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Kumaon Regiment

The famous Kumaon Regiment is one of the Indian army's best. On 27th October 1947, India's National Army fought for the preservation of India's freedom. The first person to die and get the Param Vir Chakra was Major Somnath Sharma from Fourth Kumaon at the Battle of Badgaun. Today, the Fourth Kumaon Regiment which is the apex of the Param Vir Chakra of the Gallantry Award winners who had laid down their lives for the preservation of this motherland is in Udaipur.

Millions of Uttar Pradesh boys have left their mountain villages of Uttarakhand in search of good fortune or a better life than in the hills. Brave Uttarakhandi soldiers of the bygone era were originally bhagoras (deserters) of their village. Since time immemorial, the running away of village boys from the hills in search of wonderland has been a common practice. In fact it has become a tradition in Uttarakhand, which still continues unabated. The sole source of solace for the hills has been the Indian army. Most appropriately, it is the only institution that has somehow been able to check the migration of village youth. Paharis ["Of the mountains"] have always played a formidable role in defending the frontiers of India. Twenty-three battalions of Garhwal Rifles and nineteen battalions of the Kumaon Regiment clearly reflects the participation of hill people in the defence forces.

The inhabitants of the Kumaon hills are commonly known as the Kumaonese. They belong to a predominantly patriarchal society, which recognizes the superiority of men over women. The word Kumaon is believed to have been derived from "Kurmanchal," meaning land of the Kurmavatar (the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Preserver of the Hindu Trinity). The region extends from the northern end of the Gangetic plains right up to Tibet. Kumaon is a maze of mountains, some of which are among the loftiest known. There are over thirty peaks rising to elevations exceeding 18,000 feet The rivers rise chiefly in the southern slope of the Tibetan watershed north of the loftiest peaks, among which they make their way down valleys'of rapid declivity and extraordinary depth.

Kumaon proper constituted an old Rajput principality, which became extinct at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1803 the Gurkhas invaded Kumaon and Garhwal, driving the Garhwal chief into the plains. For twelve years the Gurkhas ruled the country with a rod of iron, until a series of encroachments by them on British territory led to the war with Nepal in 1814. At the termination of the campaign, Garhwal and Kumaon were converted into British districts. The country was annexed after the Gurkha war of 1815. In 1891 the division was composed of the three districts of Kumaon, Garhwal and the Tarai; but the two districts of Kumaon and the Tarai were subsequently redistributed and renamed afte their headquarters, Naini Tal and Almora.

The Kumaon regiment centre, located in Ranikhet, is the lifeblood of the town. Cantonment life, and the fact that Ranikhet is in the Kumaon hills, contribute to subtle differences in the local customs and behaviour. Honour and izzal in Ranikhet is a real, palpable and all-encompassing thing. Ranikhet [literally "Queen's Field"], as the name suggests, is quiet picturesque hill station in the Kumaon region of Uttranchal. Ranikhet is one of the oldest cantonments in the country. The British chose to turn Ranikhet into a cantonment in 1869 and is still a cantonment, the home of the Kumaon Regiment of the Indian army. Ranikhet depends on the regiment for its survival. As you drive through the town, you realise that if the army were to be removed, nothing would be left of Ranikhet. If the roads are better than the ones in Delhi, it is because of the army. If the place remains spic and span, it is because of the army.

At an altitude of 1829 m, Ranikhet is a peaceful hill station offering excellent views of the snowcapped Himalayas, including Nanda Devi. It is an important army town and the headquarters of the Kumaon regiment. Though not developed as a tourist center, Ranikhet is a delightful place to spend some time. The town is covered with pine and oak forests and to the army must go the credit of limiting the spread of the bazaar and maintaining the forests. Old colonial buildings scattered amongst dense woods mark the small town. One gets a spectacular view of the Himalayan ranges from almost all parts of the town.

The famous Kumaoni song "BEDU PAKA BARA MASSA" is one of the most beloved and melodous song of the Uttaranchal region. The song is also a representative song of Kumaon Regiment of India Army . The song not only touches the heart of those who live in Uttaranchal but also to those who find their roots in Uttaranchal.

The Kumaon Regiment has its roots in the contingent of Nizams of Hyderabad and its history dates back to 1788. The regiment, thus, has over two centuries of distinguished service in which eight generations of Indians had served. Before Independence, the units of the regiment fought under the British in Palestine, Egypt, Burma, Malaya, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and Europe. In the post Independence period, the battalions took part in operations in Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Siachen. Sir Henry Russel, a British resident in the province of Nizams, is credited to be the founder of the regiment.

The senior battalions of the regiment were drawn from the Nizams' contingent and the present fourth and the fifth battalions proudly trace their lineage back to 1788, when they were first raised as the first and second regiments of the then Subedar of Berar, Muhamad Salabat Khan's Ellichpur Brigade. The present second battalion (Berar) too has a proud history of nearly 206 years. It was raised as the 1st Berar Infantry of the Nizams contingent.

Between 1826 and 1903, the Indian Army was reorganised thrice. The Nizams' contingent was renamed as the Hyderabad Contingent. In 1922, the Indian Army was reorganised again and Hyderabad Contingent was renamed as the 19th Hyderabad Regiment. More importantly, the class composition of battalions was altered. The Deccan Muslims in each battalion were replaced by a company each of Kumaonis, Jats, Ahirs and others. Thus, the active links with the Deccan were supplanted by those of the Kumaon region. The year 1923 marked the affiliation of the newly raised 1st Kumaon Rifles which was drawn from the Royal Garhwal Rifles with the 19th Hyderabad Regiment. Thus, the 1st Kumaon Rifles was composed solely of Kumaoni troops.

During the Battalion Commanders' Conference held on February 12, 1935, a unanimous decision was taken to request the Army Headquarters for changing the name of the regiment from "19th Hyderabad Regiment" to "19th Kumaon Regiment." The proposal was, however, rejected by Army Headquarters for two reasons. First, the case was not projected properly and second, the redesignation of various units and regiments of the Army was finalised only 13 years back in 1922. A change so soon was not favoured by Army Headquarters.

By Second World War, the process of Indianisation of the Armed Forces gained momentum. The Kumaon regiment was no exception. Gradually, the heroic deeds of its battalions in Burma and Malaya earned the regiment many battle honours like North Africa, North Malaya, Slim River, Burma, Kangaw, Shweli, Magwe, Kama, and Sittang.

As the links with Hyderabad and Deccan began to diminish slowly, the demand to rename the regiment grew. Keeping this in view, on October 27, 1945, the name of the regiment was changed to '19 Kumaon Regiment'. Later, '19' was dropped from the name. Similarly, 1 Kumaon Rifles, having been completely amalgamated, was redesignated as the third battalion of the regiment, with Kumaon Rifles in brackets. Thus, October 27 is observed as Kumaon Day.

When Kashmir Valley was invaded by Pakistan immediately after the attainment of Independence, Kumaon Regiment rose to the occasion and played a key role in thwarting the large scale infiltration from across the border. Maj Som Nath Sharma's company, battling all odds, did not allow the enemy to capture Srinagar airfield at Badgam. However, he had to lay down his life. Maj Som Nath Sharma, for his gallant action, was honoured with Param Vir Chakra posthumously. In the same vein, Maj Gen KS Thimmaya, the then GOC of 19 Infantry Division, moved tanks across Zojila Pass to chase away the infiltrators.

A total of 106 jawans out of 111 men of a single company of the Kumaon Regiment died defending 'chusul' against Chinese attack in 1962. The 1962 war saw an active participation of 6 and 13 Kumaon at Walong and Rezang-La in Ladakh. At Rezang-La, 114 other ranks saw action out of whom 106 soldiers laid down their lives. This was a matchless feat in the history of sacrifice of any regiment and it was well recognised the world over. It was here that Maj Shaitan Singh of 13 Kumaon laid down his life in action. He was honoured posthumously with Param Vir Chakra for his exemplary leadership. At Walong, 6 Kumaon led the action against the Chinese. In 1965, the regiment again proved its mettle.

Four Kumaon, one of the most decorated and oldest battalions of Indian Army, was the first battalion of Army to be presented Colours on April 7, 1961 for its glorious deeds and unique performance, both in peace and war, by the first President of India, late Dr Rajendra Prasad. On October 27, 1970, 14 Battalion of the regiment also received Colours at Ranikhet from the then President, late Mr VV Giri.

November 1970 was a turning point in the history of the regiment. The Naga Regiment, raised at Ranikhet, was affiliated to the Kumaon Regiment. This was a unique honour. The Kumaon Regiment was selected on the demand of Nagas. It was the Kumaon units which won the hearts and minds of Naga brethren during counter-insurgency operations in 1950s and 60s in North-East. A Scouts Battalion joined the regiment from Border Scouts in 1981 and was designated Kumaon Scouts.

In 1971 war against Pakistan, battalions of the Kumaon and Naga Regiments played significant role in helping Bangladesh to attain freedom. During operation Blue Star, the regiment won many laurels including two Ashok Chakra (posthumously) by Maj Bhukant Mishra and Nk Nirbhay Singh of 15 Kumaon. The regiment also performed admirably in operation Pawan and won one Uttam Yudh Seva Medal, one Vir Chakra, one Yudh Seva Medal, seven Sena Medals, one Bar to Sena Medal, eight Mentions-in-Despatches, 12 Chief of Army Staff and 7 GOC commendation cards. It was the Kumaonis who were the chosen ones to meet the operational requirements in Siachen Glacier and Bila Fond La during operation Meghadoot.

In Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir operations, the regiment distinguished again. The third Ashok Chakra of the regiment was won by Sub Sujjan Singh of 13 Kumaon who died while fighting against insurgents in 1994. The fourth Ashoka Chakra was won by Nk Rambeer Singh Tomar of 15 Kumaon who was posted to 26 Rashtriya Rifles in Doda district. The gallant soldiers fought with the same spirit during operation Vijay.

With a modest beginning, the regiment has grown manifold over the years. It has in its fold Naga and Rashtriya Rifles battalions, Kumaon Scouts, Territorial Army units, a Parachute and Mechanised Infantry unit each, a Naval ship and a tank Regiment.

Thirteen Kumaon was inducted into the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia-Eritrea (UNMEE) in July 2004. It took over the central sector of Eritrea from 15 Sikh Light Infantry battalion. It remained in the mission area till mid-August 2005. The unit, which earned international fame at Rezang La in Ladakh during 1962 Indo-China war, continues to excel in its overseas mission area. Another noteworthy is the fact that a Kumaon Regiment officer, Maj Gen Rajender Singh, had recently taken over as the new Force Commander of UNMEE which is a matter of pride not only for the Kumaon Regiment but also for the Indian Army and the nation.

The central sector of Eritrea is the most difficult sector of UNMEE. This sector comprises rugged hills and mountains, some of them as high as 9000 feet. The temperature here rises upto 68 Celsius in summer. With the battalion headquarters along with one company located at Adigrat in Ethiopia, the rest of the battalion occupied various forward posts within and outside the temporary security zone (TSZ) running all along the central sector of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border. This was perhaps the only case in the history of UN peacekeeping where a battalion headquarters was operating from a different country while its troops are deployed in another country.

The Kumaon Regiment provided a Force Reserve Company (FRC) to cater to various operational, administrative and ceremonial requirements of the UNMEE Force Headquarters (FHQ) which was located at Asmara, capital of Eritrea. The Force Reserve Company, represented by the 'C' or 'Rezang La' company, was co-located with the FHQ. It is independent of INDBATT and comes directly under FHQ. Within 48 hours of arrival in the mission area, the company was launched for a search-and-rescue mission in aid of a missing International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) representative who was washed away in a flash flood. The company was earmarked to carry out such humanitarian tasks set by FHQ in various contingencies. It also provided personnel for escort duties and ceremonial guards. It had its moment of glory when it was asked to present a guard of honor to the UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:37:35 ZULU