Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria was an officer of the Indian Army who was awarded the prestigious Gallantry Medal, the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), for his role in taking down a heavily armed group of separatists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and preventing a Was. A rebel-led attack on the United Nations Headquarters under the Charter of the United Nations (UN). Gurbachan Singh Salaria was seriously injured during the operation and later succumbed to his injuries. Thus becoming the only soldier in the Indian Army to be presented with a PVC to participate in operations under the United Nations.
Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria was born on Sunday, 29 November 1935.26 years old at the time of his death in 1961) in Janwal village, Shakargarhi, Punjab (now in Pakistan). After the Partition of India in 1947, young Gurbachan with his entire family came to the Indian side of Punjab and settled in Gurdaspur district of Punjab. As a child, he was enrolled in a government school. He did not pay much attention to studies and spent most of the time playing sports like Kabaddi. He belonged to a family with a military history, so he was inclined to join the army since childhood. Later, he applied for admission to King George’s Royal Indian Military College (KGRIMC), Bangalore, but was rejected as he did not meet the required physical standards of the institute. After sometime he again applied for KGRIMC and this time he was accepted. He was transferred from Bangalore to King George’s Royal Indian Military College, Jalandhar. After completing his schooling in 1953, Gurbachan Singh Salaria joined the Combined Services National Defense Academy and from there he joined the Indian Military Academy in 1956.
family and caste
Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria belonged to a Punjabi Saini Sikh family.
His father’s name was Chaudhary Munshi Ram Salaria who was also in the army. He was part of the Dogra Squadron of Hodgson Horse, a part of the British Indian Army’s cavalry.
His mother’s name was Dhan Devi.
He has a younger brother named Sukhdev Singh Salaria, who lives in Pathankot.
Punjab: Army Chief General Bipin Rawat met the family members of Param Vir Chakra awardee late Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria in Pathankot today. Captain Salaria was awarded the PVC in 1961 for his exceptional bravery during his deployment to the Congo as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. pic.twitter.com/F5Uw925Bk8
— ANI (@ANI) 6 September 2019
c/o sh. SS Salaria, M.A., M.Ed (Brother of Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, PVC),
New Bank Colony,
Near Agriculture Office,
Commissioning as an officer among the brave Gurkhas
After completing his intensive training period, he passed out from the Indian Military Academy on 9 June 1957 at the very young age of 22 years. He was initially commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Gorkha Rifles after which he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Gorkha Rifles in March of 1960.
Background of events that turned into complete chaos in Congo
Before June 1960, Congo was under Belgian colonial rule. But in 1960, Belgium decided to end its colonial rule and give independence to the Democratic Republic of the Congo so that it could be governed by its own people and government. But things didn’t go according to plan. An uprising soon broke out in the Congolese army over the discrepancy between whites and blacks in the country, resulting in violent demands from the two parts of the country, Katanga and South Kasai, to secede from the mainland. Things slowly took a violent turn and the newly independent country plunged into the darkness of civil war. After several attempts, the Congo and Katanga could not come to a joint or cooperative agreement to settle their differences. Ultimately, on July 14, 1960, the Congolese government decided to go to the United Nations to intervene in the situation.
United Nations involvement in the Congo
The United Nations responded to the crisis by immediately establishing a multi-national force under the head of United Nations operations in the Congo, to which India contributed with around 3000 men by transferring the 99th Infantry Brigade to a UN ally Including the 3rd Battalion. The first among them was Gurkha in March of 1961. The United Nations adopted UN Security Council Resolution No. 169 after it failed to resolve the situation peacefully. Under this resolution, the United Nations condemned Katanga’s separatist move and authorized the use of armed force. ,
Captain Salaria led his Gurkhas from the front
Captain Salaria and his 3/1st Gurkha Rifles men were also ordered to march and deploy to the strategically important Elizabethville Airfield at Katanga and to guard the United Nations Headquarters there. The rebels, known as Gendarmes, wanted to establish a roadblock in and near the airfield. The Indian contingent was tasked with breaking down the enemy blockade so that UN operations could continue uninterrupted with the help of airfields in the Congo. Outnumbered by the enemy, Captain Salaria decided to lead the charge. The rebels had two armored cars to aid them, and they were not expected to be attacked due to their large numbers. Captain Salaria and his Gurkhas crawled slowly and quietly for some distance, suitable for rocket launchers to take out enemy armored vehicles. As the rocket destroyed the armored vehicles, Captain Salaria led the charge to clear the roadblock.
Captain Salaria was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) for showing raw courage in the face of overwhelming odds and facing an enemy bigger than himself, completely disregarding his personal safety.
- A section of the National Defense Academy has been named Salaria Square in honor of the brave officer.
- On 5 December 1992, the Army Postal Service Corps issued a special postage stamp in honor of Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria.
- The 14 Gorkha Training Center in Sabathua, Himachal Pradesh has a stadium named after him.
- In 1984, the Ships Corporation of India (SCI) named as Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, PVC among its oil takers.
Armed with only one khukri, a brave soldier till the end
As Captain Salaria’s men destroyed two armored vehicles of the Katangi rebels, Captain Salaria decided to lead the charge with his regiment’s war slogan “Jai Maa Kali, Aao Gorkhali”, which means, ” Jai Maa Kali, here comes Gorkhali”. Captain Salaria wanted to counter the confused enemy before reorganizing himself and launching a counter-attack on the Indians. His last message on the radio to another officer was “I am proceeding with the attack because I am sure I will be victorious”. On the orders of their commander, the soldiers fought the enemy with their uncovered khukris and inflicted heavy damage on the rebels. In a state of confusion and during the battle, an enemy automatic rifle exploded in the neck of Captain Salaria. Refusing to retreat and evacuate, he continued to attack the enemy until the enemy had lost about half his strength and decided to flee, leaving behind his dead and wounded. Captain Salaria later succumbed to his injuries on the way to the hospital for treatment.
Facts / Trivia
- Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria became the first alumnus of the National Defense Academy to receive the Param Vir Chakra (PVC).
- He was nicknamed “Khan Saheb” by his commanding officer because of his shaved hair and twisted mustache.
- Once in Shimla, before being posted to the Congo, he showed his hand to a palmist, who he said would bring great fame to his name.
- Of all the siblings, she was the favorite of her grandmother, who often tied a black thread around her waist to protect her from evil.
- While studying at King George’s Royal Indian Military College, Gurbachan Singh challenges his bully to a boxing match and after defeating the bully, the bully has to apologize to him.
- Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria was against 150 Katangi rebels, out of which he and his men managed to kill 40. Thus sending the rebels into a sense of disorder.
- Rachna Bisht Rawat writes in his book The Brave – The Param Vir Chakra Stories,
There were two bullets in his throat. Blood was oozing out and his shirt was wet. Right ahead he could see the gendarmerie running. Some of his brave and courageous Gurkhas were still following him. When heavy fatigue surrounded him, he did not resist. He had lost a lot of blood. His work was done and he was at peace. Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria of 3/1 Gorkha Rifles dropped his rifle with his eyes closed and fell in a state of unconsciousness, from which he never woke up.
- Major General RP Singh, who was then the battalion adjutant of Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria. He fondly remembers Gurbachan showing his right hand. Recalling the incident, Singh said,
Wait and see, this star will take me to great heights’. ‘I didn’t know that his day of reckoning and fame was just a few days away. Or that he will never know of this fame because it will come when he is in his heavenly abode”.