Narration by Capt Naveen Nagappa, Sena Medal on Kargil War
“I remember my first mission for the Indian Army. I was stationed in Sopore, 50 kms away from Srinagar. One night, we got an intelligence report that militants were going to occupy a house in the area. I was ordered to plan an ambush with Captain Vikram Batra; we fondly called him ‘Vicky Sir’.
We encircled the house & despite the militants trying to fire upon us, we neutralised them. It was the first time I’d killed someone – at the academy, we’d practice shooting targets that wouldn’t shoot back. But this was different. When I saw the damage a bullet caused on a wall of the house, I only imagined what it could have done to me. I was scared for my life. I realized that if I hadn’t pulled the trigger, the enemy wouldn’t have hesitated to eliminate us. Taking their life & saving my fellow jawans, was the job I had been assigned.
A few months later, while I was back home in Hubli, I saw the news channels report that one of our MiG aircrafts was shot down by intruders. They also began occupying various peaks & posts in Kargil, that belonged to the Indian Army. I sensed that a war could take place & I felt the need to leave immediately. While training together at the Indian Military Academy, we grew to care more for each other than ourselves. The thought of me eating a warm meal, while my fellow jawans were risking their lives in the cold, made me restless. I couldn’t be at home & had to go to Kargil!
But I didn’t tell my parents why. Being the youngest child, my father was very attached to me & would have found a reason to make me stay. He was always apprehensive of me joining the Army; he runs a business & had begged me to take over. He never said it, but I knew he was afraid I wouldn’t return. Mom’s a deeply religious woman & would have spent everyday praying & crying for me & knowing my siblings, they would have been glued to the television for updates – I couldn’t put my family through such pain.
So. my friend picked me up in his car to take me to the station. I glanced back at my home & wondered if it could be the last time I was ever going to see my family.
Our forces wanted to know what enemy activity was taking place at our peaks & with the Pakistani’s shooting down yet another aircraft, we knew a full-fledged war had begun. My unit was called to serve in Kargil – the Chief of Army Staff, visited our base & told us, ‘The enemy fired the first bullet, but we’re going to fire the last one!’ We shouted our war cry, ‘Durge Mata Ki Jai!’
My senior officers started making plans to attack the peaks where the intruders were hiding in bunkers. My battalion was given Point 5140. I was ordered to climb the peak & obtain information about enemy activity. As I climbed, the altitude increased & it became tougher for me to breathe.
I was terrified of being seen by the enemy & took every step cautiously. I moved from boulder to boulder & hid myself behind them. The winds grew stronger & the rain poured heavily for hours. My body became numb; I got frostbites.
Then, I noticed the enemy soldiers having rocket launchers. I also found routes from where we could supply our troops with ammunition & help them evacuate.
When I returned to our base with information, my team chalked out a strategy to attack & recapture Point 5140. The attack was to be led by Captain Vikram Batra & Sanjeev Singh Jamwal. I was in charge of supplying arms to our jawans during battle.
I worked round the clock & kept listening to the radio for updates from our troops. After 48 anxious hours, we heard Captain Batra’s success signal, ‘Yeh Dil Maange More!’ That’s when we knew we were victorious & recaptured the peak!
After the celebrations, that very evening, my Commanding Officer called upon me & said, ‘Our next target is Point 4875. This time, you’ll be leading the attack with 120 soldiers.’ I was overwhelmed; my decisions could cost my jawans their lives. I wondered how I’d bear the guilt & shame I’d feel, if I let my troops down, but I promised my officer, `I’ll ensure our tricolor will be hoisted on that peak, even if it costs me my life!
I had only 6 months of service behind me, but I told my jawans, ‘I may be short of service, but there is no dearth of spirit within me.’ We planned our attack to recapture Point 4875. I ordered our jawans to write one last letter to their families. It was a tradition we followed before we left for war.
The atmosphere at the base was tense & emotional; every man was looking at their loved one’s pictures. Many broke down while penning their words & some trembled to even start.
It was then that my buddy, Shyam Singh approached me. He had been suffering from fever & was begging me to allow him to serve in the war. Seeing his condition, I told him I couldn’t allow him to participate. Shyam Singh then said, ‘Jab acche din the, toh aapke saath tha. Ab bure din mein, aapko kaise chhod sakta hun?’ I just couldn’t convince him to stay back.
Then we all hugged each other; when it was my turn to hug Captain Vikram Batra, he told me, ‘Gale lag na yaar, na jaane kaunsi mulaqat aakhri hogi.’ That’s when it hit me that I may never return. I teared up, when I wrote to my family, ‘I tried to be a good son. Please forgive me if I can’t return to take care of you.’ All 120 soldiers bravely gathered & shouted our war cry; it was electrifying!
We left from our base in the wee hours of the night. We had a steep climb & had to counter the harsh winds & loose rocks; with the men carrying heavy ammunition, the climb became torturous. We arrived just before the first sunlight & we saw our bunkers occupied by the enemy.
I didn’t want to lead 120 soldiers into battle all at once & alert the enemy, that we had arrived. So, instead, I made a team of 10 men to attack specific bunkers. The Pakistani’s were taken by surprise as we charged at them with grenades & AK-47 rifles.
The gunfire & explosions were deafening, but we managed to eliminate all of them. We checked the bunkers to detonate any bombs the enemy could have left for us.
In the bunker I was checking, I noticed a body lying there. The soldier was one of our own & was lying face down. As I approached to turn his body over, I prayed it wasn’t my buddy, Shyam Singh.
A chit had fallen out of the soldier’s pocket that read, ‘Yeh zindagi bhi kya hai zindagi, maut ke bina yeh kya hai zindagi, dushman ko mare bina.’ I wanted to cry & scream my lungs out when I saw Shyam Singh dead, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t allow my men to see their leader break down. I had to be strong for them.
I didn’t have time to compose myself & had to lead our attack forward. On the 2nd day of battle, I recall an encounter with a Pakistani soldier after an attack. The soldier was on his knees & his grey coat was soaked in blood. He had his mouth wide open & as I got nearer, I noticed that a bullet had pierced his neck, damaging his windpipe.
We locked eyes & I stood firm pointing my gun at him. For a few moments, I stopped seeing him as an enemy, but as a human being. It was as if he was desperately trying to ask me for help. Right then I thought to myself, ‘If I pull the trigger, will I be eliminating him or putting him at ease?’ I hated the fact that the decision to kill or not to kill, lay in my hands. I put him out of his misery & shot him dead.
The Pakistani’s began to counter attack. All day we only heard explosions & the sounds of bullets whistling past us – every boulder had blood on it. On the 3rd day of our attack, I got a call on the radio from my Commanding Officer. He told me, ‘It’s been 3 days that the men & you have gone without food. Should I send food over?‘ I replied, ‘Sir, please don’t worry about us eating. More ammunition is the need of the hour.’
Because of the shelling, we couldn’t eat the top layer of the snow. So we’d remove the layer & ate the ice below to survive. We were physically strong but were mentally destroyed.
My spirit broke, when I put an injured soldier on a stretcher & sent him back. He cried & said, ‘Sorry Sir, aakhir tak mein aapke saath lad nahin paaya.’ I remember crying when a shell injured my fellow soldier; I was trying to put his intestines back into his stomach when he asked me, ‘Sir, kya mein apni biwi aur bacche ko phir se dekh paunga?’
I was only 25 myself & removing dead enemy bodies from the bunkers horrified me. I felt I was being stared at by soldiers who died with their eyes open. The thought that an enemy soldier was pretending to be dead only to shoot me, haunted me, but we were closing in on Point 4875 & the morale of our soldiers was boosted, with the arrival of Captain Vikram Batra.
The next morning, we were left with only one more bunker to capture & accomplish the mission. I was sitting in another bunker getting ready to attack, when a grenade was flung at me. It’s explosion time was only 4 seconds. I panicked & tried to throw it back, but it hit a boulder & came rolling back to me; it stopped near my feet.
The killing radius of the hand grenade was 10 metres. When it dropped near me I knew I couldn’t get up, as the enemy soldiers would have shot me. I couldn’t kick the grenade to my side either, as my jawans would have been hit. My life flashed before my eyes & the final prayer on my lips was, ‘God, please keep my face intact, so my family can look at me one last time.’ I lay on my right & the grenade exploded. There was dust everywhere & the air smelt of burnt flesh.
For a few seconds, I had no clue whether I was dead, alive or hallucinating. In the meantime, the enemy came charging towards us. My legs were severely injured & I couldn’t move. I somehow managed to grab hold of my AK-47 & fired back.
It was then, that Captain Vikram Batra came running to my rescue & started a counter attack with our jawans. He pulled me out of the bunker while firing at the enemy! He ordered me, ‘Anna, you must go down. You must get treated.’ I retorted, ‘The mission is not accomplished. I will not go.’ But he ordered me again & I listened.
He gave me a fist pump & said, ‘Anna, I’ll sort these buggers out!’ I crawled 150 metres using my elbows to the nearest boulder. I sat behind it & saw the state of my legs. My feet were burnt & my shoes were filled with blood. I felt like my limbs were about to fall off.
Two jawans came running towards me & picked me up like a gunny bag. They carried & ran with me from boulder to boulder. The Pakistani’s kept on shooting & I could see bullets piercing the ice right next to me. It took till the evening to get me back to the base. I was put into the ‘Dangerously ill’ list.
The next morning, I was flown to a hospital in Srinagar. Despite being in pain, I was restless about knowing what was happening on the battlefield. A nurse was sitting beside me & as we were passing Point 4875, she said, ‘Sir, look outside! Our flag is waving on the peak!’ Despite my state, I got up & saluted the flag. I thought to myself, ‘In accomplishing this mission, our troops have left behind a legacy!’
But just before I was about to lie down again, the nurse told me, ‘Sir, iss jeet ke liye, ek bohot badi keemat chukani padi.’ I asked her, ‘Kya keemat?’ & she replied, ‘Sir, Captain Vikram Batra nahin rahe.’ He was shot right after saving me; my heart broke.
I asked God, ‘Why didn’t you take me instead? Why couldn’t you?’
I woke up in a Sringar hospital where I couldn’t be treated, so I was flown to Delhi. My parents were unaware I fought in Kargil; when Mom met me she said, ‘You should have told us. I would have prayed for you!’ I remember her trying to feel my legs with her hands. When she lifted the bedspread & had a look, she cried & said, ‘Naveen, you shouldn’t have come back at all.’ It pained me to see how much anguish I was putting my mother through.
At the hospital, I suffered from PTSD. I’d wake up in a panic after feeling like a grenade was being lobbed at me. When I moved towards my right to pick up a magazine, I’d imagine a soldier behind me being shot. I’d break down remembering the jawans we lost; the faces of those I’d killed, haunted me. I’d ask God, ‘Why are you putting me through so much agony? Why didn’t you just leave me to die in that bunker?
My family helped me get through it. Mom stayed with me & would feed me everyday. When she left, my siblings & father would visit. Talking & laughing with them, distracted me from the memories I had of war. I’ll never forget my sisters sending me a rakhi for Raksha Bandhan & the nurse putting it on for me & wishing me too, ‘Bade bhaiya, hume surakshit rakhne ke liye, shukriya.’
I felt grateful when citizens would touch my mother’s feet & say, ‘Ma’am, thank you for raising a brave son. We are forever indebted to the troops.’
I had to go through 8 surgeries & ended up spending 21 months in the hospital. I had to get used to wearing crutches for a few years before being able to walk on my own. When I was out, I was discharged from the Indian Army for being medically unfit. My dream to continue serving was over, but I knew the right decision had been taken. I was honored with the Wound Medal, OP Vijay medal & the Sena Medal for my service.
Today, I’m living a peaceful life with my family. After the war, I’ve been working as an engineer under the Ministry of Defence. I spend my days with my beautiful daughter, who I often watch war movies with. Her hero is Captain Vikram Batra & I feel so proud when she says, ‘Papa, I’m going to join the Special Forces!’
I still occasionally get hate messages online – ‘Captain Batra died because of you.’ These comments cut deep, because I served & braved bullets to protect the nation; a nation where such people live! These messages make my efforts feel worthless, so for my own well being, I try to avoid reading them.
2 years ago, my unit members & I visited Point 4875; it had been 20 years since the war. I sat in the same bunker where I was saved. I held the soil in my hand & prayed for Captain Batra. When we saw the tricolor waving at 16,000 feet, our entire unit saluted it & we hugged each other. We also decided not to mourn the 527 jawans who died; instead, we celebrated the fact that such men lived.”