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‘Didn’t know I’d live to get this’ — 1971 PoW, Vir Chakra awardee receives Vijay Mashaal torch

Brigadier Hamir Singh (Retd), who was a young captain during the 1971 war against Pakistan, was honoured as part of India’s celebrations to mark 50 years of the victory.

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New Delhi: On 14 December 1971, in the final days of the 13-day war for Bangladesh’s liberation, a young Army captain named Hamir Singh was captured by Pakistan during the battle of Daruchhian in Jammu and Kashmir. At the time, he had a severe bullet injury in his arm. 

The war ended two days later with Pakistan’s surrender. But it would be nearly a year before the Army officer would make his way back to India. 

After his return, Hamir Singh served the Army for two decades before retiring as Brigadier in September 1992. 

On Thursday, the Vir Chakra recipient, now 82, found himself travelling back to his exploits in the war as he received the ‘Vijay Mashaal’ — a symbolic torch meant to honour his role — as part of India’s Swarnim Vijay Varsh celebrations to mark 50 years of the victory against Pakistan in 1971. 

The year-long commemorations for the war’s golden jubilee began on 16 December last year as Prime Minister Narendra Modi lit the ‘Swarnim Vijay Mashaal’ from the eternal flame of the National War Memorial. 

Talking to ThePrint over the phone from Jaipur, the former Army officer said he was highly honoured to receive the Vijay Mashaal.

“Honestly, I didn’t know that I would live to get this honour, 50 years since then,” he said. 

Also Read: Indian Army had a ‘Ghost Regiment’. It spooked Pakistanis in 1971 and earned their praise

A family of Army officers

A third-generation Army officer, Brig. Singh was commissioned into the Grenadiers Regiment in December 1962. 

His grandfather, Lt Phool Singh, was an officer in the erstwhile Jodhpur Lancers and served in the First World War. His father Maj. Gen. Kalyan Singh was an artillery officer commissioned in the second field regiment and participated in the 1962 India-China war. 

In the subsequent years, he served as an instructor in the Nigerian Defence Academy, and commanded an Infantry Battalion and an Infantry Brigade.

His capture

Brig. Singh was part of the 1971 war as a company commander with 14 Grenadiers. 

When he was captured on the afternoon of 14 December 1971, his arm had bullet injuries that shattered his bones and severely damaged his radial nerve (injury to radial nerve can result in an inability to straighten one’s wrist). 

His sons — now serving Major Generals in the Army — were just five and seven years old at the time, Brig Singh said. 

For the next six months, the Army officer was to stay in a Rawalpindi hospital undergoing multiple surgeries. The subsequent months were spent in a small space he shared with multiple other Indian prisoners of war (PoWs).

“Honestly, I lost dates after that, but for nearly six months, I stayed at a hospital undergoing surgeries,” he said.

In June 1972, he heard that some PoWs were being sent back to India. While two of his colleagues were sent back, he was left at the hospital, all alone.

He then conveyed to the Red Cross staff that he wanted to be shifted to the camp where the remaining PoWs were lodged, citing the fact that his treatment was over.

He stayed at the camp until 1 December 1972 when he and the other PoWs were repatriated. 

His role in the war earned him a Vir Chakra, which is awarded for acts of gallantry in the presence of enemy.

As part of the 1971 war Golden Jubilee celebrations, the government is honouring the role of Indian soldiers. Among other things, four ‘Victory Mashaals (flaming torches)’ will be lit from the eternal flame at the National War Memorial and carried to various parts of the country, including villages of Param Vir Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra awardees of the war. 

Additionally, soil from these villages and areas where major battles were fought is being brought to the memorial. Various commemorative events are scheduled to be held around India at which war veterans will be felicitated.

Also Read: As a young captain in 1971 Bangladesh war, I gave Pakistan’s Lt-Gen the letter to surrender


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