The Heroes of Kargil - A Tribute

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Nachiketa is raring to go on next sortie

Eight days in Pakistani captivity have failed to dampen the spirits of Flt Lt K Nachiketa, who was handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah joint check post this evening. ''I am ready for the next sortie'', the pilot of the MiG-27 fighter jet which went down in the Kargil sector last month, quipped in a voice choked with emotion. In brief comments to the media, Nachiketa said, "I am not a hero, but a soldier. Every soldier in Kargil would have done just what I did." 

Air Vice Marshal Sashi Tyagi, along with senior officers of the air force, army and Border Security Force were present at the border to welcome Nachiketa with bouquets and garlands. The flight lieutenant was brought to the Pakistani side of the check post in two cars belonging to the Indian high commission at Islamabad at 1700 hrs. He was accompanied by J N Rai, a senior high commission officer, group captain S K Jaswant, and Captain Srikant, the air and naval attaches at the high commission. 

The Indian officials, after signing the necessary release documents on the Pakistan side of the JCP accompanied Nachiketa to the zero line and put him in the safe custody of the Indian officers at 1715 hours. As soon as he crossed the zero line Air Vice-Marshal Tyagi shook the flight lieutenant's hand and handed him a bouquet of flowers. Brig S Arora, representing the 15th Infantry division-incharge of the Amritsar sector was the next to greet the air force officer who was dressed in a half sleeve shirt and grey trousers. 

The flight lieutenant, with his head held high, told waiting reporters in a choked voice: ''I am fine and happy to be home'' as soon as he crossed the border line. The officer was immediately escorted to the BSF meeting hall where he was offered tea before being taken to Raja Sansi airport, from where he was flown to New Delhi. At the capital, he spent 15 minutes with the defence minister, George Fernandes, and is currently meeting the prime minister and President. 

Air Vice-Marshal Tyagi, who had flown to Wagah from the national capital, accompanied the flight lieutenant back to Delhi in an air force plane. When the air force convoy was leaving the JCP, a large number of spectators, who had come to witness the retreat ceremony shouted 'India zindabad, Nachiketa zindabad'. The flight lieutenant, who managed an occasional smile when talking to mediapersons and his fellow officers, appeared surprised by the fairly large number of people who had come to welcome him home. 

When questioned about his treatment at the hands of Pakistan, Nachiketa said it was fine but he refused to go into any further details. 

Courtesy: Rediff India  

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa Rao

Let's begin with a timeless tale, one that has been passed down from generation to generation in the great land of India. The hero of this tale is a young man by the name of Nachiketa. According to Indian history, he is the youth who goes to Yama, the Lord of Death, in order to discover the true meaning of Life. The dialogue between Nachiketa and the Lord of Death is contained in the immortal work, the Katha Upanishad. This work explains the most timeless question of all existence, "What lies beyond Death"? And it was Nachiketa who had the courage to confront even Death in his pursuit of the answer. In India, the mere mention of Nachiketa's name is instantly recognized as synonymous with the feeling of indomitable spirit, spiritual bravery and insurmountable courage in every human being.

It is no coincidence that the brave young soldier who is currently in the clutches of our enemy, holds the same name; Nachiketa. ( Nachiketa was released from Enemy captivity on 4th June 99)

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa Rao turned 26 today. He had no fatherly blessings, sisterly hugs or sweetmeats to celebrate the event. Nachiketa probably spent his birthday in a dark and dangerous Pakistani prison, mocked by jeers of Jihad and insults. He is probably remembering the moments before he crashed onto Pakistani ground and felt the clammy grip of Pakistani fingers as they held him down.

It was a gloomy day when Nachiketa had set out with his squadron to carry out another air strike against the Islamic terrorists who were holed up in the treacherous snow-clad terrain of India's Kashmir. The landscape is littered with dangerously rocky ridges and shadowy valleys, which greatly hamper maneuverability and ease of flight. The objective was simple; to repulse the attempt by Pakistani troops lurking on the mountains along the Line of Control. For almost a week they had been trying to infiltrate into sovereign India's territory. As he flew over the mountains an ominous mist surrounded his plane and Nachiketa realized that he was right on the edge of the Line of Control. As he began veering his aircraft back towards Indian territory a sudden sputtering clued him to the fact that his engine had died out in a burst of flame as his MiG-27 combat Jet developed mechanical failure. Was it mechanical failure or Pakistani fire that had disrupted the engine? Who knows...

The last words that his colleagues heard before he faded out were: " Nachi - engine flame-out, relighting.... Nachi ejecting now." and then an ominous silence. As Nachiketa parachuted down the dark ragged edges of the snow-clad mountains, the sky was lit a brilliant red by the giant explosion of his hapless aircraft. And then suddenly as he landed on the rocky surface, Nachiketa observed a speck in the sky. It was his fellow pilot, a daredevil squadron leader by the name of Ajay Ahuja, hovering over in his MiG-21 straining his eyes to catch sight of the landing area of his colleague.

Suddenly an explosion reverberated across the horizon, as Nachiketa recoiled in horror. A missile from the Afghani Mujahideen stockpile found its mark and hit Ahuja's plane. Ahuja frantically radioed his team leader Hercules one, "missile hit" his voice crackled and then again a deathly silence.

Nachiketa must have watched in anticipation as Ajay parachuted out of his aircraft to escape the flames. There was a resounding crack as Ajay broke his left knee during the fall, and then all of a sudden menacingly dark shadows dressed in Pakistani Army uniforms, were lifting their guns and shooting Ajay at point blank range. They fired not once but twice straight through his head and heart. As Ajay and the rules of the Geneva Convention lay in a pool of blood, Nachiketa raised himself to his feet and put all his strength into a break for escape. When the menacing outlines of the Pakistani soldiers started looming closer in pursuit, he drew out his 9-mm pistol and fired eight straight rounds at them with unfailing accuracy. How the Jehadi blood must have boiled at this intolerable insolence! There were far too many to run from and Nachiketa must have steeled himself to accept his fate with determination as the rough callused hands of the Islamic Jehadis grabbed him.

He was thrown into the dank confines of a Pakistani prison. On Friday, the Pakistanis in a venomous display of cruelty paraded him in front of journalists, including representatives of international news channels like BBC and Voice of America. As the obscene parade continued, he was not allowed to speak to the reporters as Pakistani army personnel kept him at least at a distance of about 30 feet. "There are certain procedures which have to be followed," the Pakistani officials told journalists, who waved at the Indian pilot. He was touted as a "Prisoner of war" regardless of the fact that no war had been declared. Journalists observed a huge large red welt deepening across his forehead as Nachiketa faced them with calm serenity and strength etched into every line of his face. "He is being treated well and taken care of" sneered the Muslims as the journalists' attempts to communicate with Nachiketa were rebuffed by them. Pakistan's Information Minister Mushahid Hussain 's face wore the same sneer as he commented on how Nachiketa was "safe and sound" and being treated according to "Islamic traditions of hospitality". Indeed the same traditions of Islamic hospitality must have been aroused in Pakistani breasts as they shot Ajay Ahuja at point blank range, in an act of utmost cowardice and depravation.

It is these same Islamic traditions of hospitality which translate into cruel extremes of torture and inhuman treatment. Was it not Prophet Mohammed who set the standard for these traditions when he had killed and murdered millions of Jews and Pagans taken prisoner by his terrorist army? But remember it is no coincidence that the young man who is in Islamic custody right now is named Nachiketa in the tradition of that ancient brave soul of India. Just as that Nachiketa walked calmly into the jaws of death and walked out unscathed, so too will this warrior.

The incident is described clearly in the Katha Upanishad. As Nachiketa asks Lord Yama the secret of death, he sees the brilliance inherent in the youth and replies in a voice filled with wisdom.

"The wise, realizing through effort

The Timeless Self beyond all perception,

Hidden in the cave of the heart,

Leave pain and pleasure far behind.

Those who know they are not mere body or mind,

But the infinite Self, the Divine

The essence of existence, they discover the source

of all joy and live in the truth of it forever.

I see the doors of joy are opening

for you, O Nachiketa...."

So too have the doors of joy and fame immemorial been opened for our brave Nachiketa of Indian Air Force. So too have the doors of joy opened for Ajay Ahuja who gave up his life in the Supreme sacrifice for his motherland. The name Ajay means "undefeatable" and even in his death squadron leader Ahuja has shown us the true meaning of this word. He was cremated with full military honors in a cremation ground in village Kili Nihal Singhwala near Bisiana air force station today. His brave four year-old-son Ankush helped by his relatives lit the funeral pyre in the presence of his widow Alka and a large number of Air Force personnel and civilians. His memory will spur us on to punish those cowards who try in vain to usurp our territory.

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Kargil War Heroes

 

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