captivity for over twenty-two (May 15,1999 to June 6-7, 1999) days and subjected to unprecedented brutal torture as evident from their bodies handed over by Pakistan Army on June 9,1999. They did not break while undergoing this unlimited barbarism. This speaks volumes of their patriotism, grit, determination, tenacity and valour and the whole nation is proud of them.

The enemy indulged in the most heinous act of burning their bodies with cigarettes, piercing ear-drums with hot rods, removing eyes, chopping off various limbs and organs of these soldiers besides inflicting all sorts of physical and mental tortures before shooting them down. Lt. Saurabh Kalia's skull was fractured and most of the bones and teeth broken. He had a bullet injury in the temple indicating that he was finally shot dead.

Defence Minister George Fernandes paying homage to the mortal remains of the six soldiers.

History testifies that all great souls suffer. The enemy violated all laws by capturing the Indian troops alive and failed to inform the Indian Army about their POW status. The six Indian men in uniform were subjected to unprecedented brutal torture that violated the Geneva Convention to which both India & Pakistan are signatories.

"Maa, Tum Dekhna Ek Din Aisa Kaam Kar Jaunga Ki Saari Dunia Mein Mera Naam Hoga" -- mother, you will see one day I will do such a deed that the whole world will acknowledge that. At Bareilly (JAT Regiment Centre) Lt. Saurabh Kalia had said, "I am proud that I have joined 4 JAT and one day 4 JAT would be proud that Saurabh Kalia joined this regiment."

Lt. Saurabh Kalia at the 'Piping ceremony', where the parents dedicate their son to the nation.

The last time Lt. Saurabh rang up his home on April 30, 1999 to congratulate his younger brother Vaibhav on his 20th birthday. He had promised to return home before June 29, 1999 to celebrate his 23rd birthday with his parents and his dear brother. A true Indian soldier, Lt. Saurabh kept his promise, only he returned in a coffin.

The family including his parents did not have the opportunity to see their dear son in the olive green uniform of the Indian Army. His dead body arrived even before his first salary cheque was cleared. Lt. Saurabh Kalia's anguished brother had not met the uniformed-brother since he was commissioned in December 98, expect for brief one-hour meeting at a crowded railway station.

Destiny played a cruel joke on this great believer of Lord Bajrang Bali (Hanuman), Lt. Saurabh was captured at the Bajrang Post and laid down his life in the "Operation Vijay", the name of his mother Vijay Kalia.

Vaibhav, Vijay and Dr Narender with Saurabh's photos

"The birthday gift I wanted was that we celebrate his birthday jointly. He came well in advance. But in a coffin", said Vaibhav Kalia. "His death does not hurt us. A soldier is meant to kill or get killed. But Saurabh was murdered by Pakistanis who tortured him for 21 days," he added. Vaibhav identified the body "by the eyebrow...there was little else left." Saurabh's mother Vijay Kalia grieves quietly but breaks down when talking about the signs of torture on the body. Saurabh's father Dr Narender Kalia made an appeal, through a letter to the editor of a daily, to the public to condemn the Pakistan act of torturing and killing prisoners of war.

Showing a pile of supportive letters and over a lakh of signatures he has received from all parts of the world, Vaibhav says, "Though Saurabh is gone, now all the army soldiers are like Saurabh to us. We must expose (Pakistan) for what they are and put a full stop to that."

On June 12, 1999, Thousands of people, who had assembled at Palampur for the cremation of Lt Saurabh Kalia, bid a tearful farewell to the valiant officer. A five-hour delay in the arrival of the coffin did not deter anyone from braving the scorching heat.

The body of Saurabh Kalia was flown in from Delhi by an Indian Air Force chopper and was received by senior Army officers, the civil authorities and senior politicians at the Army helipad. ``Well done, my son. You have done your job. May every home produce a son like you so that the enemies dare not touch the territorial sanctity of our country,'' said Vijay Kalia as soon as the coffin was taken out off the helicopter. The body was accompanied by Major Sudhir Mohan Kalia, Lt Saurabh Kalia's uncle, who is serving in the mechanized infantry.

The body of the Army officer was then taken in a procession from Holta to Pragati Maidan via the residence of the Kalias(where the religious rites were performed) in Tika Sughar. Army pall bearers led by Col Sarat Sharma, carried the coffin as hundreds of mourners stood on both sides of the road to salute the hero. People showered flowers on the coffin of Lt Kalia as it passed through the town to be taken to the cremation ground. The procession included a convoy of vehicles led by hundreds of scooter-borne youths of Palampur. Cries of ``Saurabh Kalia amar rahe'' rent the sky.

The body, draped in the tri-colour, was taken to the cremation ground. It seemed as if the entire town had assembled to pay respect to the young officer on his final journey. Wreaths were laid on the body on behalf of the President of India, by senior Army officers, the Governor and the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. Former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar, Minister Ravinder Thakur, MLAs Dulo Ram, Vipin Parmar, B.B.L. Butail and Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sat Mahajan also placed wreaths.

Heart-rending scenes were witnessed as the last rites of the officer were performed. A sense of national pride prevailed as people raised slogans like "Saurabh Kalia amar rahe" and also anti-Pakistan slogans. Kalia was given a state funeral with full military honours. The jawans saluted the martyr and sounded the last post as Vaibhav Kalia lit the pyre among the chanting of mantras.

The government decided to name the locality where the house of Lt Kalia is located as Saurabhnagar. The former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Mr Shanta Kumar, informed that after consultations with the Chief Minister, it had been decided to erect a memorial to Lt Kalia. The land adjoining Neugal Cafe would be used for making this. The road next to the house of Lt Kalia would also be named after him.

In April 2001, the State Government installed a statue of Capt. Kalia at a 12-hectre sprawling environmental theme park called Lt Saurabh Van Vihar in Palampur. Capt. Kalia was a keen environmentalist and birdwatcher.

Today, tourist guide's will probably be rewritten to mention the brave hero of Palampur and Kargil Martyr Captain Saurabh Kalia, whose fate was similar to "Abhimaanyu" of Mahabharata.