NOTHING can be further from the truth than the general perception about the 1962 conflict with China—that Indian soldiers fled the war zone with their tails between their legs. The several memorials along the Tawang-Tezpur road, through which the Chinese came up to the borders of present-day Assam, testify to the contrary. The blame for the debacle must lie squarely at the doorstep of the military and political leadership of that time. But the ordinary soldier died like soldiers like to die—fighting the enemy. Take the case of Jaswant Singh Rawat of the Garhwal Rifles.
Even as his company was asked to fall back, Jaswant Singh remained at his post at an altitude of 10,000 feet and held back the rampaging Chinese for three days single-handedly. He was helped by two local girls—Sela and Nura—during the heroic battle which ended after the Chinese discovered the post was being defended by a solitary soldier. So enraged were the attackers that they cut off Jaswant Singh's head and took it back to China. However, after the ceasefire, a Chinese commander, impressed by his bravery, returned the head along with a brass bust of Jaswant Singh. The bust, created in China to hon-our a brave Indian soldier, is now installed at the place of the battle, a location now now known as Jaswantgarh. Every passing Army personnel, be it general or jawan, makes it a point to pay his respects.
The two girls have also been honoured. The highest pass on the road is named after Sela and a small hamlet in the vicinity is known as Nuranang. And these are not isolated incidents. At Bumla, there is a memorial for Subedar Joginder Singh, who was among the first to die fighting the advancing Chinese. All soldiers posted on this border perform puja here before pressing ahead. Joginder Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously. "The baba (Joginder Singh) blesses all of us," says one of the three jawans posted at Jaswantgarh for the upkeep of the memorial. At Bomdilla, Subedar Pritam Singh and his men have been similarly honoured with a memorial. Adds an officer: "These exemplary sacrifices serve to inspire the troops who are on a difficult assignment."