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Slain Indian soldier 'lives on' at China frontier post

JASWANT GARH, India, Nov 7, 2002 - Forty years after his death, an Indian army rifleman has been promoted to major general' and is still believed to command' troops guarding the dizzy heights of India's eastern frontiers with China.

Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat of the Fourth Garhwal Rifles infantry regiment is the only soldier in the long history of the Indian army who is known to have risen through the ranks after his death.

Rawat remained at his post at an altitude of about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) and held back advancing Chinese troops for three days single-handedly before succumbing to an enemy bullet during the bloody winter war with China in 1962 along the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

The rifleman may have died, but his heroics have not gone unrecognised -- Rawat gets an unofficial promotion at regular intervals, with his rank today being that of a major general.

The post that he held to repulse the Chinese troops has been renamed Jaswant Garh in recognition of his courage.

Rawat's act of bravado has earned him a distinct place among all ranks of the federal army manning the unfenced 1,030 kilometer (650 mile) Sino-Indian border -- for many he is like a guardian angel protecting the frontiers.

Myth, folklore, and superstitious beliefs are so strong among the soldiers that the battle site was converted into a Hindu temple with troops now giving Rawat the status of Baba' or saint.

"Army personnel passing by this route, be it a general or an ordinary soldier, make it a point to pay their respects at the shrine of Jaswant Singh or else they invoke his curse," said footsoldier Ram Narayan Singh.

"A major general once refused to pray at his shrine while crossing the area, saying this was just a superstition, but he met with a mysterious road accident a few kilometers away from here and died."

The Garhwal Rifles are today deployed on India's western borders, but the unit makes it a point to keep at least half-a-dozen personnel here to take care of Rawat as if he were alive.

"For us he is immortal and continues to protect and bless us in this treacherous mountain terrain," said a Garhwal Rifles soldier posted at Rawat's shrine.

He has an orderly who cooks for him daily, makes his bed, irons his clothes and polishes his boots, while guards patrol his shrine around the clock.

"Each morning his bed is found crumpled and his freshly ironed clothes lie crushed on the floor," another soldier said. "He is here all the time although we cannot see him."

According to locals and soldiers posted near Jaswant Garh, Rawat's spirit roams the area and he comes to their dreams and solves their woes and miseries.

"The respect that Rawat commands even after his death is something very rare in the Indian army," Major Jaideep Ghosh told AFP.

"I have never seen anything like this before anywhere of a martyred soldier still influencing the lives of the troops."

Legend has it that the Chinese troops after killing Rawat beheaded him and carried his torso as a trophy after he had stood alone against them, firing from a .303 rifle.

After the ceasefire, the Chinese commander, impressed by Rawat's bravery, returned the head along with a brass bust of the gallant soldier. The bust is now installed at the site of the battle.

"A nation that does not honour its dead warriors will perish," an army commander remarked as soldiers lit earthen lamps at nightfall to keep Rawat's memories alive.

* * * * *

Published on 11/7/02

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