Lost in Longewala

Longewala

I still can’t describe how I felt walking in the empty battlefield. The fact that I was aware of what had gone down itself sent shivers down my spine. As I walked towards the many relics, including captured tanks and weapons, there was an almost eerie calm in the strongly guarded desert. It never made sense to me to pose next to artifacts and force a smile, but to try and capture what I felt at that very moment in order to relive it countless times after. Always in awe of the mighty Indian Army, the Battle of Longewala is an addition to it’s invaluable achievements.

There is no war or conflict which hasn’t been a turning point. In India’s scuffle against Pakistan in 1971, the Battle of Longewala was that turning point. Argued to be a part of the army folklore by some; the battle, fought between the Pakistani offensive forces and the Indian defenders at the Indian border post of Longewala in Thar Desert of Rajasthan, was the first major engagement in the Western Sector during the war of 1971. In the battle, not only were the assaulting Pakistani attack foiled and dented, the Pak forces were forced to withdraw when India launched an offensive attack against them. Thus, winning the decisive battle that changed the face of the Indo-Pak war forever. Major Chandpuri  and his battalion of 120 odd soldiers (comprising 23rd Punjab Regiment (Sikhs) and handful of Indian Border Security Force (BSF Rajputs), to defend the post of Longewala despite heavy odds from the strong Pakistani Army of 2000-3000 soldiers. The Indian troops battled the Pak army with all their valor and held the Pak army at bay all night before the Indian Air Force arrived at the break of dawn. By noon the next day, the assault ended completely, having cost Pakistan 22 tanks, claimed destroyed by aircraft fire, 12 by ground anti-tank fire, and some captured after being abandoned, with a total of 100 vehicles claimed to have been destroyed or damaged in the desert around the post. This scene is alive even today. An area of 2 sq km on both sides of the road lies strewn with anti-tank mines and has been fenced. No one, not even the BSF and Army jawans, are allowed to go there. Each year the Vijay Diwas — marking India’s victory over Pakistan in 1971 – brings in a stream of jawans who come to pay their respects to the martyrs.

The photograph by me as a part of an assignment in January 2013 when I visited Rajasthan. Folks, there is more to every city than what websites tell you and there is more to culture than exotic artifacts.

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