We all know that this year marks fifty years of the 1971 Indo – Pak war, which resulted in the liberation of East Pakistan and formation of Bangladesh. Throughout the year, many celebrations are being held to mark the Swarnim Vijay Varsh.
I had the opportunity to attend one such event myself. This event was held in Bengaluru and was organized by Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust. For the past few years, they have been organizing this event every year, to felicitate the Veterans of the 1971 war and also a few other inspiring people as well Veer Naris. This year, the event was held on 12th December 2021 at The Grand Magrath Hotel.
Welcome to the Event
The event was to begin at 1030 a.m. and upon reaching the venue, we were given the paper Marigold as India’s flower of Remembrance. The event started with a two-minute silence as a mark of respect to Gen Bipin Rawat, Mrs. Madhulika Rawat, Brig L S Lidder, Lt. Col. Harjinder Singh, Wg. Cdr. P. S. Chauhan, Sq Ldr K Singh, JWO Das, JWO Pradeep A, Havildar Satpal, Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitender Kumar, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar and Lance Naik Sai Teja who were killed in the IAF Mi-17 helicopter crash in Coonoor on 8th Dec. 2021.
Soon after that, our compere for the evening Mrs. Sangeeta Ravindran called upon Wg. Cdr, Girish, Managing Trustee of Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust. He highlighted the events that the Trust was involved in throughout the year which included being invited to various institutions like IIT Kanpur, Jain Institute and Acharya Institute of Technology for motivating students towards service to the nation.
He also spoke in brief about the collaborative research for advocacy work which included survey data and analysis from 18 states to help understand and address the gaps and challenges in access to entitlements and benefits with regards to the families of a fallen soldier. The said advocacy paper was reviewed by Gen Ved Malik, Gen J J Singh and Gen Sheketkar and submitted to Hon’ble Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh. Wg. Cdr Girish also informed us that this paper has also been published in the latest USI Journal (July to October 2021 issue).
He appraised the audience about how Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust had been involved in supporting services during the Covid pandemic such as distribution of masks and face shields, providing rations etc. They also provided oxygen fitted ambulance to Kannamangala Gram Panchayat during the second wave of Covid after they received an SOS from the said panchayat seeking their help.
Further, it was brought to our notice how the Trust had been able to provide support in the form of providing blankets, mattresses, cots, rations to Mr. Namgyal with the help of 51 Engineers Regiment. Mr. Namgyal who is 85 years old now, was a porter to Maj. Dhan Singh Thapa, Param Veer Chakra during the India China war in 1962. Apart from the above, the Trust was also involved in arranging support to Sheetal, a 15 year old teenager, upon a request from Rashtriya Rifles, Kishtwar region. Sheetal, who was born without arms dreams of completing her education. Arrangements were made for her to visit Bengaluru and now she has been provided with prosthetic arms. Special support was rendered by Shri Anupam Kher through his trust and BeingYou was extremely helpful in coordinating with the doctors for her surgery. In September, Wg Cdr Girish and his wife Mrs. Meghna Girish visited Kishtwar where they also meet Sheetal.
Moving on to the 1971 War
After the address of Wg. Cdr Girish Kumar, we were shown a documentary called ‘Vijay – A 1971 War Documentary’. This 30 min documentary has been created by Defence Direct Education and depicts all the events that led to the 1971 Indo Pak War starting from Awami league, Operation Searchlight, Formation of Mukti Bahini, Battle of Longewala, Operation Trident and Battle of Sylhet. It also includes footage from the events of the war and also interviews of a few 1971 War Veterans namely Wg. Cdr. Jai Singh Gahlawat, Maj Gen Ian Cardozo, Col. TNC Vijayasarathy, Col. Krishnamoorthy, Nb. Subedar C D Vijaykumar, Sub P Kuppam. This documentary was very well researched, edited and presented so as to enable us to give us an overview of the 1971 war in a very brief time and an engrossing way.
War Veterans of 1971
After the brief movie, Mrs. Meghna Girish was called up to felicitate the War Veterans of the 1971 war.
When we mention the 1971 War, we cannot miss talking about the Missing 54 (54 PoWs who never returned from the war). The families of these 54 men continue to wait, without knowing if their loved one is alive or not. These men left for the war, saying they would be back soon but their families continue to wait, with no end in sight for their wait.
Mrs. Damayanti Tambay is one of those people who still waits for the return of her husband 50 years after the war. She is the wife of Flt Lt. Vijay Vasant Tambay. That is not her only identity. She is a six times National champion in Badminton and she refused to play badminton till her husband’s return. Unfortunately, she never got a chance to play again as she still awaits the return of her husband. She is also an Arjuna Awardee and the President of the War Widows’ association in New Delhi.
Apart from Mrs. Damayanti Tambay, the other Veterans who were felicitated were Sepoy Nanjundaiah, who was a part of the war and battle casualty from 16 Madras, Rear Adm SR Sampath Gopal AVSM NM, who was on the missile boat INS Nipat during the famous Operation Trident, Brig S S Kanbargimath who was with Muktibahini right through the war and Pakistani surrender in Dhaka and Hav V M Gumkar who was part of the war with 26 Madras. These distinguished War Veterans were requested to answer a few questions. It was extremely intriguing to hear these distinguished Veterans speak about the action that they were part of, during the war. While one may have heard or read a lot about the War, hearing it directly from the people who were there, had seen it all and also bore the brunt of it by way of injuries was a totally different experience. Also, it was inspiring to hear Mrs. Damayanti Tambay speak. Despite all that she has been through, she is an epitome of positivity and resilience and comes across as a great source of support and motivation to anyone who may need it.
If we look around, there are many people whose lives are inspirational and these people may not be celebrities in any way. However, at an event that is commemorating Vijay Divas, we learnt about a few more Heroes from our Armed Forces.
Social Worker and Motivational Speaker Vikas Manhas, who hails from J and K and has been visiting families of fallen soldier since 1994 was invited to speak about our Inspiring Heroes.
The Heroes that he spoke about were:
- Naik Gura Singh, the sole survivor from the 30 soldiers of 13 Sikh Light Infantry who were heli-dropped at Jaffna University on 10th Oct 1987
- Col DPK Pillay Shaurya Chakra, currently a Research Fellow in Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses
- Capt. Naveen Nagappa, Sena Medal, a Kargil War Hero who sustained grave injuries during the Kargil conflict and took about twenty one months to recover.
- Capt. Tushar Mahajan Shaurya Chakra, a 9 Para SF officer who made the supreme sacrifice fighting terrorists in Pampore J&K on 21 Feb 2016
- Maj. Akshay Girish, an officer from 51 Engineers Regiment who made the supreme sacrifice fighting terrorists to save many lives in Nagrota on 29th November 2016.
We had the honour of seeing Naik Gura Singh and Capt. Naveen Nagappa being felicitated. Also present were Mr Dev Raj Gupta and Asha Gupta, parents of Capt. Tushar Mahajan who were felicitated for raising a braveheart son. A teaser of an upcoming documentary based on the life of Capt. Tushar Mahajan was also shown to us during Mr. Vikas’s address.
Few words of motivation
Following this felicitation, we were privileged to hear a few words of motivation from Capt. Naveen Nagappa. He humbly mentioned how while fighting in the Kargil conflict, they just followed what their Veterans had set to do in 1971. His message to the youngsters was that the baton was passed by the Veterans of 1971 to his generation of soldiers and officers and the same would be passed to the youngsters who are the future of the Nation. The onus was on them to take our Nation to great heights.
Inching closer to the end of the event, revered Chief Guest for the day Maj Gen RPRC Naidu, AVSM, VSM spoke a few words. He mentioned how selfless and motivated Maj Akshay Girish was and also how Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust stood for all that Maj Akshay did. His words made us very emotional and it seemed like a befitting tribute to our Hero.
The Youngest Star of the event
It is always a joy to interact with Ms. Naina, the cute and chirpy daughter of Maj Akshay Girish and Mrs. Sangeetha. But, one feels immense pride when one sees nine year old Naina fulfill the duties assigned to her. Ms. Naina gave the Vote of Thanks to everyone present on behalf of Maj Akshay Girish Memorial Trust. True to the legacy of the family, she walked up on the stage with utmost confidence and spoke her lines, without faltering even once. After an emotional morning filled with tales of heroism and sacrifices, her words got a smile on the faces of most of us in the audience.
It is only right that such an event which felicitated and remembered those who fought for our Nation and gave their all for protecting it, ends with the rendition of the National Anthem. Mrs. Maitreyi Sen, a music teacher from Noida who was in Bengaluru specially for the event was called upon the stage for the rendition of our National Anthem. We always stand for our National Anthem, prior to watching a movie, but the feeling of doing so in the presence of War Heroes is a different feeling altogether. It can just be experienced, not explained.
Thank you Maj Akshay Girish Memorial Trust and all its volunteers for organizing this wonderful event, even in these times of Covid protocols and restrictions and making it possible for the audience to be in the presence of some of our Real Heroes.
Major Akshay Girish, you continue to guide those who believe in you. Thank you!