Thursday, April 17, 2014

The 'war raising' Rajput Regiment turns 72 today

The 'war raising' Rajput Regiment turns 72 today
BANGALORE: April 15, 1942, Fatehgarh, the Rajput Regiment was raised by field marshal Cariappa. Today, the regiment turns 72. 

And ministry of defence's group captain Tarun Kumar Singha, chief public relations officer, Kolkata, features the regiment from Kolkata. Times of India got access to his article authored from Kolkata, and it reads: "Among all battalions of the Rajput Regiment, 17 Rajput has a unique place in present day history of the Indian Army. It was raised during the period of Quit India Movement in 1942. It was also among 10 other Rajput Battalions that were raised following outbreak of World War-II from 1940 to 1943." 

In so far as its historical significance is concerned, 17/7 Rajput as it was then known, was the only 'War Raising' battalion by any Indian officer who was none other than Lt col KM Cariappa, OBE, popularly called 'Kipper' who went on to become the first Indian commander-in-chief and later the chief of army staff. He was also conferred the highest rank of field marshal on April 28, 1986. 

Popular in the army as the barhe chalo battalion, a motto coined by the first commanding officer to spur his troops, it was meant to convey 'get cracking on'. The battalion continues to crack on regardless in pursuit of glory as one of Indian Army's proudest and finest fighting outfits in recent times. 

17/7 Rajput was raised at Fatehgarh on April 15, 1942 as the Machine Gun Battalion of the erstwhile 7th Rajput Regiment. A distinctive colour of maroon and blue was adopted for the new outfit. On August 1, 1942, the battalion was converted into a Regiment of Indian Armoured Corps (IAC) and designated 52nd Rajput Regiment IAC (Bawanja Risala) and moved to Lahore. 

On September 15, 1942, the battalion was converted into a 'Lorried Battalion' and moved to Secunderabad to form part of 268th Lorried Brigade. On March 16, 1943, Kipper was transferred and succeeded by Lt Col G.B. Macnamara. In May 1944, 17/7 Rajput moved to Kohima and later deployed at Imphal. 

Informed readers may know that Rajput Regiment is one among the senior most regiments of our country. It must therefore, logically, rank higher in the hierarchy of the nomenclatures. Then why the seventh standing? 

Evidently, Maj Gen Parr, who had commanded the 7th Rajput in Mesopotamia during world war-I desired that the Regiment to which his battalion belonged be named 7th Rajput Regiment. The suffix '7' was adopted and remained so for all battalions of the Rajput Regiment between 1920 till Independence, where after it was dropped altogether. 

In the redesignations that followed, Barhe Chalo became 17th Battalion of the Rajput regiment on May 1, 1948. Later when its founding father, Lt Gen KM Cariappa became Army Chief on January 15, 1950 (commemorated as Army Day), an honour was bestowed on the battalion. The distinct maroon and royal blue hackle of the unit was now adopted by all Rajput Regiment battalions. In 1965, Barhe Chalo participated in Op Riddle as part of 7th Infantry Division, where it successfully executed its task of capturing Bedian bridge. The unit also participated in Op Cactus Lily in 1971 as part of 86 Infantry Brigade in Dera Baba Nanak sector, where it captured Khokherke and Sadhuwan posts of enemy and provided a firm base for Op Akal. The unit was also successful in capturing a crucial enemy post for which Capt Nawal Singh Rajawat and Late Sep Satyawan Singh were awarded VrC. 

In 1982, the battalion underwent a change in class composition and reorganised to include Rajputs, Gujjars, Brahmins, Bengalis, Jats, Ahirs and Muslims in equal percentage composition. If ever anyone needs to see the secular credentials of an Indian Army's fighting unit, one need not go beyond Barhe Chalo whose war cry - Bol Bajrang Bali ki Jay! Hanuman ki Hunkare! - yelled by one and all can easily curl any enemy's guts. 

The battalion was also the first unit of Rajput Regiment to be inducted in Siachen Glacier in 1991. The unit had a successful tenure without having a single fatal casualty, which indeed is a unique achievement. 

Among the wars and major operations that Barhe Chalo participated include world war-II, between May to August 1944, Indo-Pak War of 1965 between September 1965 to February 1966 and Indo-Pak War 1971, from October to December 1971. Among the various military operations include Operatons Orchid, Rhino, Vijay, Rakshak and Parakram. 

Glory to the Barhe Chalo has been brought through its gallant officers and soldiers through 2 Military Cross, an OBE and PVSM each, 7 Kirti Chakras, an AVSM, 4 Shaurya Chakras, 3 Vir Chakras, 12 Sena Medals, 3 VSM, 6 Mention-in-Despatches, 38 COAS, 7 VCOAS and 33 GOC-in-C Commendation Cards including several other gallantry certificates. 

The battalion is presently serving at an undisclosed high altitude location standing vigil under Eastern Command. The Barhe Chalo battalion is presently being commanded by Colonel Balbir Singh Siwach, a second-generation army officer, commissioned in December 1990.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Historical Trivia: Snipe, Sniper, Sniping

The Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
The term sniper has an interesting etymology dating back to 18th century India.   It comes from the common pastime of snipe hunting a hobby popular with British gentlemen who found themselves posted there.   The Snipe lives primarily in marshlands and is an agile, easily spooked bird with an erratic flight pattern that throws off predators and potential hunters.  This makes shooting them particularly difficult as such being a proficient snipe hunter became synonymous with being an excellent shot.    The hunting of the birds often required the hunter to move quietly, make good use of cover and patiently await his opportunity.   All qualities which are today recognised within snipers.
Snipe hunting in India circa. 1870
The term is believed to have arisen during the 1770s meaning someone adept at shooting snipe - a ‘sniper’.  The term grew in popularity among British soldiers posted in India during the 19th century and eventually entered military parlance as another name for a marksman or sharpshooter.  It is thought that the first documented use of the term occurred in the 1820s in sporting magazines.  The name ‘snipe' itself is thought to come from the Old Norse 'myrisnipa' or moor snipe.

A Concise History of Tiger Hunting in India and Guns

Muhgal Emperor shikar hunt endangered species, tiger.

Persian Miniature of Mughal Emperor Akbar hunting tigers in India.
India’s tigers have been in the crosshairs for centuries, with elite safaris dating back to the early 16th century. They rose out of Mughal Emperor Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar’s passion for big game: He began a tradition of  royal hunting, or shikar, that was carried on by Mughal rulers until the dynasty fell in 1857. Paintings from the period depict Mongol, Rajput, Turk  and Afghan nobility hunting from elephant or horseback. These outings were considered exotic, heroic sport—and tigers were the ultimate trophies.
Staging elaborate big game hunts was also a favorite pastime for the British Raj that succeeded the Mughals, an activity that showcased their royalty, machismo, power and wealth. They took out tigers with reckless abandon, along with their Indian counterparts that ruled (nominally) sovereign “Princely States.” Kings and lords, generals, and Maharajas went out in large parties, carried by 10, 20, 30 or even 40 elephants; their servants often drugged and baited tigers before they arrived so the hunters were in little danger. They legitimized the slaughter by vilifying the cats, casting them as terrible, bloodthirsty beasts with an unquenchable desire for human flesh.
After ascending the throne in 1911, King George V and his retinue traveled north to Nepal, slaying 39 tigers in 10 days. Colonel Geoffrey Nightingale shot more than 300 tigers in India. In the 1920s, Umed Singh II, the Maharaja of Kotah, modified a flaming red Rolls Royce Phantom for tiger safaris in the Rajastani hills, outfitting it with spotlights for night hunting, a mounted machine gun and a Lantaka cannon. Newly-crowned Rewa kings in Central India thought it auspicious to slay 109 tigers after their coronation. Shooting a tiger was a coming-of-age ritual for young Indian princes.
According to historian Mahesh Rangarajan, “over 80,000 tigers…were slaughtered in 50 years from 1875 to 1925. It is possible that this was only a fraction of the numbers actually slain.” Not all were trophy-hunted: In some regions, the cats were considered vermin, systematically exterminated with incentive from government bounties.
The killing escalated after 1947. Independence ushered in a hunting free-for-all similar to the 1880s shooting spree that decimated bison herds on the American plains. Anyone who laid hands on a gun joined in. Soon after, hunters streamed in from around the world, seduced by the guaranteed premiere trophies advertised by travel agencies—tiger, elephant, rhino, lion, and other iconic species. The Maharajas created staggering new hunting records. In a letter, the Maharaja of Surguja told wildlife biologist George Schaller that by 1965, he’d bagged 1,150 tigers. Because the biggest animals made the best trophies, the largest, strongest cats disappeared from the gene pool.
British Raj hunters kill big cats
Thousands of tigers were killed in elaborate hunts by Indian and British nobility before hunting was outlawed by the Indian government in 1971. (Courtesy Valmik Thapar)
And then, as models and Hollywood starlets draped themselves in cat skin coats, a fashion craze for fur took hold in the U.S. and Europe. A tiger pelt fetched $50 in India during the 1950s; 10 years later, rugs and coats sold for $10,000. When conservationist Anne Wright explored markets in Delhi—where shelves groaned with skins—she found that the vast majority lacked proper permits and were being exported illegally.
Things changed, however, when Indira Gandhi took the reins as prime minister in 1966. She became what tiger expert Valmik Thapar calls “India’s greatest wildlife savior.” She spearheaded a fight against the growing tiger crisis, outlawing the export of skins in 1969 and appointing a Tiger Task Force two years later.
At the close of the 19th century, when Rudyard Kipling penned the Jungle Book, between 50,000 and 100,000 tigers were thought to roam the Indian subcontinent; by 1971, about 1,800 were left alive and the Tiger Task Force predicted they would be extinct by the end of the century. That year, the Delhi High Court banned tiger killing, despite opposition from the trophy hunting industry that was raking in $4 million a year.
Then in 1973, Gandhi launched “Project Tiger,” which still stands as the world’s most comprehensive tiger conservation initiative. She established nine tiger reserves, hired guards to patrol them, and forcibly moved whole villages outside their perimeters.
At the time of Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, tiger numbers topped 4,000, their prey had increased, and India had created a global model for wildlife conservation. “Tigers flourished beyond our wildest dreams,” said Belinda Wright, Anne’s daughter and director of the Delhi-based Wildlife Protection Society of India.
But by the late 1980s, tigers began to vanish. Rapidly. Biologists and conservationists who reported disappearances to officials were ignored. The seizure of 2,200 pounds of tiger bone (from about 80 tigers) in Delhi in August 1993 revealed what was happening: Poaching for the traditional Chinese medicine trade had hit the Subcontinent, sparking what was being called “the second tiger crisis.” To meet a growing demand for tiger parts, the cats were being poisoned, shot, and snared across India.
Meanwhile, wildlife wardens and Project Tiger officials dismissed the warnings, clinging to inflated population numbers based on flawed data. Their 2002 census counted a whopping 3,642 tigers. They estimated populations from paw prints, an unreliable method known to re-count the same cats multiple times.
Tiger in Assam and striped tiger and India and tiger reserve.
Bengal Tiger camouflaged in elephant grass in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India.                                             (Photograph by Steve Winter/National Geographic)
But the scandal went public in June 2004 when national headlines proclaimed the unthinkable: Not a single tiger survived in Sariska Tiger Reserve, despite government claims that 18 tigers lived there. When three men were later arrested, they described how easy it was to kill them: Many of the guard’s walkie-talkies were nonfunctional and none of the 300 guards were at their posts during monsoon season. The poachers had even brought in live bait and shot tigers over their kills.
Project Tiger had become, as Valmik wrote, “a success story gone horribly wrong.” A 2006 auditor’s report found the project riddled with corruption and neglect. Funds had been skimmed by state governments for other purposes. Guards that quit or retired were not replaced; 30 percent of posts were vacant and the average ranger was over 50 years old. Those that remained walked dangerous patrols armed with bamboo sticks or ancient Lee-Enfield rifles—50 year-old British Army-issue weapons, outgunned by poachers toting assault rifles or AK-47s. Ultimately, the embarrassment over extinction in Sariska prompted the creation of a new entity, the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
The Wildlife Institute of India’s grim 2008 report shocked India and the world with its findings: A far more accurate camera trap survey counted just 1,411 adult tigers—after a $400 million investment over 34 years to save them under Project Tiger. Two years later, a wider census raised tiger estimates to 1,706.
Today there are 45 tiger reserves, comprising about one percent of India’s land. Some hold only a handful of tigers. “Just creating reserves is not a magic wand,” says Deborah Banks, an investigator with the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency. “We still need people, resources, and the political will to protect them.”
Poaching continues to skyrocket, and over the last thee years, tiger deaths (from all causes) have been high: 71 in 2011, an all-time record of 88 in 2012, and 80 in 2013.
A new census is currently underway. India and the world awaits the results: The country is home to over half of all remaining wild tigers.


The Evolution of the Artillery in India: From the Battle of Plassey (1757) to the Revolt of 1857
By R. C. Butalia
Published by Allied Publishers, 1998
ISBN 8170238722, 9788170238720