On February 20, 2016, three heavily armed terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] terrorist group based in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir [POJK] attacked a Central Reserve Police Force [CRPF] convey in the Pampore area of Pulwama district in South Kashmir. In this cowardly attack, while two CRPF soldiers were killed and nine others sustained bullet injuries, one civilian commuter was also killed.
Due to immediate retaliation by the security forces, the terrorists hurriedly abandoned their ambush site and this prevented any further casualties. However, taking advantage of the confusion the terrorists made good their escape and took shelter inside the Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) complex located nearby.
Created to provide training to local entrepreneurs, JKEDI is a massive building with more than 60 rooms and hence provided the terrorists an excellent place to take refuge. While this complex was quickly surrounded by the security forces to prevent the terrorists within to escape, launching an operation to apprehend or neutralise the holed-up terrorists was a difficult task fraught with extreme danger.
For one, being a multi-storey building with a large number of windows and wide corridors, the JKEDI complex negated the scope of any unobtrusive entry by the security forces. Secondly, with rooms on both sides of the corridors and several ‘blind-corners’ provided the terrorists an excellent place to take up concealed positions as well as the advantage to ‘shoot and scoot’. Thirdly, due to the presence of staff members, instructors and trainees inside the complex, a hostage situation had developed and this precluded use of heavy weapons as the same could cause collateral damage.
Lastly, even after security forces had rescued the hostages, due to lack of proper entry/exit records, it couldn’t be determined with complete surety that all civilians had been extricated, and that there were no civilians still trapped inside the JKEDI complex. Thus, the security forces tasked to rid the JKEDI complex of terrorists had to carry out the building clearance exercise with due caution to avoid accidental casualties on hapless civilians who may not have been able to vacate the premises.
Capt Tushar Mahajan, was a Special Forces officer commanding one of the intervention squad tasked to clear the Pompore JKEDI building complex. As this group was in the process of carrying out room clearing drills, a terrorist hiding in a corner opened fire seriously injuring a soldier. Capt Mahajan immediately rushed ahead and despite being under heavy fire, successfully extricated the injured commando to safety. After providing him first aid and making arrangements for his evacuation, Capt Mahajan and his men recommenced the clearance operation.
On reaching the third floor the squad came under very heavy fire from a room. Capt Mahajan immediately took charge of this menacing situation and despite the evident danger, rushed forward and by lobbing grenades, silenced the terrorist holed up inside. Due to the grenade explosions, the room caught fire and as the squad started to move ahead along the corridor, they came under heavy fire from another room.
Since the room that Capt Mahajan had just cleared was ablaze, the squad members couldn’t fall back and take cover inside it and were caught fully exposed in the corridor. Realising that his men were extremely vulnerable, Capt Mahajan singlehandedly charged towards the room, firing and lobbing grenades. This unnerved the terrorist hiding inside the room and he stopped firing at the squad members and instead brought down a heavy volume of fire on Capt Mahajan, and managed to hit him in the leg.
Despite being seriously incapacitated, Capt Mahajan still continued to stagger ahead while firing, and wounded the terrorist. However, while doing so, he was hit once again in the arm but despite his grievous injuries and the excruciating pain, the brave officer still closed-in and shot the terrorist dead. Capt Mahajan was quickly administered first aid and evacuated to the hospital but the braveheart succumbed to his injuries enroute.
It was due to Capt Mahajan’s daredevilry and gallant action that his squad members caught in the corridor didn’t suffer any casualties. While the uninitiated may opine that his actions were reckless, those who have even a rudimentary knowledge of counter terrorist operations, know very well of how a single act of sacrifice at the critical point can prevent multiple casualties and make all the difference between victory and failure.
Those familiar with the Indian army’s glorious traditions know very well that its officers are brought up in an environment where selfless service and sacrifice remain an enduring and non-negotiable article of faith enshrined in the ‘Chetwode credo’enunciated by Gen Philip Walhouse Chetwode in 1932, when he was Commander-in-Chief, India and which states:
“The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time.
The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next.
Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
Capt Majahan led his troops from the front and put his life in danger twice to ensure safety of the men under his command- once when he extricated a wounded comrade and thereafter when his squad came under devastating fire. For displaying exemplary valour Capt Mahajan was awarded Shaurya Chakra, India’s third highest peacetime gallantry award.
Last month, the Government of India named the railway station in Udhampur [J&K] as ‘Captain Tushar Mahajan Railway Station’– a befitting and very appropriate tribute to honour the supreme sacrifice made by Capt Mahajan, who belonged to this city and has made Udhampur proud.