Col HN Handa, the senior-most wounded officer of the 1965 Indo-Pak war,recounts how his leg was blown off and the unrest in the military hospital before Indira Gandhi's visit.
How old were you in 1965? Where were you deployed when the war began?
Since war seemed imminent, I requested I be sent to my regiment. Within three or four days of my reaching Bakloh, our unit moved to Samba via Pathankot, where we stayed for a few days. Subsequently, in August or a little before, we moved to Srinagar.
By August, the Pakistanis had infiltrated into Kashmir under the operation they codenamed Gibraltar.
Did your unit engage with the Pakistani infiltrators?
Once, while patrolling the road, our troops were attacked by a band of 30 Pakistanis. Our men were in three different trucks. They got off the vehicles, charged at them with khukuris and chopped off the heads of 29 of them. The fellow who was caught was an officer, a Captain of the Pakistan Army.
How come the Captain survived?
Some personality, this Col. Jamwal?
This must have been in September, as Pakistan launched its Operation Grand Slam by attacking the Chhamb-Jaurian area on the first day of that month.
Those weeks in September must have been tough on you all.
They couldn’t have permitted that.
He offered to inspect the weapons again. Within an hour, the weapons were tested in the firing range and the entire lot was classified as ‘unfit’. That night we got fresh weapons – SLR rifles and ammunition and we returned our older weapons. The entire night went into this.
With such antiquated weapons, weren’t the troops demoralised?
So when did you get injured and how?
But the ceasefire was announced at on .
You mean to say you went in totally blind.
Weren’t there mine sweepers?
Since the area had been charted out, there must have been a map.
Sounds callously careless?
You must have got knocked out of consciousness?
Were military hospitals under tremendous pressure because of the war?
The next morning they operated upon me. In Jammu, they had cut off a part of my foot. In Pathankot, they now severed it from the ankle.
My brother-in-law was in the VIP squadron of the Indian Air Force. He flew in an aircraft with a medical team. He told the commandant that he had the requisite permission to take me and other wounded to Delhi. But the commandant, upset with my wife, said, ‘Nothing doing. They will all go by the train.’
, and nobody had offered me a glass of water nor attended to my wound. (Chuckles) The commandant was rattled.This kind of petty politics existed even then?
Were all wounded in the 1965 war?
It sounds like a horror story.
It must have been agonising to wait.
Oh, come on.
I was the senior-most officer among the wounded. I went to the commandant of the Artificial Limb Centre, and I asked him when my prosthesis was to come. He said the waiting period was as long as six months. I told him I would write to the Army Chief saying that a senior Major and another 1,800-2,000 were waiting in the hospital for artificial limbs because its commandant, instead of producing them (the wooden ones), was busy getting furniture made for other officers.
Whom was he making the furniture for?
What happened during the unrest?
So after the unrest, did things become alright?
The lieutenant said, ‘Ma’am, have you come to do lip service or do you really want to know what is happening?’ When he said this, everybody turned around.
The lieutenant continued, pointing to the officers one by one, ‘This Military Secretary, this Adjutant General, this Army Commander, all of them have been coming to us. All that we ask them is: What is our future? Nobody is prepared to provide us an answer.’
But he didn’t stop there.
‘Second,’ he said, ‘my hand was amputated by this general (of the Army Medical Corps) standing here, ask him when has he come to check on me last. I have been telling him that gangrene is setting in. Yet he is not bothered.’ He disclosed to Mrs. Gandhi that he had disappeared from the hospital, went to Jaipur, had his hand checked and cleaned out and returned to Pune. ‘This is the kind of medical treatment I am being given by an officer of his rank.’
Indira Gandhi stormed out. There was hungama.
Things changed thereafter?
Where did you go?
An invalidated officer can’t join the government service. But the NIDC’s managing director re-hired me as a civilian. He took government sanction to employ me.
Were you given special benefits?
Which means you were two years short of opting for premature retirement?
When was Disabled War Veterans formed?
I guess you all must have been invited to the nearly one-month celebration of the 1965 war?
What do you mean? It is August 21 today and the celebrations are supposed to commence on Aug 28.
That sounds strange. There is supposed to be a carnival, music shows, exhibition….
Whom did it come from?