“Quartered in snow, silent to remain. When the bugle calls, they shall rise and march again.”
– the scroll of honor at the Indian Army Siachen base camp reads.
One of the highest military bases in the entire world, the Siachen glacier is the largest alpine glacier that has nearly two trillion cubic feet of ice all year round. And amid this treacherous climatic conditions stay our Indian Army, protecting us from our immediate and most hostile neighbors, Pakistan, day in and day out.
It was amid such icy heights that Naib Subedar Bana Singh fought the battle of his life and won India yet another stand-off against Pakistan and inscribed his name in golden letters in India’s history.
One of India’s only three living Param Vir Chakra awardees – the highest military honor of the nation – Bana Singh’s dedication towards winning one of the biggest faceoff’s for India is marked by extreme valor and dedication towards one’s duty and one’s nation.
It all started in the 1970s, when Pakistan started issuing permits to the foreign mountaineers to climb around the Siachen glacier, portraying it as a part of the Pakistani territory. In fact, Pakistan might also have succeeded in creating a Pakistan-China corridor, threatening the Ladakh region, had the Indian intelligence not unearthed this prospective plan. As per reports, the Pak army had also started making bulk orders for specialized mountain training in the UK.
All these hostilities high up in the icy terrain of the Karakoram range gave way to the India-Pakistan stand-off at the Siachen Glacier in 1987.
In May 1987, a reconnaissance patrol under young Lieutenant Rajiv Pande was gunned down by the Pakistanis, killing nine soldiers and leaving only three survivors. Thereafter, Major Varinder Singh of 8 JAK- LI battalion was given the responsibility of leading a company of selected soldiers up a treacherous 1500 feet ice wall from Point Sonam, an Indian Army post at at 19,600 feet that is surrounded by crevasses. Their task – Operation Rajiv – was to recapture the impregnable glacier fortress of the Quaid post and retaliate to the attack.
Now, this group was divided into two smaller groups, who would go in turns to establish India’s supremacy over the said region. The party led by Subedar Harnam Singh was the first one to go but they faced heavy firings from the Quaid Post, which is why they had to retaliate. A second party was sent right after but they lost all contacts with the main team soon after.
It was then that Naib Subedar Bana Singh was sent along with just two other soldiers to lead the attack. However, the health of the two soldiers started failing due to the extreme weather conditions and had to be sent back. Bana Singh alone had to stay put in the open for the entire day till reinforcement came the next day in form of five soldiers.
It was then that the exaggerating mission started. The troop of five soldiers led by Bana Singh started climbing the near vertical wall of ice under blinding snowfall. On their mission, they stumbled upon the carcass of the nine comrades, which made them all the more determined to establish India’s control over the impregnable fort once again.
Their success in reaching the enemy bunkers at the top has been etched in history as a favorable example of high altitude warfare. And they were not done yet. Caring the least about their personal safety, they clamored through the fire zone, attacking the enemy with grenades and bullets. Using hand-to-hand combat, they also bayoneted the enemy soldiers outside the bunker.
In fact, Singh personally threw grenades into the bunker before closing the door, killing the six Pakistani soldiers holed up in the bunker and clearing the post of all infiltrators. It was later found out that the soldiers who Singh had slayed were from Pakistan’s elite Special Services Group, Shaheen Company.
To let their victory be known to both India and Pakistan, Singh and co. turned the guns (which were till now facing the Indian side in the southern direction) towards the Pakistani side in the north. Thereafter, they used the Pakistani stove in the bunker to make some rice — the first meal they had in three days. And this is how Bana Singh led his valiant men towards winning one of the most important military face-offs the world has ever seen amid such formidable weather conditions.
Bana Singh continued to serve the Indian Army – the only person to have served the Army even after being awarded with the PVC – till 2000, a year after Kargil War. Singh quietly retired after 32 years of exemplary service to the nation and returned home to Kadyal, the small village in Jammu where he was born. Carrying his legacy further, Bana Singh’s son Rajinder Singh is now serving the country by being a part of the Indian Army.