CHENNAI: “Time is the best healer.” But, does this adage do justice when describing war survivors? Forty-nine years after the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, which led to the formation of Bangladesh, memories of the historic event are fresh in the minds of those who witnessed it.
On December 16,1971, Pakistan was defeated and forced to publicly surrender to India–the largest military surrender since World War-II. “The role my team played was small, but critical for our victory,” recalls Colonel Anantanarayanan Krishnaswamy. “After a 10-hour battle, we ambushed a much larger enemy force and made them surrender.” Colonel Krishnaswamy received the Veer Chakra for his role in the 1971 war, in which he was commanding the C-Company of the 10th Regiment of Jammu and Kashmir Rifles.
For Brigadier Muthulakshmi, who joined the Military Nursing Service in 1963, witnessing the impact of war on the women of Bangladesh was a life-changing experience. She was taken to Jessore in Bangladesh to set up a hospital after the war. “Women were raped and brutalised in Pakistani bunkers. We found under garments and hairpins strewn around them.” Today, the 80-year-old brigadier is still a fighter–seeking justice as an advocate for wives and daughters of ex-servicemen struggling to get their pension and other monetary benefits.
The New Indian Express caught up with a few war veterans who fought for India in 1971. The tales of what they saw and experienced do not fade with time.
Col Anantanarayanan Krishnaswamy
Colonel Krishnaswamy was the recipient of Veer Chakra, an Indian gallantry award presented for acts of gallantry in the presence of the enemy on the battlefield, for his role in 1971 war. “I was commanding C Company of the 10th regiment of Jammu and Kashmir Rifles. During the 1971 war in Eastern Sector, we were given a task of establishing a roadblock behind enemy lines in Jaideopur-Dhaka road on December 14-15. Our mission was to prevent enemy reinforcement from reaching Dhaka,” recounts Krishnaswamy. “In the action that followed, my troops successfully ambushed a much larger enemy force which had tank support as well. After 10 hours battle, the enemy surrendered. Our action was small but played an important role in India’s victory in war,” says Krishnaswamy.
Brigadier ML Narayanan
A school teacher, Brigadier Narayanan, a native of Kumbakonnam, joined the Army when war was looming large over the country. Posted at Chammb sector, Narayanan, who joined as a soldier and got promoted as an officer after clearing his Service Selection Board, says that during the period guns were operationally deployed in support of infantry and tanks. “It was usual for administrative staff to work in rear areas called wagon lines,” he says. Brig Narayanan’s Commanding Officer Gauri Shankar desired that he be in regimental command post so that he could assist the Commanding officer in staff duties.
“The medium guns were in action day and night. One night, the enemy commandos attacked the wagon lines (administrative area in rear),” recalls Narayanan. The Commanding officer along with Narayanan and personal arms rushed to the rear area. The enemy had killed many troops, especially tradesmen in late hours of night.
“The assault group had exfiltrated leaving a stay-behind party. On seeing CO Jeep, they fired upon it. The tyre was punctured and CO dismounted and also got shot in his limbs,” recalls Narayanan. Narayanan returned the fire but the enemy fled after achieving their aim. He later carried his commanding officer for about a kilometre to the medical post from where the CO was evacuated to safety. Brigadier Narayanan after the incident named his younger son Gauri Shankar after his commanding officer.
Sqadron Leader ST Narayanan
Squadron Leader ST Narayanan was attached to 222 Squadron which had Sukhoi - 7 fighter bomber aircraft in May 1971. "I was the Technical Officer of the sqn. The squadron moved to Halwara in July 1971. The war started on December 3. Pakistani Air Force aircraft bombed Halwara AF Station. Luckily we did not suffer any loss."
Wing Commander D Srinivasan, Technical officer AE(M), in 14 Squadron:
Initially, bombing missions were executed from Dum Dum airport, Kolkata, says Wing commander Srinivasan, a native of Damal Village in Kanchipuram. The Fourteen squadron, which he belonged to, also known as The Bulls was in ground support role. During the last four days, the Squadron moved forward to Jessore.
The Pakistanis fled leaving hot halwa in their Mess, recounts 85-year-old Srinivasan, who was a flight lieutenant then. Officers were put up in their Artillery Mess. It was tough and sleepless nights for the technical crew to keep the Hunters armed ready. Last-minute changes would be made to payloads.
Herculean efforts were required for the preparation of bomb rockets. Wing Commander Sunderesan, a native of Vikrama pandiyam village in Tanjore district, led the Bulls successfully.
As leader of the formation attacking Tezgaon airfield near Dacca, he was intercepted by four enemy aircraft. He engaged the enemy in spite of heavy ground fire and shot down one of the four Sabres. Wing Commander Sundaresan was later conferred with the Vir Chakra.
Squadron Leader Tramanhare, wingman got shot, bailed out safely and became a Prisoner of War, recounts Srinivasan. He said his most joyous moment was when he learnt that Gen Niazi has surrendered at Dacca.
"So after winding up in a few days, we returned home in our convoy. That was the joyous moment. Also, we had a captured Army Jonga, which was later returned to Bangladesh."