A soldier in the 4th Grenadiers of the Indian Army, Havildar Abdul Hameed destroyed five Patton tanks of the enemy and went down fighting in the Khem Karan sector during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. He was posthumously awarded Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military honor. As India marks the 50th year of 1965 war, it’s time to ask if the nation has done justice to the memory of Havildar Abdul Hameed, the fearless martyr and the bravest of independent India’s war heroes
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom Harmandir Sahib, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar, hardly 60 kilo meters farther in the state highway 21 lies Asal Uttar. A few kilo meters before one reaches the modest hamlet, on the way side stands a brick red plaque, ‘Memorial of CQMH Abdul Hameed PVC’ written across (CQMH meant, Company Quarter Master Havildar and PVC, Param Vir Chakra, the country’s highest military honor).
There within a walled area, a narrow pathway lined by trees and shrubs leads to the actual memorial that houses Abdul Hameed’s grave. A tablet at the grave-head attests Abdul Hameed’s martyrdom for his motherland. The caretaker of the memorial says hardly anyone comes there on September 10, the death anniversary of arguably independent India’s greatest ever war hero, whose grit and valor had warranted the replacement of Pakistan’s medium Patton tank fleet of M48s with the main battle tank M60s.
It was on 27 December in 1954 that army number 239885, Abdul Hameed was enrolled into the Grenadiers infantry regiment. Subsequently he was posted in the 4th Battalion where he spent the rest of his service life. Initially he was with the anti-tank section. Five years later he was promoted and placed as in-charge of the quartermaster stores. Nevertheless, being the best shot with the 106 mm recoilless rifle, the battalion commander wanted him back as NCO of the rifle platoon.
On September 10 in 1965, the fiercest post-world war-II tank battle in memory was fought – the day Abdul Hamid died.
In early September Pakistan had launched an offensive to capture Akhnoor in Jammu. Severing the supply routes to the Indian forces at J&K border and communication lines were their main targets. India retaliated with air attacks, at the same time trying to open up a front in Punjab. On September 6 the 15th Infantry launched an offensive over the border near the west bank of Ichogil canal, but had to fall back on to Khem Karan due to astute Pakistani counter offensive. As a consequence, capturing the territory east of Ichogil canal and containing the attack on the Kasur-Khem Karan axis was entrusted to those sections of the 4th Division which included Abdul Hameed and comrades.
The Pakistan army dug in at Ichogil and on September 8 retaliated with heavy shelling and probing attacks on the Grenadiers. But the Grenadiers stood their ground; earlier in the afternoon Abdul Hameed had opened his account of destroying Patten tanks by spiking two of them. On the morning of September 10, the Pakistanis intensified the attack supported by their 100-strong Patton tank regiment. After an hour long pitched battle the Patton tanks succeeded in penetrating the Indian front lines.
As the situation was getting out of hand, Abdul Hameed realized that the nail head had to be hit then, and hit hard. Amidst intense shelling and tank fire, with his gun mounted on a jeep, he moved out to another flank and disabled two leading enemy tanks. While he was trying to knock out a third tank he was mortally wounded by a high explosive shell.
It took another three days for Pakistan’s 1st Armored Division, which was spear heading the attack, to find themselves in total disarray. Approximately 97 Pakistani Patton tanks were destroyed or abandoned. Abdul Hameed did not live to see the victorious end of the Battle of Asal Uttar (Befitting Response), but he had disabled five Patton tanks single-handedly, though his citation gives him credit for only 3. (Not many people know that social activist Anna Hazare had served in the same Division at that time transporting fire arms to the border.) Less than a week later he was awarded the highest military honor, the Param Vir Charka posthumously. During the 1966 Republic Day parade, President Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan presented the award to Abdul Hameed’s widow Rasoolan Bibi.
Rasoolan Bibi now lives in a modest two storeyed brick building in Dulhapur village near the Uttar Pradesh-Bihar border. A garlanded framed portrait of her late husband occupies the facing wall of the living room. Abdul Hameed’s younger brother too had fought in the 1971 war with Pakistan. As a matter of fact the family’s military lineage had an earlier beginning in Abdul Hameed’s father Lance Naik Usman Farooqi.
In 2008 Rasoolan Bibi had met President Pratibha Patil with the requests for a military recruitment center in Dulhapur, observing the day of her husband’s martyrdom at the national level and government jobs for her grandchildren.
Despite rare citations from political circles, a commemorating documentary (Param Vir Chakra, 1988) and a postage stamp (January 2000), the legacy of Abdul Hameed, the war hero, remains desolately unsung. In a memorial for the martyrs of the November 2008 terror attack on Mumbai, Amitabh Bachchan acknowledged that the only reason why the citizens of the country are able to unwind in their beds in peace is because the men (and women) of the forces kept watch ensuring that their sleep stays undisturbed. But then what have we offered in return for those who have lost all they had in the process?