STORY OF THE LADY WHO SAVED POONCH IN 1971 WAR

STORY OF THE LADY WHO SAVED POONCH IN 1971 WAR. Contribution of Smt Mali Gujjar woman during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Three weeks back I had written a factual story as to the contribution of Smt Mali a poor Muslim Gujjar woman who had braved all difficulties to help the Army locate and destroy the Pakistani infiltrators into the rear area of Poonch during the 1971 Indo – Pak war.

STORY OF THE LADY WHO SAVED POONCH IN 1971 WAR

 

She was awarded Padma Shree for her extraordinary bravery and contribution. The story was picked up by the media and many TV channels have now made a programme on the same and have broadcast it in Jammu and Kashmir. I do pray and hope things improve and govt helps the people of the village. I also request the Jammu and Kashmir govt to include the story and brave deeds of Smt Mali in the school curriculum of High School so that many people especially the girls are motivated to emulate smt Mali.

STORY OF THE LADY WHO SAVED POONCH IN 1971 WAR:

 It was the Month of June 1999, I had moved with my Battalion from the rugged and inhospitable terrain of Gandoh in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir to the Mandi – Loran area of Poonch District. The Surankot area in poonch District had become the hotbed of Terrorist infiltration from Pakistan, and Mandi Loran had been identified as the gateway through which the terrorists infiltrated and had established their camps, training areas, and logistic bases. These were virgin areas in which the army had not stationed its troops. I had a huge area of responsibility spanning from Mandi, Loran, Tatakuti, to Hillkaka in the rear and also the Passes, called Galis linking the Kashmir valley to the Poonch region on the Pir Panjal mountain range. 

I, being new to the area wanted to fully understand the routes of infiltration as also the possible areas in which the terrorists could be building their logistic hideouts. My two good friends and course mates namely Satish Dua and B.N. Singh were commanding the units on the Line of control in Doda and Saujian and hence, with their help and detailed terrain study, I was able to identify the possible routes of infiltration from Pakistan. My headquarter was at Mandi, a very small town barely at a distance of 2 to 3 km from the LOC. During my recce  from Doda top, the area of Hajipur pass was clearly visible, and I in my heart and mind paid my respect to the bravery of Maj Ranjit Singh Dayal of One Para Commando( Later on Lt General) and his soldiers whose courage and determination had led to the capture of Hajipir pass the lifeline of the Pakistani army on LOC. 

I, in the next few days, went from village to village to meet the people to understand the dynamics of terrorism and its relationship with the locals. 

In one such interaction, I came across an old lady Smt Mali in village Arai. The moment I stepped into her house, the Padamshree medal and certificate hanging on the wall totally surprised me.  The inquiries revealed such a fascinating story of Patriotism, Courage, will power, and determination of the lady which must be known to every Indian. This is the story of Mrs Mali who saved the city of Poonch from the Pakistani Army in 1971. 

Born into an extremely poor Gujjar family in Arai village of Poonch area, possibly in  ninteen thirties, she was married off at an early age to Mr Abdul Gaffar who became mentally deranged at an early age and hence Mali came back to her father’s house where her elder brother Jalal u din became her mentor and care taker.

 The life in hills is extremely difficult and with almost no land to till, survival was on cattle rearing and casual labourer’s work. The women folk’s life was even more difficult, with no education and plenty of restrictions on movement she was confined to the areas of village Arai during winters, and to the Dhoks( temporary hutment) in higher reaches of Jabbi and Pillanwali during summers as cattle moved to these higher reaches for grazing. Time and life was passing at a very slow pace and with no children of her own she started calling Basheer the son of her brother as her own son. In 1971 the Indo Pak war started and Poonch was an important target. Pakistsn had lost the strategic Hajipur pass in 1965 and hence was  very septical and wary of Indian actions from Poonch, thus capture and neutralization of this vital place was very important for Pakistan. The Pakistani Army planned a very bold and ingenious plan to capture Poonch from the rear by infiltrating a crack force into the rear areas and thus developing the attack on poonch from the rear, thus turning the defences and capturing Poonch. As per plan a force was launched and it’s advanced party quietly infiltrated and came to the rear area of Poonch. It’s  success  set the ground for the main force to start the infiltration. 

On 13 th December ,1971 the areas  of Arai top, and  Pillanwali were totally covered with snow. Shrimati Mali a middle aged woman possibly in her  forties went to Pillanwali to get fodder for the cattle.  when Mali reached Pillanwali  she saw smoke coming from some Dhokes. It was an unusual activity as nobody used to come  to these areas during winters. She became suspecious and hence with utmost caution and stealth approached one of the Dhokes. She heard some voices and peeped through the crack in the door of the dhoke. She saw few soldiers sitting and cleaning their rifles. She was frightened but did not panic. She  realised that these soldiers were not of Indian Army and thus very intelligently and without making any noise ,she with utmost care but at top speed in knee deep snow took another route to quickly reach Arai.

Sweating profusely even in subzero temperature she narrated the entire episode to her brother. Her  brother advised her to stay quiet and not to tell abybody as they could be in trouble and harmed. Mali  however was not satisfied and hence went to the village Sarpanch, Mir Hussain. He was surprised to see the condition of Mali and thought that she was sick. Mali in one breath told him what she had witnessed and implored him to take some action. The Sarpanch knowing that it was war time and they could land into trouble was hesitant to take any action.  

Mali  driven by deep patriotism and safety of the people ran out and headed towards Kalai. The route was treacherous as the entire area had been covered in snow. With top most speed she went to the nearest Army post. There was a small detachment of ITBP at Mandi.  She reached the ITBP post and wanted to narrate the entire incident but language became a barrier. Mali could speak only Gojri language and hence an interpreter was required. The post incharge managed a local person who  could somehow communicate the message. The post had only a few soldiers and hence She was taken to the nearest Army unit. A Sikh Battalion was stationed short of Poonch and the Commanding officer listened to Mali through the interpreter and realized the danger. The unit was immediately mobilized. Smt Mali volunteered to guide and lead the unit to the area. Wading through knee deep snow in extreme cold winter and in hours of darkness she helped the soldiers to reach the area. The Infantry Unit’s quick actions resulted in the  killing and capture of a platoon sized( approximately 20 to 30) Pakistani soldiers.  The quick interrogation of the prisoners revealed that a Battalion sized force was infiltrating through the Nalas and jungles between Doda and Saujian and were to attack poonch from the rear.

The entire Brigade was mobilized and the infiltrating columns of Pakistan army were neutralized before they could reach their launch pads. Thus a grave threat to Poonch garrison, and the ammunition as also logistic depots of our Army were saved.  The courageous and deeply patriotic acts of Smt Mali had saved hundreds of lives and the prestige of the Army and country. The brave act of the lady was duely recognised by the Army . A case was taken up by the Army to award a gallantry medal ( Vir Chakra)   to honour the lady but finally the government of India recognized her contribution by awarding the Prestigious “PADAM SHREE”  on 25th March, 1972.

The award was given by the then President Shri V.V.Giri at a glittering ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan. She along with the medal and the certificate was given Ten Thousand Rupees ( Rs 10000/-). Shrimati Mali  was the first Gujjar woman of Jammu and Kashmir to receive such a prestigious National award.

I felt honoured to be standing in front of a real warrior and true daughter of this country. I immediately came out and told the Young man Mohd Azam the nephew of Smt Mali that I wanted to meet the Lady. She was very hesitant to come out and meet the “Fauzis”, but I kept insisting. As soon as she came out, I instinctly Saluted her because I was overwhelmed by the presence of a lady who had staked her life, not bothered for the difficulties she would face in her own village and community, and walked a long distance in thick snow and inclement weather to save the lives  of people and honour of the country.

She was a very weak and frail lady possibly in her late seventies and  medically not too well. She was speaking in Gojri and I had to seek the help of a translator to talk to her. She recounted that day and night of December 1971 when she guided the Army from poonch to Arai top and Pillanwali. She said how excited  she was,  when she accompanied by her brother reached Delhi to receive the award. It was her first journey outside poonch and she was so happy to see a different world. She said that she had no money and source of income except ₹60/- given to her as pension per month. 

I told her that it was my duty to take care of her and her family, and possibly that was the reason why Lord Shiva ( Mandi is the abode of Budha Amarnath, and every year a huge Yatra and festival is organised at Budha Amarnath temple at Mandi, alongside the famous Amarnath Yatra), had sent me there. I therafter started helping them financially  as also by providing rations every month. I took up her case through the civil administration so that she could be granted financial assistance,  and given land for farming. The efforts of the local MLA Mr Mohd Jaan and the erstwhile MP Mr Mir punchi did results in some benifits and assistance from civil administration.  

I moved out of the area in 2001 but continued in touch with the people of the area through the boys and girls whom I had helped and guided in education as also finding employment. Smt Mali died a few years back leaving behind a very rich legacy as to how brave daughters of Mother India come forward braving all odds to save its citizens and its honour. 

My salute to this brave Lady. I thought it was essential for Indians to know about this great woman. She deserves a place in our hearts and minds. May God bless Our country with many more Smt Malis and guide its youth and Officials to take care of such patriotic People.

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