'Bodies still lying around....': Assam doctor recounts evacuating injured Indian POWs after 1962 war
93-year-old Dr Kamakhya Chakravarty narrates with ease his first-hand experience of the armed conflict between the two giant neighbours 60 years ago as if it had happened only yesterday.
GUWAHATI: The very mention of the 1962 Sino-India war brings a spark to the eyes of 93-year-old Dr Kamakhya Chakravarty, and his memories race back to his youth.
Although he faces difficulties in recalling events that had happened much after the war, by his own admission, he can narrate with ease his first-hand experience of the armed conflict between the two giant neighbours 60 years ago as if it had happened only yesterday.
In a conversation with PTI, Dr Chakravarty recounted his role, along with those of two other fellow doctors who have died since, in ensuring that the wounded Indian soldiers were safely ferried to hospitals from the frontline.
"I was posted as the Sub-divisional Medical and Health Officer at Tezpur in 1962. The Chinese had retreated and the Red Cross was scouting for volunteer doctors to help evacuate the wounded Indian soldiers who were taken Prisoners of War (POWs) from the upper reaches of present-day Arunachal Pradesh," he recalled.
Always at the forefront to do his bit for the nation, whether boycotting classes as a student during the Quit India Movement or volunteering at Lakhimpur after the devastating 1950 Assam earthquake, Dr Chakravarty jumped at the opportunity.
"Three of us, Dr Ananda Sharma, Dr B Sen and I, volunteered to go with the Red Cross and Army team and bring back our injured soldiers to the defence hospital at Tezpur. Early next morning (December 18, 1962), we set off for Dirang Valley," he said.
The images of the devastation of the just-concluded war were all around, with destroyed tanks and other military vehicles on roadsides as their vehicle crawled into Tenga Valley. Bodies of slain soldiers, which were yet to be cleared, were seen lying at several places, Dr Chakravarty, then a man in his early thirties, recounted.
"Seeing the bodies of the soldiers, I thought I could have been in their place. It further steeled my resolve to bring the injured jawans back. We had dinner at Bomdila and spent the night there. Early next morning we left for Dirang Valley. Upon reaching there, we didn't spare a moment to rest after a long and tiring journey and got down in our work to bring back our wounded soldiers," he said.
Chinese doctors handed over the injured and the slain Indian jawans to the Tezpur team, and by dusk, they started their return journey with around 460 wounded soldiers and several bodies. "It was a long convoy, and though dinner was arranged at Bomdila, food was over by the time the last vehicle arrived. The Army informed its personnel in the lower reaches that some of us went without food, and sometime after leaving Bomdila, we saw jawans waiting on the roadside with food for us. It was such a touching gesture," he said.
"We reached Tezpur the next day and handed over the soldiers to the defence hospital. We managed to bring back all the wounded jawans alive. There was satisfaction that we could do something for people who had risked their lives to protect the country," Dr Chakravarty said.
2022 is the 60th anniversary of the war between India and China in the high Himalayas.
The same passion with which he had risen to the call of duty as a doctor had also driven the young boy from a very humble background in western Assam's Dhubri to ensure his seat in the first batch of Assam Medical College and Hospital (AMCH) at Dibrugarh at the eastern end of the state in November 1947.
AMCH was also the first medical college in the entire northeastern region. "I was determined to be a doctor. Once I got a seat at AMCH, I concentrated only on my studies, leaving activism as a school student behind. I knew I could continue serving the needy if I could become a doctor," he said.
Taking voluntary retirement from his job in 1980 in Dhubri, Dr Chakravarty continued his practice in Tezpur, his adopted home where he spent much of his professional life. "Medical training makes us tough but we are not immune to suffering and loss of our patients," he added.