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Unauthorized Robbery - Col Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
The plot to rob the bank had been in the police constable’s mind in an embryonic stage ever since he had seen a movie on a television channel. Many permutations and combinations kept nagging his thoughts, robbing him of many a good night’s sleep till he finally gathered enough courage and confidence to execute the plan. It was a simple plan that required the help of the local insurgents. In a dingy cafe near the bank, he contacted the town sergeant of the insurgent group to spin out the plan of robbery. It was to be a joint operation on Christmas day, the very next day, when the presence of the bank-guarding contingent would be minimal. As planned, he managed to convince his section commander to detail his team of conspirators to be on duty within the bank premises at the crucial hours.
And, down in the plains, about 200 km far off, the next night was a long and frosty night, especially after midnight mass in the newly constructed Baptist church on the hilltop. It overlooked the perched, wide river running down from the hills. The tall officer, now on leave, drove down the winding road, crossed the iron bridge and entered the rhododendron- bordered driveway to the newly constructed double storied house with many balconies. He unlatched the front door, turned to the car to help her pick up the sleepy children. At that precise moment he could hear the telephone ringing in the bedroom but let it ring off automatically. He was wondering who it could be at three in the morning when the telephone rang again. It was his deputy from the district headquarters, informing him of a robbery in the bank. The culprits made a smooth getaway in a Willy jeep after police guards were overpowered and, losses were yet to be ascertained as the bank staff was out of station on Christmas holidays stretching over ten days. He had recently taken over the new assignment in the district, reputed to be stronghold of the most prominent insurgent group in the state.
He was so furious that he ordered the immediate suspension of the guard, and tasked the deputy to select a good replacement. Evidently it was an insurgent supported operation which could affect the recently agreed upon ceasefire in the volatile region.
All concerned were contacted to seal off roads and detail search parties to sensitive localities and by the time his sources contacted the underground to confirm the robbery as their operation, it was almost daybreak. The only silver lining was that though their cadre was involved, it was a local operation by an underground team without the clearance from their controllers.
The Christmas holidays were long, almost up to the New Year’s Day and it was very difficult to contact the right people so early in the morning. As he was almost 200 km away from the scene of crime, his presence there was a must. Somehow the local army battalion commander was contacted and informed about the robbery. They were already aware of the incident and search parties were out. Their brigadier was to land shortly on the helipad to coordinate the search operations. The army was taking the robbery, as a serious violation of ceasefire and full-fledged operations would be launched in no time unless the loot was returned. The army was very concerned as a huge arsenal could be created with the looted amount, resulting in more bloodshed. He was also advised to contact the coordinator of the insurgent group’s ceasefire monitoring cell for the blatant violation of ceasefire by their cadre and their reactions thereafter. The coordinator confirmed that it was an underground operation and he would join him to the district headquarters to defuse the situation arising out of the robbery by their cadre. They left in the Maruti Gypsy in the morning and reached the district headquarters in the evening as the twilight descended. They went via the capital primarily to apprise the commissioner about the robbery and its impact on the fragile ceasefire. But he was out of station and instead they met the Special Secretary to the Chief Minister. He promised to contact the bank people, as none was locally available. 
They went straight to the red and white RCC building where the deputy minister of the underground was staying in the district headquarters, an elderly gentleman with a dignified bearing who was part of the famous long march to China in the initial stages of insurgency.
He sat down on the polished floor at the old man’s feet and to his surprise, held on to his knees."I will not leave your feet till you save my honour. Great humiliation has fallen on my family and my clan, especially on me by the robbery committed by your boys. That cash was under my responsibilities and no way can I wish it away. If the cash looted is not recovered I’ll kill myself in front of your feet, please help me."
The old man just smiled, chided him for sitting on the floor in spite of being such a senior officer and lifted him up gently from the floor to sit next to him on the white couch.
The old man added, "It was an unfortunate mistake committed out of greed. It was an unauthorized operation. The culprits have been identified and traced. Even if rupees five crore were taken, all would be returned. Now go in peace and find out how much was looted fromthe bank. I think your police guards were responsible for corrupting our boys and inviting them to loot the bank. We will punish our defaulters after returning the looted cash."
The bank building, a triple storied concrete one with small, cabin shops on the ground floor facing the main square and the bank staff’s accommodation on the top floor, had a staircase connecting all the floors on the right corner of the building. It was a sad looking decaying building, might have seen good days 15 to 20 years earlier. Two iron-grilled gates controlled the access to the banking hall on the first floor. He could see that the new guard had already replaced the earlier one as ordered by him telephonically, wondering whether the earlier lot were arrested or suspended for dereliction of duty. The strong room where the cash used tobe stored had a big hole where the ventilation system used to be. It was evident that afterwidening the ventilation hole with a sledgehammer, the culprits entered the strong room.
The underground minister had already hinted at the involvement of the policemen in the bank robbery, and individual interrogation of the police guard immediately brought out the truth.
Suddenly a black humour descended on him. It was a strange situation where the insurgents were looking for and chasing the police for the recovery of the looted amount from the bank.
When the robbery was reconstructed, it was revealed that on Christmas day six armed insurgents gained entry into the bank with the help of three police constables who were on duty from 7 to 11 p.m. The underground team was contacted and invited for the robbery a day earlier by one of the police constables who had a penchant for designer clothes and high stake gambling.
The police guard was of 19 strong and had recently replaced a CRPF guard. But only eight were present on that day as others were on French leave to be with their families for Christmas. The off duty sleeping guards in the guard room were quickly neutralized and with the help of these three police guards, the insurgents widened the ventilation hole by breaking away the edges with sledgehammer. Before decamping with the cash in a jeep, the insurgents left one sackful of cash for their police friends. One of the constables, the ring leader, deposited this cash with his mother staying close to the bank, returned to fire a few rounds to depict resistance from their side and tied themselves up to prove their innocence.
But the planner missed out on one small vital detail – the existing ceasefire agreement and
the consequential impact of the robbery. But none had any clue as to how much was stolen until the joint custodians of the cash returned. The local battalion of the security force intervened when their night patrols heard the stray shots and immediately smelt a rat. The brigadier flew in next morning and pressurized the local hierarchy of the underground group to maintain status quo as far as the ceasefire was concerned. The looted amount must be returned. Even the local public was getting concerned and insisted on return of the loot.
After the interrogation of the three constables and along with the police search party, he went personally to the house of the mother of the constable for the recovery of the looted cash. He immediately became suspicious when he found her most reluctant to leave her bed as he called on her, unlike other places where the old ladies traditionally fawned over the guests.
She would just not leave her bed as she made casual conversation to locate the looted cash.He had to resort to a simple trick to get her away from the bed – a glass of water for the thirsty guest. As she left the bed, a quick check revealed stacks of currency notes under the old, cotton mattress. A thorough search revealed more bundles of currency notes hidden in the pigsty, some even under the feeding tray. More than 50 lakh were recovered from that house. The same night, the area commander of the underground group also recovered almost 85 lakh from their cadre from a nearby village where a few had taken shelter for the night.
They were on the run from their own organization. It was a unique sight when the sackful of currency notes were brought in to the DC’s office for counting, verification and safe custody, within the presence of the town elders. As the bank remained closed, the recovered cash was handed over to the local battalion of the security forces for want of confidence in the guardian of law-and-order. But exact losses were still unknown.
The bank officers arrived next morning from the plains and were immediately whisked away to the bank premises. But there was a hitch, as they couldn’t get hold of the accountant from his home town – only the cash officer could be contacted and fetched over. The vault could not be opened until and unless both custodians used their keys to the vault. The cash officer had dropped a bombshell when he mentioned that the strong room contained approximately
10 crore at the close of business just before the onset of the long holidays and one particular almirah had only 500 rupee notes, totalling about 7 crore. As the suspense became unbearable, it was decided by the district authorities to unseal the hole in the strong room to allow a rough estimate of losses as the delay was affecting recovery operations. The widened hole was just enough to permit a frail man inside. The cash officer, a burly Sikh gentleman, was invited to have a look and if feasible enter the strong room through the hole to carry out an assessment. But his turban got stuck in the small hole, so it was removed much to the amusement of the onlookers. There was an audible sigh of relief as he reported that the almirah containing 500 rupee notes appeared unbroken and losses could be maximum two crore or so. The only way the strong room could be opened now was with the duplicate keys.
Then the hunt began for the location of the duplicate keys, apparently it was kept safely under round-the-clock surveillance of the local police. This time, it was the turn of the officerin-charge to be missing from the scene. By the time he was contacted at his hometown andbrought over to the bank, it was well past midnight. There was a dramatic incident enroutewhen the jeep fetching the officer hit a local student leader, resulting in a near riot condition in that village. The officer along with the jeep driver was released temporarily from police custody on intervention at the highest level. His presence was essential to locate the duplicate keys to the bank.
The strong room probably had never seen such an august gathering within its confined space – right from the DC, SP, cash officer of the bank and also the local area commander of the insurgent group. The area commander was under posting to their general headquarters and his relief had already joined to take over the responsibilities. He was convinced that there was a conspiracy by the establishment to undermine the credibility of the underground organization and he wanted to be sure that losses were exact and not inflated. He was given a crash course on cash management and was convinced that verification of cash ledgers would bring out the losses. It took time but eventually all were convinced that losses were of two crore, as asserted earlier by the cash officer. It was just sheer luck that the almirah containing 500 rupee notes was not touched, otherwise, the losses could have jumped to 7 crore, enough to purchase more than a thousand AK-47 rifles from the arms bazaar of Chittagong. There is a lot of glib talk about "choking off funds" to the insurgent outfits but very little thought is given to safeguard the main source in a hostile environment.
Accountability, as usual, is nonexistent. Within an interval of a few days the underground group, successfully chased and recovered almost 1.5 crore but refused to hand over their culprits. The strength of the group can be assessed by the recovery and return of the looted amount in no time. The ceasefire still stands and the bank is still operating in the district headquarters, albeit with a paramilitary guard. But such joint ventures between the local police and an insurgent group both in robbing the bank as well as in recovering the looted amount are rare indeed in the annals of crimes against banks the world over.

That bungalow in Kenches Trace Shillong - Col Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
There were flowers everywhere right from a variety of roses to seasonal cosmos, snapdragons, dahlias and others along the perimeter of the well mowed  lawn divided by a pathway along with flowering trees like camelias and fragrant magnolias on the edge  of the boundary hedge rows  flowering now and then.Not only that , there were orchards of oranges. plums and peaches on the slopes of the house  meeting the road down below. That was the house Jerry Cunningham , from Canterbury constructed with local khasi carpenters in1898 on a 3 acre land ,clearing a portion of pine forest of the estate with wooden floors ,wooden walls and even wooden ceilings with imported thick tin sheets. A house of 5000 square feet with a length of 100 feet and width  of 50 feet and many a room. He named it Bothwell.
He was a coal trader and made enough money to marry a tea planter's daughter , Sundari who loved looking after the estate with its pine forest,orchards and gardens and was happy as ever she could be.
But those days of happiness amongst beds of flowers, flowery trees and orchards were abruptly cut short by an accident in the jaiantia colliery which caved in due to heavy sippage of water after a cloud burst that took away scores of lives of local miners.The death of so many led to bankruptcy  and eventual death of Jerry in a flash flood that swept him away while crossing the nearby stream, returning from the  cricket ground carved out of slope of hill by a Captain of the Gurkha Regiment with troop labour. The garrison ground. But his body remained untraceable  even after days and months.
Those happy days were no more there for Sundari as the house wore a haunted look with locals avoiding nearby pathways because of sudden stillness all over the estate as if the estate itself was in mourning with flowers and fruits slowly withering away in spite of loving care by all in the house. And that there was a stench ,sometimes very overpowering and very strong that made one to cringe away in fear. Especially on full moon night with jackals howling and warning of something that they were scared of. Even Sundari started to wither away with various unknown illnesses. There was a particular cold wave around the house-- Adoo Adoo a shivering and trembling one in khasi.
And as we said before Sundari's Bothwell fell into a well of depression even the red tinned roof started visibly to depress itself. There was a noticeable depression on the middle of the roof as if proclaiming  the end of the good days long gone past after the death of Cunningham. This depressive environment with the wind blowing in a rotting fishy stench now and then, it was there one moment and not there another moment  and his favourite velvety  white roses of canterbury withering away made life unbearable  for the lady of the house.
But suddenly things changed as his bloated body was found by an avid angler in the barapani area behind a huge boulder. The stench raised the angler's curiosity and the body was subsequently identified by  the wedding ring.
Sundari buried her long lost husband as per his last wishes as in the will of inheritance, under the bed of his favourite velvety white roses  of canterbury at the northern corner of the lawn of Bothwell and  the miracle of burial chased  away all the blues and withering and even the roof straightened up, visibly so. Jerry was back home and happy. When the master is happy, dead or alive, there's happiness everywhere.
But the long sojourn under the torrential waters of Rilbong initially and then barapani's placid waters had created an unbearable cold that covered even the grave and its foliage on top.. Passersby  sometimes felt the coldness emanating from the cryptic knoll of the grave and some even heard at very low key a shivering ,adoo adoo in khasi. 
 Few  local fortunates or unfortunate who are familiar with the legend of Jerry of Bothwell, sometimes hear his Adoo Adoo when they press their ears to the grave, seeking his blessings when venturing out in coal business. Many who sought his blessings from his grave are millionaires now.
Col. Ajit Datta

THE CHILD INSURGENTS - Col. Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
It was the beginning of the summer month of May in Kashmir and the snow had started to melt in the higher reaches of the mountains. The twilight had encroached into a tiny hamlet near the line of control and also into a small timber house. The kerosene lit German lantern even in its dimness, could not erase the suspense and anxiety from the young faces of young mothers- there were whispers that their children were on their trip back home on completion of jehadi training on the other side of the border.  And it was an irony of fate that they were depending on the Assam Rifles for the return of their children.


Very few know that two battalions of the Assam Rifles made their first foray into the Kashmir valley at the request of a General who having served in the North East understood the true potential of these battalions. The main strength of the Force is its close rapport with the civil population against the cantonment syndrome prevailing in the Army. Realizing the great strength of Assam Rifles, the General requested Delhi for two Battalions of the Force to contain insurgency in the Kashmir valley. This unusual request resulted in such a master stroke that within a period of two years more than 800 assorted weapons including 508 AK-47 Rifles and more than a lakh of AK–47 ammunition rounds were recovered by these two Battalions in 90-91. This also resulted in one of the largest hauls ever in a single counter insurgency operation in the world. This is a story of only 10 Riflemen of Assam Rifles challenging 150 heavily armed militants and getting away with flying colours and that too with a rare show of unexpected kindness.

The Army is trained to be iron fisted and the complete reversal of their role when deployed on policing duties causes resentment, more confusion and lot of goodwill is lost, as velvet gloves are required to conceal the iron fists in counter insurgency operations. Otherwise the iron fists tend to create more insurgency. The Assam Rifles specializes in respecting local sentiments. The emphasis is on return of peace and understanding the local culture and their aspirations through long association. And not head or weapon hunting as many in power insist on. A young teenager would never accept the degradation of the status of his parents or family members in search operations, mostly carried out well past midnight by the Security Forces. The loss of dignity in such operations causes anger, albeit slowly. He joins the insurgents at the first opportunity more so when they are the only hope in an environment of corruption devoid of any job opportunities. Counter insurgency operations must be based on solid actionable intelligence otherwise innocents get the brunt of such operations, leading to more insurgency. This is where Assam Rifles score over the Army because of their long association with the land. The first foray into the Kashmir valley was another testing ground of their motto of never to hurt an innocent civilian.


Padam Bahadur Chettri, a subedar of the Assam Rifle Battalion located on the line of control in Kashmir was climbing up gradually along the spine of the ridge to the Dudhi post. 18 riflemen were following him. The steep climb started immediately after crossing the tiny rivulet over a small footbridge. 5 local porters with their ponies laden with a month’s ration were also following his column to occupy the Post. The chill of the winter could still be felt as they gained height, though it was the beginning of May and the height of summer. The pine forest along the spine of the ridge still had heavy residual snow. The shadowy portion of mountain slopes still displaying fully snow- buried pine trees. And a few top branches could be seen bowing down with the heaviness of the lingering snow. They were struggling against the heavy snow as they reached higher reaches and stopped about 5 km short of the Post, as darkness fell. Their porters, with the ponies, also fetched up after 30 minutes or so and took shelter in a hut meant for the shepherds grazing cattle and sheep during the summers.  
They had succeeded in reaching out to the local population and had earned their confidence when numbers of apprehended child insurgents were returned to their parents. The call to join the main stream was ignored as the children found the mainstream to be too polluted even to be touched with their toenails. The child insurgents’ anger against the establishment had a genuine base – burning of their own houses in a firefight was the last straw. Of late, there were a number of indications that scores of young boys, barely in their teens were infiltrating back after training as Mujahideens. Expectations were very high and many mothers were depending on the Assam Rifles to see their sons again. Apparently the worldwide problem of rehabilitation of child insurgents is still eluding the experts but the simple solution of returning them to their parents is still to be implemented. The Colonel’s orders were very clear to Chettri- no child insurgents should be hurt. And that was a tall order in a firefight when identification of child insurgents might not be feasible. Chettri fell asleep while discussing with his platoon the Colonel’s order on child insurgents and the firm orders to return them to their parents- the night was uncomfortable and chilly in the grazing hut in spite of the warmth provided by the snow mattresses, sleeping bags and three pairs of woollen socks worn by each one of them.  The local porters had also joined in the discussion and were rather pessimistic about apprehending the child insurgents without harming them. But all agreed to give a fair chance by warning them before opening fire, against all military teachings that might compromise their own safety. There was a freak heavy snowfall falling intermittently throughout the night and the night sentries were busy clearing the fresh snow jamming the door of the shepherd’s hut.


6 Riflemen were left in situ to prepare the pony loads into man pack ones as ponies could not move an inch on the heavy snow. Chettri moved with 12 boys along the top of the ridge- movement was slow on knee-deep snow. On crossing a false crest, the column saw the Post another mile away, the shelters barely visible under the snow. As Chettri was looking down towards the night’s staging camp to monitor the movement of porters ferrying their rations and ammunition, flashes of tiny lights in the pine forest caught his eyes. These flashes were in the nullah coming down from the Post –something reflecting the morning sunrays piercing the snow laden pine forest. Closure scrutiny through the binocular revealed scores of snow flaked, bearded individuals resting on the snow, some under the pine trees. What probably attracted his eyes were the transparent plastic caps worn by some as protection against snowfall, reflecting the sunlight here and there. Initially he took them to be sikh troops from the neighbouring area but once they started moving in a single line, their street clothes could be clearly visible. And there were a hundred and fifty of them, heavily armed with many carrying two weapons and ammunition belts strapped across their shoulders. He could make out the child insurgents at the end of the trail, smooth faced and their heads covered by the plastic caps, their backs bent under the weight of the weapons and ammunition carried. They were about to cross a clearing in the pine forest about three hundred yards away. A quick decision to take them on and a quiet hand signal to fan out for battle, Chettri awaited an opportune moment for a dramatic announcement, knowing fully well that this move might cost him his life. Reactions to his moves could be unpredictable as freedom enjoyed by insurgent groups from complicated organization like regular armies and their abilities to merge with local population demand reorientation in thinking. The only way child insurgents could be saved, was a fair warning.

“ Surrender or Perish – you are surrounded by 500 commandoes of Assam Rifles” he yelled confidently and exposed himself on the skyline with the machine gun poised at his right hip and added, “Drop your weapons and raise hands”. He could see the child insurgents raising their hands after dropping their weapons and looking up at him. For a few moments, there was silence everywhere, when suddenly the pine forest erupted with violence. There were loud curses, screaming and chaos as a few insurgents opened fire towards Chettri on the crest. A bullet nicked Chettri’s earlobe and pierced through the helmet- he found himself on the snow, slightly dazed. His radio operator was shot through the heart and another lay mortally wounded. They were only ten at that moment. But they were on a dominating height and had control over the situation.


There was instinctive retaliation from the ten as their murderous firepower cut through the column of militants. Mortar bombs, grenades created havoc amongst jam-packed militants as they ran helter skelter amidst the pine forest. There were plaintive cries for mercy and dying screams of the grievously wounded – eventually the sound of firing gradually died down as ammunition ran out. Many could be seen running down through the pine forest, stumbling and dragging themselves through the heavy snow. He radioed for assistance to block the escape routes. A total of 133 assorted weapons including 76 AK- 47 were recovered from the killing fields with 74 militants lying dead on the snow. 
    Chettri found 11 child insurgents barely in their early teens hiding and crying behind pine trees, sobbing uncontrollably for their mothers. It took a long time to pacify them and to remove their fears. As the porters fetched up, the child insurgents rushed and hung on to them. The porters were from their village. The terror stricken lips of the child insurgents, their petrified eyes full of tears haunted the ten for many days to come. And the jubilations that erupted on their return to the village would be forever etched in their memory. Most embarrassing were the kisses they received from the grateful mothers. 
     And the payback – the officers’ club suddenly became renowned for its kashmiri cuisine specially of meat dishes. It was a very poorly kept secret that mothers of these children took turns to cook choicest meat dishes on special occasions to celebrate the return of their children.  The undue access to the kitchen caused much consternation in the Intelligence circle. And food poisoning case was expected any time! Once a visiting General even refused to have lunch till his reservations and doubts were fully satisfied. The children were permitted to play basketball, volleyball within the unit lines and coaches were readily made available. It would be relevant to bring out that gradually the local population persuaded the militants to shift their bases from their villages to the pine forests, out of the reach of the Assam Rifle battalion.
Chettri has settled down in Nepal after retirement with an award of ‘ Kirti Chakra’ for his extraordinary presence of mind in neutralizing a huge infiltrating column. He proudly recalls that one of the rescued child insurgents, coached by Chettri himself, became a star volleyball player of Kashmir. A kind man, an extraordinarily kind man, transformed the killing fields into playing fields. He could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the plight of child insurgents, why no one else’s heart was filled with compassion by the sight of terror stricken lips, petrified eyes filled with tears and the supreme happiness of their mothers on their return. There are still thousands of child insurgents but the helmet with the bullet hole silently recalls the story of only 11 child insurgents and the kindness of the ten. The anger still drives them from the playing fields to the killing fields.

based on a true story
Ajit Datta



THE GENTLEMAN WARRIOR FROM MEGHALAYA - Col Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
An anguished father’s grief-stricken voice rendered itself into a great morale booster for the Indian troops battling with the enemy in the Kargil front in July 1999. On his son’s martyrdom while attacking and capturing Point 4812 in the then obscure Batalik Sector, the father concealing his grief with superhuman effort, told the Commanding Officer of 12 Jammu & Kashmir Light Regiment — "I am proud of my son but do not be disheartened by the loss — he was a fighter and winner throughout and would expect you all to fight and win the war." The death of Captain K. Clifford Nongrum, born to K. Peter and Saily Nongrum of Shillong, was no ordinary death. It was a death deliberately embraced for the safety and honour of the country — a death honoured in Heaven.

The spectacular and unprecedented farewell that the grieving public spontaneously arranged to honour the mortal remains on the return of the warrior son of Shillong would be forever etched on the living memory of those who witnessed the great cortege paying tribute to the tricolour draped coffin of Captain Nongrum. The magnificent cortege had every one from Shillong — from the flower girl to the Governor, Ministers, Generals and his childhood friends. It was a spontaneous send off from a grateful nation, from Meghalaya and from Shillong but with a pride magnified many times — that one of them rose to the occasion when the Nation needed them, fought for the country 3000 miles away and that too at 15000 ft, one of the highest battlefields in the world. The 8 July, 1999 would be remembered in Shillong as the day of the bravest of the brave with the heart rending call of the bugle playing the last post and bidding farewell to a great hero, Clifford Nongrum.

Triumph or disaster in war depends more on morale than on physical qualities as nothing can compensate for lack of courage and the will to resist. Clifford, a product of Don Bosco and thereafter St. Anthony’s College, Shillong where great weightage is given to develop sterling character qualities, honed his martial qualities in the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai. The traditional rule of conduct in the Army of the honour of the country coming always first, followed by the safety of his men and own safety coming always last, smoothly fitted into his new lifestyle. Always a first volunteer for any tough, challenging missions even in the Siachen Glaciers, he soon became the showpiece commando of 12 Jammu & Kashmir Light Regiment. His Regiment was part and parcel of old state forces of Kashmir and the large-scale encroachment of their land in Kargil caused much anger in the rank and file. He oozed vitality and infused others with the same vitality when on a mission and above all, had the implicit loyalty of all under his command. He was a rare breed without any enemy and his upbringing was such that no meanness ever touched him. In his loss, the Nation lost a future Chief.

There was pin drop silence in the historic, dazzling investiture hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi on April 11, 2000, when the Nation greatefully acknowledged the daring contributions and sacrifices of a young captain from Meghalaya by conferring on him the gallantry award of Maha Vir Chakra. The MC narrated the graphic details of the operation on Pt 4812 on the night of June 30 and July 1, 1999 and the dare devilry of Captain Nongrum, while his father stood in front of the President to receive the Medal for Valour.

Pt 4812 was occupied stealthily during the winters and strongly defended by a contingent of approximately 50 Pakistani regulars and mujahideens. They had enough time and resources to fortify their position and made the peak almost impregnable. Tangled masses of boulder-strewn ridges ran down from the Peak and these ridges were all covered by effective fire. They had well entrenched interconnected firing positions and shell proof bunkers carved out of huge boulders and rocks. In short, it was immune to even direct firing Bofors guns. The Peak was naturally protected by a cliff, a near impossible climb from the south easterly direction.

Captain Nongrum as usual was the first to volunteer for the difficult mission to capture the Peak at 15000ft with his Charlie Company and characteristically chose to assault from the southeasterly direction, the most difficult one with a 150ft high cliff barring the approach to the Peak. The choice was deliberate after a detailed ground reconnaissance and marking the route to the base of the cliff. He planned the movement to the base of the cliff in such a way that the half moon emerged by then to assist in the climb. The General saw off the assaulting troops at the forming up place and promised to have a hot breakfast at the Peak. The General projected the brave front of a mighty Army, knowing fully well that not all of them would meet at breakfast the next morning. With a melting heart, he shook the hands of each one of them — so young and so full of fight.

As the night fell, they moved off silently to the base of the cliff, climbing higher and higher in the total darkness. As the half moon emerged by midnight, Clifford was first to tackle the cliff in the bitter toe chilling cold, silently beckoning others to follow his footholds. His uncanny ability to select a foothold on the cliff in the half moonlight and the confidence others reposed on his capability saw the whole bunch at the top of the cliff after a couple of hours. Total surprise was achieved with no interference from any quarters. The enemy had no knowledge that the cliff was not protecting anymore.

Suddenly all hell broke loose — the assaulting column stumbled onto an early warning post behind a huge boulder on the precipitous narrow ridge leading to the Peak Pt 4812. The enemy brought down heavy automatic and artillery defensive fire on the column as parachute flares lit up the dark night. The whole assaulting column got pinned down and the firefight continued for the next two hours. It was a stalemate. There was another hour for the dawn to break and by then every thing would have been lost — his fighting column would be sitting ducks on that narrow ridge. The lives of a hundred good men depended on his next move. Clifford assessed the situation dispassionately and realized the utter futility of firing at the enemy fortifications. He had promised the General victory and victory it would be — and boldly charged with a small detachment through the volleys of fire directed on them, closed in and threw grenades in the enemies frontline bunkers killing six enemy soldiers. He was foremost in the hand-to-hand fighting which took place in utter darkness and like a man possessed repeatedly engaged the enemy with grenades and bayonet. His gallant leadership and fearless charging against heavy fire stunned the enemy and undoubtedly saved the situation when the column was pinned down between the cliff and the enemy fortification. The column now rose like one man to crumble the enemy fortifications. In the close combat that followed, Clifford was hit by a volley of bullets while trying to silence the universal machine gun firing at his boys. He continued firing and fighting till the objective was cleared of all enemies and personally hoisted the tri-colour over the command post of the enemy. Though grievously wounded Captain Clifford refused to be evacuated for emergency medical intervention till the situation stabilized and there was no threat of any counter attack. Gradually as the fighting petered out, the Captain started losing his strength and rested his head on the flagpole flying the Tricolour. He died holding on to the flagpole with the flag flying high at 15000ft. Even in his death, he looked magnificent and invincible; as if saluting the flag and beckoning all others to follow him.

The incisive high altitude operation that the Captain so brilliantly and successfully led with very few fatal casualties on that crucial night to capture a strongly held enemy position of vital importance in the Kargil war, virtually strangulated enemy’s network of resistance and effectively blocked supply routes to other fighting positions. The resistance gradually but The incisive high altitude operation that the Captain so brilliantly and successfully led with very few fatal casualties on that crucial night to capture a strongly held enemy position of vital importance in the Kargil war, virtually strangulated enemy’s network of resistance and effectively blocked supply routes to other fighting positions. The resistance gradually but surely crumbled and most significantly, lost their appetite to fight after the fall of Pt 4812 leading to ceasefire offer on July 10 from Pakistan. Twenty-six Pakistani soldiers were killed in this operation and as per the last instruction of the Captain; all of them were buried in a solemn ceremony befitting a soldier with full Islamic rites. This was insisted by the Captain in spite of unparadonable disfigurement done to our dead by the other side and their turning back on their own dead to prove to the international community that Pakistani troops were not involved in Kargil. The warrior from Meghalaya remained a gentleman to his last breath. Such acts of valour and compassion are indeed very rare in the military history of the world — it was just out of the world.

surely crumbled and most significantly, lost their appetite to fight after the fall of Pt 4812 leading to ceasefire offer on July 10 from Pakistan. Twenty-six Pakistani soldiers were killed in this operation and as per the last instruction of the Captain; all of them were buried in a solemn ceremony befitting a soldier with full Islamic rites. This was insisted by the Captain in spite of unparadonable disfigurement done to our dead by the other side and their turning back on their own dead to prove to the international community that Pakistani troops were not involved in Kargil. The warrior from Meghalaya remained a gentleman to his last breath. Such acts of valour and compassion are indeed very rare in the military history of the world — it was just out of the world.

The ghost of Major Warren - Col Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
Very few would like to talk to an old man like Ajit Datta and was rather surprised when Babli, one fine morning said that Antu had rung up the evening before to speak to me when I had already retired for the day. So came to know her interest in supernatural activities and told her the story that Bhaity da had once told me about one beautiful mishing nurse who became a skeleton in the anatomy department and haunted the mortuary during the great war and thereafter till the skeleton crashed down once from the bel treetop that it used to frequently climb up on the darkest nights of the month and gave out a tatufalla scream , creating untold fear of the unknown amongst the medical student community. The dibrugarh medical college was then a hospital catering for the wounded of allied troops fighting the japanese in Burma. Hopefully Antu has expanded the story and made it readable for her readers. And now we come back to lansdowne from Dibrugarh. 
Lansdowne originally known as Kaludandha (black mountain) became a cantonment in 1887 and as the norm those days British officers constructed their own bungalows mostly as replicas of own houses back home in England. Major Warren also constructed a house right at the end of the ridge line with a sheer cliff next to his stable. His house was unique in the sense that there was not a single door only long French windows to discourage ladies from socialising.  He was a diehard soldier with only soldiering as his passion and just passionate about training of recruits and transforming them to killing machines. He was the chief instructor in the recruit training centre of Lansdowne.
And then came the first world war 1914-18 and Warren with his Garhwal rifles were deployed in France when one rainy night while attacking the germans he was found missing in the battle of Festubert and his body was never recovered even after minute searches in the muddy trenches of the battlefield.
Apparently same rainy night at Lansdowne it was whispered that one of his white chargers bolted from the stable and jumped down the cliff never to be found again. No remains were found at the bottom of the cliff. But locals started seeing an apparition of a horse rider somehow and somewhat reminding them of major Warren! Just a blink and it is not there.
There was terror in the eyes of recruits as the apparition of the horseman was seen in number of occasions especially during forced night marches. Stragglers were chased off by the horseman and training standards improved due to strict supervision of the ghost who rode the white charger. This reign of terror continued till a night when a recruit opened fire on the ghost out of panic and the ghost furious at such insult by a recruit, rode fast to the stable of Warren and jumped off the cliff never to be seen again.
We stayed at Warren's bungalow in1987 to 89 when posted as deputy commandant of the training centre. The legend continues and some still swear seeing major Warren on his horse. But just a blink and it is not there.
- Col. Ajit Datta

THE DEATH OF AK-47 - Col Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
 “You might have missed the Kargil front  
But your are there in the banking front                 
Risk to own life you have not counted                
To save the lives behind the banking front                
Shot and volleys were aimed and fired                
To hold and thwart the advancing enemy                
Hard as a rock you stood at the post               
And an inch of ground you have not lost                
The courage that you have shown                 
Will last in our memories till the last”
So sang the felicitation of the Bank Association on the Bravery Award to the Bank Guard for an outstanding display of courage beyond the call of duty in defending the staff and assets of his branch in the hills against the onslaught of AK-47 gun totting militants who came to loot and kill - on an eventful summer morning a few years back.  Traditionally, the public sector banks employ ex-servicemen as bank guards to protect assets and have approximately 40,000 ex-servicemen in their payroll.  These bank guards are armed with double-barreled shotgun, which requires reloading after two cartridges are fired. Introduction of modern weapons in the banking industry has its inherent drawback. Criminals and Insurgents will be more attracted by the modern weapon under the custody of a single guard than the availability of cash in the bank! This is a story of effectiveness of 12-bore shotgun against AK-47 and the willingness to fight and the sheer grit of a single bank guard against overwhelming odds. It would be interesting to note that in spite of proliferation of automatic and lethal modern weapons, the American Mafia still prefers the sawn off double barreled shotgun to create shock and awe against their adversaries in time of need. It is the favourite of their hit men.

There was a spurt in bank robberies in and around the city just after the winters in the millennium year and all bore the trademark of a local underground outfit. A day earlier of the attempted dacoity, the bank branch had received Rs.30 lakhs for salary payment of teachers and apparently it was public knowledge because of the notice in the local treasury that payment to teachers would be made by the local bank on the very next day. This attracted the local militant group and notices were sent to few owners to commandeer their taxis from the market. The owners had very little choice but to comply and relinquish their control.

That fateful morning, the Bank Guard’s sixth sense warned him of impending trouble as the branch opened for business and he knew that he would be the primary target of miscreants if he failed to use his shotgun first against AK-47 gun totting militants. He might not get another chance unless he grabbed the initiative.
The 12-bore shotgun was good and fired well in the practice session held recently in the firing long range of the Army. There was tremendous confidence in the gun and the gun literally responded to his wishes.
A grey, isolated two storied RCC building with a big compound on the outskirt of the town housed the bank branch with two armed policemen on the balcony of the top floor and the Bank Guard at the ground floor near the main entrance gate, a collapsible one.  The canteen lady had just given him a glass of tea and a rice cake and his gun was in between his knees.  It was 11.30 a.m and a cool summer day.  Suddenly, he saw two black ambassador taxis and a jeep coming in a convoy very fast towards the bank premises.  One ambassador taxi jam-packed with seven youths with weapons screeched to halt just yards away from the main entrance. He instinctively took firing position and when he saw them getting down with weapons and yelling “hands up, hands up”, deliberately fired at the windscreen of the ambassador taxi to create maximum effect and also to unnerve the occupants.  There was a big boom as the shotgun went off and hit the front windscreen of the taxi, shattering it. There was panic in the eyes of the driver and others in the front seat as the windscreen collapsed and glass pieces bloodied their faces.  One of them came out firing towards him with AK-47 and others in the second taxi dismounted hurriedly to open up with AK-47s and carbines.  He fired another shot at the rushing militant’s legs but missed and hit the padlock on the collapsible gate.  Two of the miscreants were bleeding heavily in the taxi and others had dispersed firing wildly and had taken position behind the perimeter brick-wall on the edge of the main road. 
The two Police guards on the balcony on top could not move as they were neutralized by suppressive fire of AK-47s. There was chaos in the banking hall as the staff and customers ran for cover under the tables and a few even locked themselves in the toilet.  Soon the building was pock marked with hundreds of bullet holes.  In spite of the two shots fired from inside, the Bank Guard saw the same frail looking youth rushing towards him with AK-47 blazing away.  His astonishing courage amazed him. He coolly retreated to the adjoining canteen room to reload his shotgun and saw the canteen staff cowering under the dining table and gave them a smile of assurance.
The Branch Manager at that very moment was standing and conversing with the SDO on telephone when he saw through the office windows the taxis rushing towards him. Simultaneously all hell broke loose with a cacophony of shotgun booms and AK-47 firing.  Two militants jumped into the banking hall, one with a pistol and another with AK-47. The AK-47 wielding one saw the Branch Manager through the office door, took aim, fired a burst and shot him on the thigh.  The bullet went through the Branch Manager’s chair and if he had been sitting, the injuries could have been fatal.  He then turned towards the Bank Guard as he came out from the canteen after reloading the shotgun and fired but missed him.  The automatic burst hit the water filter instead. Now it was the turn of the Bank Guard. He had seen him firing at the Branch Manager and in cold rage fired from his hip.  The shot hit the AK-47 wielding youth in the stomach and there was disbelief in his eyes as he staggered out dropping his AK-47 and holding on to his intestines. The shot had perforated the whole stomach.  Apparently he was the gang leader and seeing his condition, others were stunned by the unbelievable turn and fled away in panic leaving their vehicles. The Bank Guard admired the raw courage of the youth who rushed him with AK-47 and controlled him from firing another shot. He knew the battle was over.  The wounded youth staggered out alone, deserted by his gang of 21 and rolled down the depression near the bank building, only to be concealed from view by the brown thickets.
The miscreants, 21 of them went through the local market brandishing and firing their AK-47s, carbines and pistols and disappeared into the pine forests, leaving their wounded colleague behind.  None dared to follow the heavily armed gang. In the lull of the firefight, moaning was heard from thickets in the depression but none volunteered to go and search for the wounded one, fearing that he might be armed with AK-47.  It was the Bank Guard who volunteered to go down and look for the wounded militant in the thickets of the depression.  The badly wounded moaning youth was found and carried up by the Bank Guard to the bank compound.  Unfortunately, the stomach wound was grievously fatal and he breathed his last after having a few drops of water from the Bank Guard. AK-47 died in the crook of the right arm of the Bank Guard, the trigger finger now supporting his forehead. The hunted became the hunter and the hunt was over.
The call for Azadi is very romantic for the youth and many fall for the glamour of the call not realizing the ground realities of armed conflict that weapons can cause brutal and bone crushing deaths.  A well-trained motivated armed man can stall onslaught of scores of romantic youth armed with modern weapons as proved in this episode of armed conflict of 15 minutes.  Eventually it is the experience and training one undergoes that turn the tide at a critical juncture.
The Bank Guard was awarded Rs.50,000/- for his courageous performance in resisting the onslaught of 21 militants armed with modern weapons and safeguarding the lives of the bank staff and banking assets.  He still regrets the loss of life of the young militant and seeks forgiveness from the Almighty. His gallantry has already become folklore to inspire others to emulate and also imposing caution amongst the underground elements. An armed man must be respected, whatever weapon he carries.
Based on a true story.
AJIT DATTA

Fangs of Death - Col Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
It was almost the end of the Second Great War with the Japanese Army virtually fighting a losing cause around the hilly town of Kohima against the allied armies of the British Empire and the Americans.

The bombings, explosions, movement of troops and vehicles through the thick rain forests of the foothills in Assam, disturbed the home stalking grounds of many great majestic cats — The Royal Bengal Tigers. Even in the thick jungles, the Royal Bengal Tiger is a solitary cat preferring to hunt alone. The distinctive black stripes on a yellow gold coat serves as an excellent camouflage while hunting and hunting was always against the prevailing wind and to the rear of the prey. The big cat hunts at night, stalking large animals such as buffalo, boar, deer and is even known to eat crocodiles, frogs, monkeys and, surprisingly, even rats. The home stalking territory of the big cat ranges from 40 to 50 kilometres and besides body waste, scratches on the tree barks mark the territory. The ravages of the ranging war forced the wildlife to migrate to more peaceful and quiet surroundings.

In the absence of wildlife and the dwindling population of potential prey, a large number of these big cats moved closer to the human habitats in adjoining tea gardens. Some such tea gardens where the predators moved in were Kanubari, Salkathoni and Sapekhati. The loss of livestock within labour colonies became a regular affair as these predators struck repeatedly to satisfy their hunger. It was a classic case of human encroachment into wildlife territory inviting massive retaliation from the victims. The conflict has resulted in Royal Bengal tigers becoming an endangered specie scaling for special protective measures. There are hardly 4,000 now, mostly in Eastern India and Bangladesh, and these figures are dwindling due to uncontrolled poaching.

There was a small settlement of Nepali immigrants near the crossing of Dhodar Ali and the then non-existent road to Sapekhati through a thick forest. Now of course the new settlements on both sides of the road have chased away the forests beyond one’s sight. These Nepali settlers earned their livelihood by growing sugarcane in the adjoining fields, extracting jaggery and selling the products in the weekly local haat.

One such Nepali settler, Jhum Bahadur was fast asleep under the full moon wrapped in a thick black blanket on a makeshift bamboo cot near the cowshed, which was another makeshift bamboo construction. He was in a dream world of his own, with his family in a small village next to a sparkling mountain stream. The stream bifurcated around a huge gray boulder, with children crowding over the narrow top, taking their turn to jump into the deeper end of the stream. Suddenly he felt as if he was being dragged into the fast flowing water by an unseen force, creating immense terror in his heart. He woke up with a start, with his heart in his mouth and felt an excruciating pain in his temple, as if someone was driving nails into his head. Apparently a big cat had taken a fancy to the sleeping form wrapped up in the blanket, dug his fangs in but could not have a proper hold because of the blanket. As he was dragged away from his bamboo cot, the growling, the stench of death and clawing made terror explode in his throat. The terrified screams shook the nearby bamboo grove and there was a momentary pause in the dragging coupled with a slackening of the grip over his head. Obviously the big cat was also perplexed by the terrified scream and momentarily slackened the jaws. Jhum Bahadur just managed to extricate his head from the jaws of death and slithered out of the black blanket, bleeding profusely from head to toe. In the dim moonlight he stared into the eyes of the tiger a couple of feet away, shielding the terror automatically with his hands. At that fraction of second, other settlers came to his rescue as they came rushing towards him, raising a hue and cry. The massive Royal Bengal with Jhum Bhadadur still under him, looked towards the onrushing crowd with disdain, pirouetted like a professional dancer and jumped majestically over a few of them to disappear into the forest. Jhum Bahadur had a miraculous escape to recover completely after a month’s stay in Mission Hospital but minus his hair. He had lost most of his hair in the great struggle with the Royal Bengal. He also lost his name, only to be called Bagh Bahadur. The hungry roar of the tiger, which could be heard five km away in the stillness of the night made him clutch his khukhri tightly for many more days to come. The stench of death also lingered for many more days.

The Royal Bengal struck again in the labour colony of adjoining tea garden Salkathoni. A labourer’s mother had gone to the nearby jungle to collect firewood never to return. A thorough search of the area revealed a torn, blood stained sari worn by her and pugmarks of the big cat near a small jungle spring. Apparently she had intruded unknowingly into the big cat’s resting place near the water hole. The half eaten skull of the victim was also found in a ditch near the water hole. The Bengal Tigers have colossal appetite and can consume 30 to 35 kg of raw meat in a night of festive hunting, mostly commencing from the hind quarters of the prey. But considering the weight ranging from 250 to 300 kg for a full-grown tiger, the feast appears to be normal. As a matter of interest, the big cat can grow up to nine feet in length, excluding the tail.

The man-eater again struck near Kanubari Tea Estate on the trolley track. A trolley man while repairing one of the loose patches was attacked from the rear. A lunge on his shoulder and his stomach was ripped wide open by a huge paw. He fought with his shovel and managed to extricate himself, only to die the very next day in the Mission Hospital.

Yet another most unlikely victim was a domestic animal. Another Nepali settler’s horse that used to pull the cart to the local market. The poor horse, a favourite of his master, bled to death as the pointed fangs of the big cat penetrated the jugulars in the makeshift bamboo stable.

The frequent mauling and killings created huge fear psychosis amongst the local population and there was panic everywhere. The panic was so heavy that it could be sliced through with a razor. All avoided movement in the darkness. Even in the daytime, movement was in groups. It was in this scenario that the Jim Corbett of Sapekhati, Deben Dutta intervened. Shikar was his passing and with his savage rifle he had already killed nine tigers, out of which three were man-eaters. An intrepid hunter, who hunted alone on foot and even had his own forest in Sapekhati extending towards the hills. The small savage Rifle, American make with six rounds in the magazine, fitted his lean, wiry stature naturally and responded to his wishes accurately. He was not unaware of the predator’s killing spree in the vicinity. In fact, once, he narrowly missed getting the better of the big cat.

After the killing of the old lady who had gone to collect firewood from the forest, the Manager of Salkathoni had requested him to shoot the big cat. The telltale pugmarks on the soft and humid jungle trail indicated the entry and exit points of the tiger. A bait in the form of a goat was kept tied in the vicinity of these points and surveillance was mounted for many nights from a labourer’s hut nearby. Deben Dutta would sit on a night long vigil on a wooden stool near a hole made in the wall of the hut. But for many a night, the vigil proved to be futile. Almost on the verge of exhaustion by the long vigils at night, the disturbances in the adjoining cowshed woke him up with a start on the fateful night. He could just about see a black shadowy figure snatching the goat and disappearing into the darkness of the forest. A hurried but futile shot woke up the whole colony and on the torchlight, the pugmarks of the man-eater were clearly visible. The tiger also carried the goat away, tarnishing Deben’s reputation as an intrepid shikari.

It was a cold winter morning as the messenger from Kanubari brought the news of another killing by the big cat. A buffalo was waylaid and killed inside the tea garden as the herd was coming back to the labourer’s colony after grazing in the fields. It was pulled into a ditch near the tea bushes but was abandoned there itself as the labourers raised a hue and cry. As luck would have it, the vintage jeep started at the first call and he was with the Manager just before nightfall. Inspection of the site where the buffalo lay dead in the ditch convinced him that the big cat would come back for a feast within a few hours. The nearest tree was a hundred yards away and there was no time to make an improvized platform for his safety while taking on the big cat. He dispersed the crowd of bystanders and chose a high ground with tea bushes about 25 yards away from the ditch. He lay down on his stomach in between the tea bushes and checked his firing position with the savage on his right shoulder. He could not see a thing as a couple of tea bushes obstructed his view of the buffalo in the ditch. In those twilight hours, in order to have a better view for shooting, he broke few twigs, branches of the tea bushes and even had to pluck a sizeable heap of tea leaves. It was not a very pleasant experience, with the man-eater in the vicinity, half expecting the man-eater to jump on his back as he plucked tea leaves. He finished clearing his field of fire and prayed that the wind would not carry his scent to the man-eater. And waited quietly, still on his stomach. Even the crickets went silent in anticipation.

He dare not let his concentration wander after the great fiasco at Salkathoni though his body ached with the prolonged exposure on the ground amidst the tea bushes. Just waited for the faintest of indication — the brushing of the coat against tea leaves or soft padded paws breaking a twig. After a while he heard a dry twig snapping and then total silence. The rifle was quietly brought to the shoulder, finger on the trigger and a long breath to stop all involuntary body movements. At that very moment the wind changed direction and he could distinctly smell the presence of the man-eater along with the putrid smell of the carcass. In the darkness he could just about see the shadow of the big cat majestically circling the carcass of the buffalo. Suddenly the dazzling, yellow eyes turned towards him, as if to question his presence and audacity. The tiger crouched to jump on him. Automatically his brain sent a signal — now and the finger squeezed the trigger.

The crouching jump was stalled in mid air as the bullet flew true and straight in between the eyes of the great predator and the jump ended on the tea bushes a few yards away from the hunter. The death throes coupled with angry roars uprooted a number of tea bushes. The tail lashed on his head number of times before it stopped moving. It was a very close call and a fraction of delay would have resulted in a different story.

The tiger was a huge one touching almost nine feet excluding the tail. Eight labourers were required to lift it from the ditch. Bagh Bahadur came all the way to help in skinning and also to take home few kg of the man-eater’s meat for consumption of his family. He kept on touching his baldpate as he skinned the tiger and applied salt to preserve the skin. An apt retribution if ever there was one. The Manager of Kanubari Tea Estate laid a claim to the skin as a great trophy and sent it for expert tanning to Calcutta. The great trophy now adorns a mahogany wall of a big teahouse in London. But so far, the story remained untold.

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