Kyle Hockenberry’s quote “For those I love I will sacrifice” holds very apt for one of the most confident and courageous Officers of the Indian Army, Major Sanjay Chauhan, Shaurya Chakra.
A tall and fair college student stood staring at an Army Officer in uniform in August 1989 on Platform Number 1 of Chandigarh Railway Station as both awaited the Shatabdi Express to New Delhi which would be arriving any moment.
This college student would go on to become one of the bravest Officers of the Indian Army, Major Sanjay Chauhan, Shaurya Chakra.
As Sanjay looked adoringly at the Army Officer in uniform while the rains lashed Chandigarh Railway Station, he dreamt of wearing this haloed and pious uniform. He gathered courage and walked up to the Army Officer. After introducing himself, he asked the Army Officer as to how he could join the Army. The Officer told him about Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun.
Sanjay belonged to the peaceful and beautiful town of Solan, Himachal Pradesh. None of his friends and relatives were in the Army. Sanjay did his schooling and Bachelor of Science from Solan. He was good in studies and was a good sportsman too in school and college.
After completing his graduation, he was selected for post-graduation in Chemistry on scholarship in Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.
When Sanjay had met that Army Officer in Chandigarh Railway Station, he was going back to the University after the Eid holidays.
After reaching Aligarh, Sanjay started finding out more about the entrance exam for IMA Dehradun.
The entrance exam for IMA is one of the toughest in the world. Just 150 candidates are selected out of over 2 lakh students who give the exam. But Sanjay was determined that he had to join IMA and he started preparing in right earnest.
The toil of Sanjay bore fruit and on July 20, 1990 Sanjay reported to the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun as part of the 89 Regular Course.
Gentleman Cadet or GC Sanjay Chauhan was allotted Imphal Company and for next one and a half years, Sanjay worked very hard in IMA and soon made many good friends among his coursemates. His coursemates used to lovingly call him “Chau”. And this nickname stuck on forever.
Chau was very good in Cross Country and Athletics. His performance in the Camps was extra-ordinary and during camps he would always volunteer to carry the heaviest battle gear.
On December 14, 1991 Second Lieutenant Sanjay Chauhan was commissioned as an Officer in the Rajputana Rifles. The Rajputana Rifles or Raj Rif as it is commonly called, is one of the most brave and valiant Regiments of the Infantry of the Indian Army.
The first place of posting after commissioning of Chau was Lalgarh Jattan in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Seeing the motivation and dedication of Chau, the Commanding Officer of his Battalion made him the Ghatak Platoon Commander. Ghatak Platoon is also known as Commando Platoon. Chau started training the Ghatak Platoon and would war game various situations with the men under his command.
1n 1993 orders were recieved for the Battalion to be inducted in the Kashmir Valley. Just a few years ago, militancy had erupted in the Kashmir Valley. Knowing the challenges that lay ahead, Chau put in greater steam to train his Ghatak Platoon.
The Battalion moved to Chowkibal in the Kashmir Valley. Being the Ghatak Platoon Commander, Chau started collecting intelligence of the militants operating in the area under his jurisdiction. His intelligence network was praise worthy and he started operating in small teams and successfully started eliminating terrorists.
On October 22, 1994 Chau was to proceed on leave to his hometown in Solan. This leave was special as he was to get engaged to the girl, he was in love with, the lady of his dreams.
Just a day prior on October 21, 1994 credible intelligence inputs were received that about 70-80 militants would be congregating in the morning of 28 October 1994 in Village Lachimpora of Wariban Forest which fell in his area of operations.
Chau understood the importance of this input and knew that this was an ideal opportunity to eliminate maximum militants in one go. He immediately cancelled his leave and summoned his Ghatak Platoon. He made a fantastic plan and presented it to his Senior Officers. His plan was very bold and had great element of risks involved. But his Superiors had full faith in his abilities as he had many successes to his credit in the past one year that the Battalion had been deployed in Counter Insurgency Operations.
Chau was given the go ahead.
Chau along with his team of four soldiers, disguised themselves in the traditional salwar kameez and on top of it wore Pherens. Pherens are over-sized tunics. They wore Peshawari turbans as the headgear. Thus, they looked like the militants operating in the Valley. Chau and his men knew a bit of Pushto language so blending into the militant’s congregation would be easy.
At day break on October 29, 1994 Chau and his team, wearing the traditional attire with AK-47 assault rifles tucked under the Pherens, walked down the mountain spur to the Village ground where the militants had gathered. A Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and 20 men were the Reserve Party giving them cover from the mountain ridge above and were to come to their aid in case the situation so warranted.
Chau and his team reached the congregation and exchanged pleasantries with the militants gathered there. But their accent soon raised suspicion in the mind of few militants. Realizing that now was the opportune moment, Chau and his team opened fire and killed 17 militants on the spot. The other militants ran helter-skelter and then regrouped.
Meanwhile Chau and his team took cover in a small hill near the village. Soon 25-30 militants encircled them. Chau tried contacting the JCO of the Reserve Party for assistance but the radio communication did not get through.
Soon Chau and his team killed eleven more militants before they ran out of ammunition. The militants closed in and a hand-to-hand fight started. Chau and his team killed eight more militants bare handed before all of them were over powered and captured alive by the militants.
The militants then tortured all of them and cut them into pieces and stuffed them into gunny bags and then fled away.
Major Sanjay Chauhan and his team sacrificed their lives in the Service of the Nation with utter disregard to their safety, in the highest traditions of valour and bravery of the Indian Army.
For the conspicuous act of bravery Major Sanjay Chauhan was awarded the Shaurya Chakra which is the Nation’s third highest award in face of the enemy.
The Government of Himachal Pradesh installed a statue of Major Sanjay Chauhan, Shaurya Chakra in the main crossing of Solan as a tribute and testimony to the rich and brave legacy of the Officer who did the Nation proud by his selfless actions. In September 2020, the Statue was relocated to the entrance of Solan Cantt as the road on which it was initially installed was undergoing widening.
To quote the famous American author Francis Marion Crawford “They fell, but o’er their glorious graves, floats free the banner of the cause they died to save.”
We pay homage to Major Sanjay Chauhan, Shaurya Chakra. You shall forever remain in our hearts and memories and will always be a source of inspiration to all of us. Our prayers for your Eternal Peace.
About the Author
Lt Col JS Sodhi retired from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army and is an alumnus of NDA, Khadakwasla and IIT Kanpur. He is a M.Tech in Structures has also done MBA and LL.B and is a prolific writer and a public speaker. He features in the World Book of Records, London and the India Book of Records for his media contributions. He Tweets at @JassiSodhi24. The views expressed are personal.