The whole story is a bit like Alice in Wonderland. First, a Bollywood starlet decided to troll an army commander. That was bad form. But her comment itself was based on a misconception about what happened at the Battle of Galwan on 15th June 2020. And most of the responses which have slammed her for that comment seem to be based on the same misconception. Their implicit point seems to be that we shouldn’t refer to Galwan.
Much of the media seems to revel in alternate facts, but this is an alternate universe. For, as far as I was able to gather, the brave soldiers of the Indian Army gave the Chinese a drubbing they had never bargained for at Galwan that night.
One report claims that 55 Chinese soldiers died on the battlefield, and another says 56 died of wounds in hospital. One soldier, Gurtej Singh, alone took down a large number of Chinese soldiers in hand-to-hand combat before he was martyred. Several other Ghatak commandoes performed admirably.
I am convinced that the Chinese have held back from further attacks since then because they learnt a sobering lesson that night.
It is tragic that Indians have, by and large, turned away from celebrating the great valour and performance of their own soldiers. I wrote back in 2020 that the night of 15th June should be memorialised in poems, songs, and popular performances.
In one of the several articles I wrote in the days and weeks after that battle, I even compared the Indian Army’s performance with that of the English at the Battle of Agincourt, which was still celebrated by the British 500 years after it happened, or the exploits of Mehmet II, which Turks still celebrate.
The battle at Agincourt too lasted only a few hours, and courage, as well as brilliant tactics, played roles. Unfortunately, most of the media went along with the government’s decision to play down what happened at Galwan, only highlighting the fact that 20 Indian soldiers, including a commanding officer, were killed. No wonder, starlets and others across the land have formed the lasting impression that India somehow lost that battle, or was placed in a bad light at Galwan that night.
Proud highlights generally ignored
As I wrote soon after that battle, the Bihar Regiment, as well as the Punjabis, Gorkhas, Artillerymen, and Engineers who joined battle later that night, all performed with amazing valour and professional skill. The battle went through several stages until dawn the next morning. By then, the military objective of the soldiers had been successfully accomplished by the Engineers in tandem with Gorkha troops.
I pointed out that the Indians were outnumbered, perhaps ten to one, and yet fought with such daring that the enemy suffered huge losses. By morning, I was told, four high-spirited soldiers decided one of the enemies looked important. So, picking up an arm and a leg each, they lugged him back. He turned out to be the 2-IC of China’s Special Forces. Panicked phone calls followed later that morning. I wish he had not been quickly returned before all the Indians who had strayed far into the other side had been accounted for.
Many of the soldiers fought with their bare hands against the horrifically lethal medieval weapons such as thick clubs wrapped in barbed wire. I also pointed out then that Sikh and Gorkha soldiers always carry with them cultural symbols that can be used for self-defence.
As word of the battle spread in the dark night, even nursing assistants and signal operators rushed into the scene of battle, undaunted by the obvious threat to their lives. They were all riled up as word spread that the enemy had treacherously felled ‘CO sahib.’
Pride is called for
It is unfortunate that the mainstream media by and large neither investigate what actually happened, nor celebrated how well India’s brave warriors performed that night.
That is a stark contrast to how the British still proudly talk of Agincourt, and the US celebrates in its national anthem the night its flag remained standing in Baltimore’s Fort after the gruelling battles during which Baltimore fought back after the city of Washington had fallen and the Capitol and the White House had been gutted.
US citizens celebrate the sight of their flag still flying that dawn, even though the memory is intertwined with far more shameful memories of militias running away, and the symbols of their nation being burnt after British invaders had sat in the White House, gleefully eating what had been laid out for the US President and his family.
As a nation, we must learn to celebrate our great moments of proud resistance against invaders, instead of only crying about how some invaders succeeded at various times in the hoary past. Positivity is the way to build a proud new India, not shying away from the truth and well-earned pride.