A fighter who displayed camaraderie of highest order

Col Dilbag Dabas (Retd)

Affectionately called 'Shanky' by friends, Capt Sandeep Shankla, son of Colonel JS Kanwar, was born on January 3, 1964, in Hamirpur district. 

An alumnus of the prestigious Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, Shanky was commissioned into the 18th Battalion of the Dogra Infantry Regiment.

Militancy started in late 1990/ early 1991 in Kashmir Valley and before the Indian state could realise, it had engulfed the entire Valley and Kashmir was no more a paradise! Pakistan-trained militants made it hell by resulting in mass exodus of Kashmiri pandits and a sizable number of Hindu trading community from the Valley. Tourism, one of the major sources of the regional economy and livelihood for many, was badly hit since the Valley was perceived as a dangerous place to live in. Kupwara district in Jammu and Kashmir was and still is a hot bed of militancy in the Valley. It was at that time that the 18th Dogra Battalion was inducted into the Valley for anti-militancy operations.

After a detailed study of the terrain, the modus operandi of militants and expected support from the local population, the 18th Dogra Battalion got on to the job it was sent for — to cordon, search, apprehend or eliminate terrorists from its area of responsibility. During its anti-militancy operations in the Valley, the battalion did a commendable job, though at unavoidable cost. During one such operation, Captain Sandeep Shankla, the leader of the Quick Reaction Team, single-handedly killed nine militants and under his inspirational leadership, the team apprehended 22 hardcore terrorists.

For his inspirational leadership and unparalleled act of bravery, Captain Sandeep Shankla was awarded the Ashok Chakra posthumously. 

His act of bravery recorded in the War Diary of 18th Dogra battalion reads: Captain Sandeep Shankla was the leader of the Quick Reaction Team (QRT) of the 18th Dogra Battalion deployed in counter-militancy operations in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 8, 1991, he learnt about the presence of a large number of militants at Zafarkhani village in Kupwara district in north Kashmir. The intelligence input was authentic and needed urgent action before the terrorists could move out to some other hideout. Leading from the front, Captain Sandeep Shankla approached the village and immediately cordoned off the area and told the militants to surrender. Finding themselves trapped, the militants opened indiscriminate firing and lobbed hand grenades. The Quick Reaction Team also retaliated and in the encounter, Captain Sandeep Shankla suffered bullet injuries. However, without caring for himself, he continued the operation and single-handedly killed nine militants. Before fleeing from the scene, a terrorist shot Captain Shankla on the abdomen and also hurled two hand grenades. Grievously wounded for the second time, Shanky, though in acute pain, threw back one of the two hand grenades hurled at him and rescued his colleague, who had sustained injuries during the cross fire. However, due to excessive loss of blood, the brave officer succumbed to his injuries." 

Captain Shankla lived and died fearlessly. For his inspirational leadership, unmatched gallantry and camaraderie of the highest order in the face of the enemy, he was awarded the Ashok Chakra, the highest peace-time military decoration, equivalent to the Param Vir Chakra awarded during war time. 

Himachal Pradesh, a very small state, with a population just about 1.6 per cent of the Indian total, has given to the Indian Army 14 Maha Virs (MVC), 66 Virs (Vr C) and a large number of brave-hearts, who have won Sena Medals and other gallantry awards. Among the 77 bravest of the braves (winners of Param Vir Chakra and Ashok Chakra), seven of them have been nurtured by Himachali soil. Undoubtedly, Himachal is a nursery that produces and nurtures the future brave-hearts. 

Ashok Chakra, the highest peace time military decoration, equivalent to Param Vir Chakra during war time, is awarded for the most conspicuous act of bravery or some act of daring or pre-eminent valour or self-sacrifice other than in the face of the enemy on land, at sea or in the air. 

Act of bravery in 18th Dogra battalion War Diary reads...

Captain Sandeep Shankla was the leader of the Quick Reaction Team (QRT) of the 18th Dogra Battalion deployed in counter-militancy operations in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 8, 1991, he learnt about the presence of a large number of militants at Zafarkhani village in Kupwara district in north Kashmir. The intelligence input was authentic and needed urgent action before the terrorists could move out to some other hideout. Leading from the front, Captain Sandeep Shankla approached the village and immediately cordoned off the area and told the militants to surrender. Finding themselves trapped, the militants opened indiscriminate firing and lobbed hand grenades. The Quick Reaction Team also retaliated and in the encounter, Captain Sandeep Shankla suffered bullet injuries. However, without caring for himself, he continued the operation and single-handedly killed nine militants. Before fleeing from the scene, a terrorist shot Captain Shankla on the abdomen and also hurled two hand grenades. Grievously wounded for the second time, Shanky, though in acute pain, threw back one of the two hand grenades hurled at him and rescued his colleague, who had sustained injuries during the cross fire. However, due to excessive loss of blood, the brave officer succumbed to his injuries

(The writer is a veteran Gunner, 6 Field Regiment)