#ForgottenHeroes: an ode to the only UN peacekeeper to receive the Param Vir Chakra!
In 1960, immediately after gaining independence from Belgium, the Republic of the Congo experienced an extremely explosive political crisis, which resulted in widespread violence and numerous casualties.
With the death of Patrice Lumumba, Congolese Prime Minister, the situation became so precarious that the government had to ask for help from the United Nations.
The UN launched a peacekeeping mission and, in support, India deployed 3,000 of its defense personnel under the command of Brigadier KAS Raja to Congo.
Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria of the Indian Army was part of this unit. While his daring exploits gave the upper hand at the UN headquarters in Congo in a rapidly deteriorating situation, he was sadly killed in the line of duty.
Recognizing Captain Salaria’s bravery and commitment, the Indian government posthumously awarded him the Param Vir Chakra, making him the only UN peacekeeper to receive India’s highest wartime military decoration. nowadays.
It’s his story.
Born on this date in 1935, Gurbachan was the second of five children born to Munshi Ram and Dhan Devi of the Salaria Rajput family. Munshi had served in the British Indian Army Armored Corps, so Gurbachan grew up listening to his stories, and a passion for the military lifestyle was instilled in him from an early age.
A resident of Janwal, a village in the Punjab province of present-day Pakistan, Gurbachan and his family moved to the village of Jangal, which came under the Indian part of Punjab and was educated at a local school here. However, his military aspirations led him to the distinguished King George Royal Indian Military College (KGRIMC) in 1946.
Shortly after, the doors of the National Defense Academy (NDA) and the Indian Military Academy (IMA) opened for the young officer, one after the other. In 1954, he was appointed to the 2nd Battalion of the 3 Gorkha Rifles, where he received the nickname “Khan Saheb” from his commander, for his short haircut and his upturned mustache!
In 1960, however, he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion, 1 Gorkha Rifles, the same regiment that would be deployed as India’s aid to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the Congo.
Assigned to Katanga, which was among the high-tension areas, Gurbachan’s regiment fought against Katangese troops (gendarmes) as part of Operation Unokat, after multiple attempts at reconciliation between the state and the rebels failed local.
Things escalated on December 5, 1961, when the Gorkha regiment was tasked with clearing the roadblock set up by the gendarmes between the Katanga command and the Elisabethville airfield.
As a platoon was designated for a direct attack, Captain Salaria and his men were deployed nearby to block the gendarmes’ retreat and attack only if necessary, the plan to be carried out by noon.
However, the offensive on the gendarmes’ armored cars left the rebels in complete confusion, as it was an unforeseen move on their part. It was then that Captain Salaria had the brilliant idea of launching an attack before the gendarmes could reorganize.
His last words over the radio to another officer were, “I’m going to be attacked. I am sure I will win.
Although his troops were vastly outnumbered by the gendarmes (the ratio was 4:25), Salaria and his men charged towards them shouting the Gorkha battle cry, “Ayo Gorkhali” (meaning the Gorkhas arrived).
Armed with khukris in a melee assault, they managed to kill 40 men, but Salaria ended up being shot twice in the neck by the automatic fire.
Due to severe blood loss, he collapsed at the last line of trenches, but his second-in-command was able to evacuate him quickly in an armored personnel carrier to the hospital in the airport. Unfortunately, the damage was too great and Salaria succumbed to his injuries. He was only 26 years old.
Salaria’s timely action and complete disregard for his own life played a significant role in helping the main battalion not only easily overrun the Katangese force and clear the roadblock, but also prevent the gendarmes from surrounding the siege. of the United Nations in Elisabethville.
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His sacrifice was not in vain and he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously, making him the only NDA defense personnel and United Nations Peacekeeping Force member to deserve such an honor. .
On his 83rd birthday, we pay tribute to Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria and remember the brave young soldier, whose commitment to duty took priority over his own life.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)