Sunday, August 28, 2016

Meet Captain Naveen Nagappa - Kargil War Fighter

Jammu and Kashmir is again in news.

50 days of curfew, non stop media coverage, 10s of crores of Rupees coming from Pakistan to sponsor stone pelting, anti India slogans in the so called "human rights" events, with natural reaction against anti nationals from Desha Bhakta students on streets, and much more. So I attended the well publicized and very well attended Nilume event today in Bengaluru. This Nilume group is the most active group of Kannada bloggers today with 1000s of highly creative writers. I went there to understand the situation from three different angles:-
  1. One from police angle narrated by the former Commissioner of Police of Bengaluru city, Mr. Shankar Bidari
  2. Second from a researcher, professor and journalist angle narrated by the popular Kannada writer Mr. Prem Shekhar. He has also written books on Jammu and Kashmir.
  3. Third from a Kargil war veteran, Captain Naveen Nagappa, who fought valiantly to protect India's sovereignty in the Himalayan hills in July 1999.
I was thoroughly impressed with Mr. Bidari and Mr. Prem Shekhar's narrations. They covered the issue from human rights, army morale, history, blunders of Nehru, British and US bias, geo-politics and war perspective. They were outstanding. Between them, they spoke for over 2 hours, so I will try to narrate their talk a little later on Facebook and Twitter. I knew both of them and admired them for years. Awesome gentlemen!

Here, I want to jump straight to Captain Naveen Nagappa. Honestly, I did not know about him till date. Shame on me! I did not know about a valiant Indian army man who not only fought bravely at Kargil protecting us, but also survived a serious injury to tell us the story. But it is never too late. So you can learn more about him here..

It was January 1999. A young Engineer from Karnataka called Naveen had joined Indian Army, instead of going to do Masters Degree in Engineering. He had great dreams of protecting our Bharat and had become a part of 13th Jammu and Kashmir Rifles group. This was the group of Late Captain Vikram Batra, of "Yeh dil maange more" fame. This battalion got numerous awards during the war for supreme sacrifice. Our of the 4 Param Vir Chakras awarded during Kargil war, two were given to his JK Rifles unit.

While he was just getting started with his army career, General Musharraf and Pakistanis were planning and executing something sinister. They were breaking the Gentleman's agreement between India and Pakistan of vacating the 16000 feet plus altitude hills during extremely bitter winter periods. They were not only occupying the Kargil heights, but also were building bunkers and getting ready to shell Indian army's vital Siachen and Leh supply routes from Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir state.

Things came out open in May 1999. But June Indian army was fighting to capture the hills back, one by one. When Naveen's team was sent in early July to capture a vital hill, he was put in reserve.
Point 5140 was where the big battle was starting. Captain Batra and team had already fought there, but Naveen was not given a chance to fight. His team was sending radio signal, including "Yeh dil maange more" kind of awesome slogans. But Naveen was not fighting in the open. He desperately wanted to.
 When his team was given a big task for 3rd and 4th July 1999, he went and pleaded his chiefs like General Yogesh Kumar Joshi. Naveen pleaded that he did not leave his chance for Masters in Engineering, and come all the way to Jammu and Kashmir borderline, to just stay in the reserve. He wanted to fight. His boss asked - You are here only for 6 months in the army. Not only your safety, but also the safety of 120 people who are with you matters, with your split decision. It is not easy. But Naveen did not quit. He kept on requesting and finally got the stamp of approval to lead a mission.

Super excited, Naveen was on the mission to liberate "Point 4875" near Kargil. Captain Batra had told Captain Nagappa one simple thing - "Naveen, you take care of your men, and they will take care of you". So Naveen started his expedition with JK Rifles' war cry - "Durga Mata Ki Jai"!
Location of Point 4875. Source:
We have heard more of Tiger Hill and other popular named hills. But a few of these numbered hills were vital to get to the top of Kargil mountains where Pakistanis had setup bunkers, so that they can be kicked out of Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir. So the battle started on 4th July 1999. Incidentally the day of Vivekananda and US independence too! Personally, I had just crossed oceans at 38,000 ft to get back to India that morning, but had no clue that supreme sacrifices were being made exactly at that time by the brave jawans of India.

Naveen and team had followed the same buddy system that army follows. Everyone who goes out in the night for attack, is paired with another brave soldier. Their job is to make sure that if something happens to one, the other would take care of it. Naveen had just seen his buddy suffer badly the previous night. But there was no going back. He had to fight on 4th morning, 4th night, 5th morning, 5th night, 6th morning, 6th night... They had to melt water from snow capped mountain for drink and eat some energy food carried with them. They could not move easily as the enemy was in higher location and had clear sight of them. But their mental power carried them. Why? They had heard about how Pakistanis had tortured Late Captain Saurabh Kalia and team who had gone on a fact finding mission earlier. They had heard about the gory details of brutally Pakistanis had taken out organ by organ of the brave Indian soldiers who were taken as Prisoners of War. They had heard about how after torturing in the most inhuman ways, Pakistanis had shot Kalia and team at point blank, before "returning" the bodies to India. When you hear such barbarism and brutality of your enemy at front lines, you just get the energy to hit back. No question of fear or family or tiredness. That was Captain Nagappa and team during those extremely difficult moments of July 1999.

They kept fighting bravely. And then a grenade landed in front of Naveen. He was trained on how to handle a grenade when it lands. Usually you have 6 to 10 seconds. A grenade can kill everyone within 10 meters radius. So the first instinct of Naveen on 7th July morning was to just pick it up and throw it away. But a body that has been fighting non stop for 100+ hours can't really throw a grenade back 100s of feet as they show in movies. Unfortunately, the grenade came back after hitting a boulder.. Now Naveen had 2 to 3 seconds!!

His thought was - Anyway the explosion will happen now. I have no chance of escaping. At least, let my upper body go back home in one piece, rather than piece by piece in a bag. So he hid his upper body from grenade and exposed only his lower body. Booooom.. the explosion happened and before he knew what happened, he was in severe pain. His legs were hit. But in a conflict zone, you can't just get away after being injured. Any movement will attract more bullets. So he controlled his extreme pain of both legs being damaged and still fought on. But his team observed and asked him that he should crawl from the mountain to the bottom slowly. He did not agree, but they convinced him that he had to do it as he was seriously injured. With great reluctance, Naveen left his team to fight further, and crawled back to the lower heights very slowly. As you can imagine, he would be in tremendous pain and losing blood rapidly. Still he made to the bottom. The first thing he did there was to remove his snow shoes which are below the knee, but above the ankle. And then he realized how hard he was hit as his blood turned a few feet of snow around him red! He had literally spilled half of his body's blood for Bharat Mata, in an un-named hill, 1000s of KM from his home.. what a spirit! Still he wanted to fight barely having consciousness.

Even there, you can't expect a quick evacuation as the enemy was a higher position, observing everything. So it took lot of time. Finally after hours, he was given basic treatment and taken to the nearest helicopter. With great reluctance, he had to head away from the fighting zone, in the army helicopter taking him to Srinagar. And when the chopper took off, at a lower height to avoid firing from higher hills, he was losing consciousness due to heavy blood loss. Just then his chopper flew past Point 4875 for which he almost sacrificed his life. And there the Indian national flag, the tricolour was flying proudly!! After watching it from the army chopper, under lot of sedatives to kill the pain, he finally closed his eyes in total satisfaction. YES!! My boys have done what I went there to do......... What a relief!
His mind was -

"Naveen.. You have left a legacy behind.. whatever happens after this is irrelevant. Whatever role you were meant to play, you have played. You have created history".

Then he spent 21 months in the hospital undergoing treatment. He had to undergo 8 surgeries. He got the Sena Medal. His spirit kept him going even when the bravest of human minds crumble when hospitalized for such a long time.

And he narrates one other thing from his hospital stay. The mother of his close friend from army came from Dilli to visit him. She had lost her son during the same battle. Naveen could not sleep the prior night as he did not know what to tell that Maa, about her son. He could not digest that fact that he was alive, but his close friend soldier had made the supreme sacrifice for India. She came and met him. He talked with his "aunty" with lot of respect. They talked for 2 hours, but she never asked about her son not returning. Naveen could not take it anymore when she was about to walk away. He asked her.. "Aunty.. I am extremely sorry that I could not get your son back, while I survived myself". She told in a calm way - "Naveen.. it is the best honour for a mother to see her son wrapped in a tiranga. I am proud of my son". No need to highlight that when Naveen narrated this today, he got loud claps from the emotional audience in Bengaluru.

Why am I writing all these 17 years later? Because when I was busy building my high paying corporate career in 1999, these young men, some younger than me, were busy shedding their precious blood drops for Bharat Mata. As I am typing this, I am sure 1000s are taking extreme risks in the Himalayan mountains, rough seas, dangerous central Indian jungles and much more. During every real estate purchase we do, ever mall purchase we do, every road trip we take, every party we enjoy, every cricket match we cheer for, every political rally we attend, every TV show we watch, every birthday party of kid we celebrate.... there is an Indian army soldier making a split second decision whether to sacrifice his upper body or lower body because that grenade is about to explode. Either he is facing the situation in real, or training hard in drills. Sooner or later that situation would come for many brave fighters as we are surrounded by internal and external enemies.

Hold these brave soldiers with the highest respect. We have NO IDEA of what they go through.. when you can't even take out your shoe for hours to check if your bleeding legs are still attacked to the knees or not, THAT is sacrifice for mother India. That is what 1000s of these Jawans are paying with their blood for our safety each year.

Oh.. did I tell you that all the tall promises politicians made to him - nothing has materialized till date :( You can hear his narration here, from an earlier event.

You can read about another narration of meeting with Captain Nagappa here. They have posted one memorable picture from Kargil times.

The next time you hear some nincompoop talk of "human rights" or "azaadi" slogans against these brave Jawans, just ask them to go speak to brave sons of Bharat Mata like Captain Naveen Nagappa in Bengaluru. I can take them personally.

Freedom is not free. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to protect it. DAILY!