Bum La Pass, 37 km from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, at around 15,200 ft above sea level, was part of an old trade route that went from Tawang to Tsona Dzong in Tibet. Usually covered with snow all through the year, this was the route used by Dalai Lama, when he escaped Chinese occupation of Tibet and took refuge in India. It also has the beautiful Sangetsar Tso Lake, also called the Madhuri Lake, after a song featuring her in Koyla was picturized here.
This beautiful place, was witness to one of the fiercest battles ever during the 1962 War. While the Battle of Rezang La during the ’62 War and Shaitan Singh’s bravery during that is well known, equally heroic is the feat of Subedar Joginder Singh, who took down 50 Chinese, at Bum La pass before being captured by them. Much like Rezang La, Bumla Pass was another tale of courage under fire, where a vastly outnumbered Sikh Regiment, held on till the end against a much larger Chinese army, and Joginder Singh’s defiance is the stuff heroism is made of.
Joginder Singh was born on Sept 26, 1921 in a small village in Punjab’s Moga district, his father Sher Singh Sahnan, was a farmer, and his mother was Bibi Krishan Kaur. His father belonged to a Saini family that relocated to Malakhalan, his native village. He joined the Army for a sense of identity and purpose and was posted to the 1st Sikh Regiment on Sept 28, 1936. Though not much educated, when he joined the Army, Joginder later studied within the Army, passed the Army Education Exam. Joginder served on the Burma front during WWII, and when India became independent fought in the 1st Indo-Pak war of 1947. In 1954, India recognized China’s claim over Tibet, as per the Sino-Indian agreement. Yes one of the umpteen strategic blunders.
Anyway with Tibet in it’s pocket, the purge of the bourgeouise, Korean war over, Mao was fully in control of China by now. India was still in it’s “India- China Bhai Bhai” hangover, while Mao was preparing to bring down Nehru who was still in the Panchsheel hangover. China had made clear it’s intent a couple of times already with a series of attacks, but an establishment doped on Panchsheel, Indo-Chini Bhai Bhai was blissfully asleep.
Taking advantage of the Indian Govt’s sleep mode, the Chinese launched an all out attack in 1962, attacking North East and Aksai Chin, laying claim to it. By August 1962, the PLA occupied Thag La ridge in Sikkim, and the Dhola outpost south of Namka Chu. Though the Government ordered the Indian Army to throw the Chinese out of Dhola, it was an impossible task,the Indian Army was woefully underprepared, under equipped to take on the PLA, and above all the Chinese knew the terrain in and out.
The Chinese had positioned themselves at key strategic points on the border, and marshalling the troops was a logistical nightmare in that region, for which the Indian Army was not all prepared by then. It was a herculean task to salvage the situation.Also around the same time, the CIA launched it’s disastrous Bay of Pigs operation, and the world’s attention was focussed on Cuba, leaving the field clear for the Chinese. By Oct 23, China had occupied the entire Dhola- Thang La area.
China’s main objective was the capture of Tawang, in Arunachal Pradesh, that would give it total control over the North East. And the fastest route to Tawang, was the 26 km track from the border via Bum La Pass, one of the few motorable ones in that region. The 1st Sikh battalion was given the task of defending this place, and cut off the Chinese advance to Tawang, not an easy task by any means.
The Delta Company commanded by Lt. Haripal Kaushik, was given the task of defending Bum La Pass. The 11th platoon headed by Subedar Joginder Singh deployed at the IB Ridge, had the job of setting up the defense to halt the Chinese. Capt Gurcharan Singh Gosal was the artillery in charge, while the 7th Bengal Mountain Battery would provide the cover to the Sikh Regiment.
October 20, 1962
JCO of the Assam Rifles notices thousands of Chinese advancing and immediately alerts the Regiment at Bum La. Joginder Singh immediately sends a section under Havildar Sucha Singh, to reinforce Bum La, while requesting a 2nd line ammunition from the HQ. And one of the bloodiest battles of the ’62 war would begin which went on till the wee hours of Oct 23.
After pounding Bum La with mortars,to destroy the bunkers, around 600 Chinese swarmed in to attack the Assam Rifles post. However Sucha Singh fought back hard, killing several of the enemy soldiers, before retreating back to the IB Ridge. Just like in Rezang La, the Indian platoon at Bum La Pass was badly under equipped, just 4 days rations, ill fitting jungle boots, no proper winter clothing. It was under such odds, that Joginder Singh rallied his men against the PLA.
What Joginder lacked in resources, he more than made it up with his tactics. He asked his men to hold their ammunition and fire only when the enemy was in range, this avoided wastage. He also put the platoon on a steep ridge that was not easy to climb. In the meantime another Chinese unit attacked from the right flank, the firing was even more intense. Hit by a burst of machine gun fire in his thigh, Joginder Singh however refused evacuation, and kept on commanding his men, giving instructions moving around.
The battle began, one of the bloodiest ones ever, the Indian soldiers fired back with artillery guns at the advancing Chinese, inflicting heavy casualties on them. However half of the platoon was gone, only 17 managed to survive. Though a large number of Chinese were dead, Joginder Singh’s unit by now was down, most of the men either killed or badly wounder. He himself had killed around 50 Chinese, but by now he was exhausted, and on top of it the injury in his thigh.
By now down to just a handful of survivors, Joginder charged at the Chinese with bayonets, with cries of “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”. The Chinese were taken aback with the resistance, and many of them were killed by the bayonets, sheer courage under fire. The heroic resistance however ended when Joginder Singh was surrounded and captured by the Chinese, taken as a POW. 3 of the 4 survivors who escaped, went on to narrate Joginder’s tale of raw courage and defiance, which is how his exploits came to be known.
Subedar Joginder Singh passed away in Chinese captivity on the same date itself, he was given the Param Veer Chakra for his heroics, and tactics against a much larger enemy force. When the Chinese learnt that Joginder Singh, was given the PVC, they repatriated his ashes with full military honors on May 17, 1963. Yes he won the admiration of even the enemy, a true Ajatashatru. His ashes were taken to the Sikh Regimental Center in Meerut, the urn was handed over to his widow. A memorial has been built in Moga, for him, and also another at Bum La pass in his honor.