Remembering 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal
“No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My gun is still working and I will get these bastards.”
On the occasion of India’s republic day, let me share with you one of the most endearing acts of bravado that, every time I read it, fills me with a sense of pride that is unmatched. The hero I am talking about is 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, who was awarded India’s highest wartime gallantry medal, The Param Vir Chakra, posthumously. He was 22 years old.
The story below narrates what happened in Pakistan when Arun Kherapal’s father, Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal, visited the country; almost 30 years after his son achieved martyrdom in the Shakargarh Sector during the 1971 war.
The Commander of the Pakistan tank battalion is said to have met the Indian battalion commander after the battle and make enquiries about 2nd Lieutenant Khetarpal’s tank since he was very impressed with the gallantry of 2nd Lieutenant Khetarpal. In 2001 Arun’s Father decided to go on a visit to Pakistan to see his ancestral place. A Pakistani brigadier named Khawja Mohammad Naser, acted as a host & took proper care of Mr M L Khetarpal. Just a fortnight before his departure to India, Mr Khetarpal got aware of his host’s past. Major Nasir like a true soldier mentioned what happened on that faithfull day between him & Arun in the following words “‘Sir there is something that I wanted to tell you for many years but I did not know how to get through to you. Finallyfate has intervened and sent you to me as an honoured guest. . However on that fateful day, your son and I were soldiers, unknown to one another, fighting for the respect and safety of our respective countries. I regret to tell you that your son died in my hands. Arun’s courage was exemplary and he moved his tank with fearless courage and daring, totally unconcerned about his safety. Tank casualties were very high till finally there were just two of us left facing one another. We both fired simultaneously… it was destined that I was to live and he was to die.
It is only later that I got to know how young he was and who he was. We are trained to fight and kill without mercy or remorse. We do in war what we have to without thinking too much about it. However we are humans too and sometimes war takes a personal turn and makes an impact on the inner self.”
Though M L khetarpal didn’t say anything, but when they left they took photographs and even mentioned it was him who wanted to meet him personally after the war, but Mr Khetarpal was not interested. However after reaching Delhi, Mr Khetarpal, received the photograph with the words of bravery from Major Nasir.
The full account of 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal’s Battle of Basantsar is available here on the Indian Army’s website. Read it.