It is shocking that Beijing has never returned the remains of Subedar Joginder Singh, Param Vir Chakra, who died in Tibet in November 1962
In recent months China has given a lot of publicity to several new war memorials which have come up in Tibet; this mushrooming is probably due the Galwan incidents in which the People’s Liberation Army lost some 45 men and officers in July 2020, although this information is still a state secret within China (it took months for Beijing to finally admit four Chinese had died in the brawl with Indian troops).
On May 6, China Tibet Net published pictures of the Lhoka (Shannan) Martyrs’ Cemetery. This sub-district of the Tibet Military Region (TMD) faces the northern borders of Bhutan and the western part of the McMahon Line, north of the Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh.
The article says: “Among the green pines and cypresses is the solemn Shannan Martyrs Cemetery, where are buried [the martyrs] of the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, the Tibetan rebellion, the Sino-Indian border self-defence counterattack, and the socialist revolution and construction in Tibet.”
More than 700 soldiers are said to be buried there.
Tibet’s so-called “peaceful liberation” should be read as the invasion of the Roof of the World; the Tibetan “rebellion” is the Tibetan masses’ uprising against the occupiers in March 1959 while “the self-defence counterattack” is the treacherous attack against India in October 1962.
Along with the memorial, “sculptures, manuscripts, pictures, certificates of merit, military medals… all cultural relics, silent and sacred, telling the infinite loyalty and love of revolutionary martyrs to the motherland and people.”
Similar memorials can be found in Gar and Tsanda in Ngari Prefecture (Western Tibet), in Rima (north of Kibithu in Lohit Valley) and of course in Lhasa and Shigatse; the most important one is Kanxiwar Memorial on the Highway 219 (Aksai Chin road) in Xinjiang, which pays homage to the hundreds of Chinese soldiers who lost their life in the battle of Rezang-la in November 1962.
While there is nothing wrong in China honouring its soldiers, it is shocking that Beijing has never returned the remains of Subedar Joginder Singh, Param Vir Chakra, who died in Tibet in November 1962.
What happened to Joginder Singh?
In the morning of October 20, 1962, a JCO of the Assam Rifles posted at Bumla, north of Tawang, noticed some 1,000 labourers, with digging implements; they came protected by Chinese soldiers. The JCO rushed to inform the nearby platoon of a possible danger.
Nothing happened till 4.30 am on October 23, when suddenly the Chinese started firing with mortars and anti-tank guns to destroy Indian bunkers built south of the international border, and soon 600 Chinese attacked the Assam Rifles post, which was quickly overrun, though after inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.
Subedar Joginder Singh of 1 Sikh Regiment was posted a few hundred meters away. According to the official report of the 1962 War: “The enemy attacked the forward platoon position of ‘D’ Coy [Company] of the Sikhs at the IB [Inspection Bungalow] Ridge, at about 5:00 hrs with the objective of capturing ‘Twin Peaks’. As the climb from the bed of the nullah to the platoon position was steep, the Sikhs were able to inflict heavy casualties to the Chinese, compelling them to retire.”
Joginder Singh immediately asked for more ammunition, but by that time the enemy had cut the communications with the comapny headquarters. Joginder Singh fought like lion, he was badly wounded in the process and then taken prisoner.
The citation for the PVC gave more details: “In this fierce action, the platoon lost half of its men but not the will to fight. Subedar Joginder Singh, despite a wound in the thigh, refused evacuation. His platoon also refused to yield any ground to the enemy. The last wave of the Chinese attack, which was more determined and more forceful, followed next. Now the platoon had very few men left to fight. Subedar Joginder Singh, therefore, manned a light machine gun and killed a large number of enemies. But he could not stem the tide of the enemy advance single-handed. The Chinese continued advancing with little concern for the casualties.”
The report concluded: “While in the enemy’s custody he died because of his wound. He was awarded the PVC (posthumously) for his bravery.”
Joginder was very badly wounded. When a few days later he arrived at the PoWs’ camp near Chongye in central Tibet, Chinese doctors immediately suggested an amputation (he was also suffering from frostbites), which the brave subedar refused; his chances of being promoted to Subedar-Major, the senior-most rank for a JCO (junior commissioned officer) would be jeopardised.
The Chinese doctors asked the Indian commanding officers in the camp to try to convince Joginder it was necessary if he wanted to survive. But the Indian officers failed to do so and soon after Joginder passed away. This was sometime in November 1962.
Ironically, it is at Bumla, the place where Joginder fought so well, that the first wounded jawans were repatriated by the Indian Red Cross on December 15.
In his memoirs, one of the COs remembered that on March 23, 1963, the PoWs were informed that Maj. Gurdial Singh of the Rajputs, who was in the camp, was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. At the same time, they probably heard of the PVC for Joginder Singh.
The officer noted: “On 26 March 1963, the commandant of the camp called us to tell us we were going to be returned to India via the mainland.” He further recalled: “Before leaving the PoW camp, we asked the Chinese to take us to the graves of our soldiers who had died in our camp. There were seven of them, including Subedar Joginder Singh, who had been awarded the highest gallantry award, the PVC. We were told by the Chinese that he had refused to have his
toes, which were affected by frostbite [and bullet wounds], amputated… He [had] died of gangrene.”
Incidentally, a war memorial has recently been constructed to honour the PVC awardee at Bum La; it was inaugurated by Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu, with Joginder’s family and Army representatives present. It is a first step in the right direction, but it is time for New Delhi to ask the Chinese government to repatriate to India the mortal remains of the brave Sikh soldier as well as his six other companions still buried in Tibet.
It would only be late justice.
The writer is based in South India for the past 42 years. He writes on India, China, Tibet and Indo-French relations.