In 10 days from now, a freshly revamped war memorial will stand at Rezang La in eastern Ladakh’s Chushul sector to honour 114 Indian soldiers who died bravely fighting the Chinese in the historic Battle of Rezang La during the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
The memorial, which stands close to the Line of Actual Control, will be expanded to also commemorate 20 Indian soldiers who died in the Galwan Valley clashes with China last year.
On November 18, 1962, in the Battle of Rezang La, soldiers of the 13th battalion of the Kumaon Regiment fought literally till the “last man, last round” against 5,000-6,000 Chinese soldiers who had attacked the Chushul airfield with heavy artillery support. As many as 114 Indian soldiers of the 120 soldiers defending the area were killed in the battle.
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A memorial to honour these soldiers was constructed in 1963. The memorial has been undergoing renovation and there are plans for Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to inaugurate it on November 18 to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the Battle of Rezang La. A low-key ceremony has been planned for the inauguration and a limited number of veterans and serving officers are likely to attend.
The original memorial comprised a Spartan inner structure carrying the names of the martyred soldiers. While this structure will remain, the memorial is being expanded, and two gazebos, a Major Shaitan Singh auditorium and a Rezang La gallery will be added, along with other infrastructural works.
Major Shaitan Singh was the company commander during the Battle of Rezang La. He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously.
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Located south of Pangong Tso at the Chushul sector in eastern Ladakh, the memorial will continue to stand close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, close to a few key dominating heights and features, some of which were occupied by India during a crucial operation by specialised units of the Indian Army in August last year.
The operation had given India an edge in negotiating the disengagement at Finger 4 in the north bank of Pangong Tso with the Chinese military. Earlier this year, Chinese troops had agreed on pulling back from the Finger 4 area to beyond Finger 8 area, while India had agreed to withdraw its troops to the Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3 area. It was agreed between the two sides that the area between Finger 3 and Finger 8 would not be accessed by either side.
The revamped memorial
As per defence sources, the revamped memorial will have two gazebos close to the entry gate of the war memorial, a Rezang La gallery replete with murals and a Major Shaitan Singh auditorium with a seating capacity of 35. There will also be a 3D model placed at the auditorium depicting the terrain of the region. As many as 114 stone plaques carrying the names of the fallen soldiers will be placed at the memorial.
The names of the Indian Army soldiers who died in the Galwan Valley clashes last year will be also be displayed at the memorial.
Additionally, a new larger helipad will be built close to the war memorial.
“Will signal India’s strong intent”
A senior defence official said there is lack of awareness among people on the Battle of Rezang La, and given that hundreds of tourists visit the region, the revamped memorial will go a long way in preserving the history of the battle and generate mass awareness about it.
“Moreover, a memorial right at the LAC constantly reminds the adversary of the bravery of Indian soldiers and also highlights the importance of Rezang La, thus signalling India’s strong intent in the sector,” he said.
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Colonel NN Bhatia (Retd), a veteran of the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan, told News18.com that the Rezang La memorial was constructed by the battalion at the site, where 96 Rezang La heroes were mass-cremated, to honour those who gave their lives to defend the Indian territory.
“On the first anniversary of the Rezang La battle on November 18, 1963, I stood close to the memorial in Chushul, overlooking the massive Rezang La feature. Amid those biting chilly winds, I had the privilege and honour to pay my homage to Rezang La,” he said.
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“Since there are few survivors of the Rezang La battle, and most are over 80 years of age, the low-key, solemn function will only have a few attendees. This is also considering the height of 15,000 feet at which the memorial is located, the extreme cold weather conditions, as well as other administrative constraints and the current situation along our borders,” he said.
The memorial, he said, will remind posterity of the “great sacrifices made by the brave Ahirs of the Paltan”.
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