Spirited Fighter: Major Somnath Sharma

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Major Somnath Sharma was posthumously awarded the first Param-Veer-Chakra on 3rd. November 1949 for his courageous action in defending the Srinagar-Kashmir airport during the Pak-backed tribal attack. This honor was conferred upon Major Somnath Sharma for his bravery, devotion to duty, and spiritedaction. Had Major Somnath Sharma and hisarmy squad not laid down their lives to protect the Srinagar air-strip at Badgam, it would not have taken long for Kashmir to go out of our hands.

The year 1947 is very important in the history of our country as well as in the history of Kashmir. Political events in the subcontinent changed rapidly. The foundation for the Indo-Pak partition had already been laid. According to the proposal of Lord Mount Batten, almost all the princely states, except two, had decided to merge with either of the dominions before or after 15 August 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh, the Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir was unable to decide with whom he would like to join; India or Pakistan? As a result, the political situation in the state remained tumultuous. Given the religious, ethnic, and cultural nature of the state, the Maharaja had limited options, viz:joining hands withPakistan, may not have been liked by the Dogra-majority population of Jammu, and joining hands with India would have, perhaps,infuriated the Muslim-majority of the Kashmir valley. The situation was dire, flexible, and above all problematic. Again, in choosing any one of the options, the Maharaja saw the decline of his own political career. So,he started thinking in favour of the third option i.e., to be ‘independent’. But by then time had slipped away and it was already too late for him to make a decision. Pakistan had started sensing that Kashmir was justsliding away from their hands.

Within a fortnight of the Indo-Pak partition, there were reports of infiltration of Pakistani armed forces in the Poonch and Sialkot areas of Jammu. On October 22, 1947, a group of tribesmen from the North-West Frontier Province under the command ofthe Pakistani Army crossed the border and entered Muzaffarabad and Baramulla, the north-western district of Kashmir. It was an act of war. Innocent civilians, government officials, men, women, etc. were killed and the women were raped. This barbaric army of tribesmen started moving towards the city of Srinagar, creating an orgy of terror. Only then, seeing the seriousness of the situation, Maharaja Hari Singh hurriedly signed the Instrument of Accession to join India. He sought military help to expel the tribals from Kashmir and detached himself from the active politics of Jammu and Kashmir. At the request of Maharaja Hari Singh, it was decided by the Government of India to immediately deploy a contingent of the Indian Army to Kashmir to counter the enemy attack. On 31 October, D (Delta) Company of the Kumaon Regiment reached Srinagar under the command of Major Somnath Sharma. Although Major Sharma had a plaster bandage on his left hand due to a hockey-field injury, he preferred to face the enemy with his company and was allowed to move to the front. It is rare to find an example of the bravery shown by Sharma and the courage with which he and his men fought with the enemy.A vivid account of his bravery will be given after his bio-particulars are mentioned first.

Major Somnath Sharma was born on 31st January 1923 in village Dadar, District Kangra (Himachal Pradesh). His father, Major Amarnath Sharma, was also a doctor in the army and retired as the Director-General of the Army Medical Service. Major Somnath’s early schooling continued at different places where his father was posted. But later he did his studies in Nainital. Major Somnath was interested in sports and athletics since childhood. The military culture and tradition were in his veins. Apart from his father, Major Somnath had a deep impression of his maternal uncle.His maternal uncle Lt. Kishandutt Vasudev was in the 4/19 Hyderabad Battalion and died fighting the Japanese in Malaya in 1942.

Major Somnath Sharma completed his schooling at Sherwood College, Nainital before joining Prince of Wales Royal Military College in Dehradun and later he studied at Sandhurst Royal Military College. He was greatly influenced by the teachings of Bhagavad Gita recited by his grandfather in his childhood which he followed well in his military life.Upon graduating from the Royal Military College on 22 February 1962, Sharma was commissioned into the 19th Hyderabad Regiment (later the 4th Battalion of the Indian Army, Kumaon Regiment) of the British Indian Army. During World War II, he participated in the war against the Japanese forces in Burma during the Arakan Campaign. At that time, he worked under the command of Colonel KS Thimayya, who later rose to the rank of general andbecame the Chief of Army Stafffrom 1957 to 1961 in the crucial years leading to the conflict with China in 1962.

As stated earlier, Major Somnath did not look back to face the enemy in Kashmir and left for Srinagar on 3 November 1947 with his company. In fact, a few days after the Indo-Pak partition, Pak-supported tribesmen had started gathering in large numbers in Badgam (Srinagar) and their aim was to capture the Badgam airfield/airstrip so that the Indian Army could not reach Srinagar-Kashmir. To pinpoint these tribals who had infiltrated into Kashmir, Kumaon Regiment was deployed there to drive them out and the command was in the hands of Major Somnath Sharma. As stated, thousands of tribesmen had reached Baramulla and mayhem was in the offing.Their evil designs were to reach Srinagar city as early as possible and capture it.When they came to know that the Indian Army is about to land at the Srinagar airport to protect Kashmir, they wanted to stop the Indian forcesas early as possible. Perhaps, tribalsdid not know that dare-devil Major Somnath was posted with some of his troopers at a crucial post in Badgam. Their task was to prevent the tribals/attackers from advancing. Till noon there was no movement from the enemy’s side, so Somnath’s team felt that the enemy might have changed their plan. But, Unfortunately, on November 3, while patrolling, they were surrounded by the enemy around 2.30 pm. The Srinagar airport was about to be captured by the tribals. But Major Somnath Sharma and his menput up a valiant fight and stopped the enemy from advancing.

A tribal Lashkar of about 400 infiltrators surrounded the Delta-Company on three sides. Major Sharma was fully aware of the importance of his position. He knew that both the Srinagar airport and the city of Srinagar would become unsafe if their troopers lost their position. In the midst of heavy fire and a ratio of ‘one to seven’, Major Sharma encouraged his men to fight with courage, and himself amidst heavy enemy fire, ran from one post to the other with a gun in one hand and attacked theenemy. During all this, the enemy was continuously firing with heavy shells. Although the enemy was large in number, still Major Somnath Sharma did not fall back but kept the enemy restricted from moving forward. He and his men fought with the enemy heroically for about 6 hours. He sent a message to his senior officers that they would fight with the enemy till the last bullet and till their last breath.

When the casualties started increasing and Major Somnath felt that his company was being adversely affected, Major Sharma himself took upon the task of distributing ammunition to his troopers and also operated the Light Machine Gun. Meanwhile, a mortar attack by the enemy caused a major explosion in which Major Sharma was badly injured. Before being martyred, he had said in his message: ‘The enemy is only 50 yards away from us. Our number is very less. We are in the grip of a terrible attack. But we have not left an inch of space yet. We will fight till our last soldier and last breath’!

By the time the second battalion reached on the ground to assist, Major Somnath Sharma and the soldiers of his contingent had been martyred. Besides Sharma, a Junior Commissioned Officer and 20 other brave soldiers of D-Company also died during the battle with the enemy. Major Sharma’s body was recovered after three days. But he had killed 200 tribesmen and saved the Kashmir valley from the near-possession of the tribesmen. Sharma became a martyr, no doubt, but brought laurels to himself and his regiment. Later, Major Somnath Sharma was awarded the Param Veer Chakra posthumously for his bravery, valor and fearlessness.

Major Somnath Sharma’s body is said to have been identified from his pistol and the book of Gita found with him.

During his last conversation with his friend Major KK Tiwari before leaving for Kashmir, Major Somnath hadjoked:‘he would either die or become the Army Chief.’

The letter that Major Somnath Sharma wrote to his parents during World War second in 1941, is an inspiration to our youth: “I am performing the duty before me. There must be a momentary fear of death at the front. But when I remember the words of Lord Krishna in the Gita, my fear vanishes. Lord Krishna had said that the soul is immortal, so what does it matter whether the body is there or destroyed. Father, I am not scaring you, but if I die, I assure you that I will die the death of a brave soldier. There will be no sorrow for giving my life when I die. May God keep his blessings on all of you.”

Lastly, Major Somnath was martyred along with many of his comrades, but he did not allow the tribals to move forward and capture the air-strip at Badgam and thus Kashmir was saved from going into the hands of Pakistan.

The writer is Former Fellow,Indian Institute of Advanced Study, RashtrapatiNivas, Shimla.

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