Written by Varinder Bhatia | Leh | Updated: June 21, 2020 10:34:03 pm
An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, north-east of Srinagar, India, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (AP Photo)
The 20 Indian soldiers led by Col B Santosh Babu who were killed in the fierce clash with Chinese troops in Galwan valley on the night on June 15-16 suffered serious injuries apparently inflicted by sharp-edged weapons, and multiple fractures, sources said.
The Indian soldiers fought back valiantly, and inflicted several casualties on the Chinese. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said on June 17 that “Desh ko iss baat ka garv hoga ki hamaare sainik maarte maarte mare hain (The nation would be proud that our soldiers have died fighting).”
The hand-to-hand combat between the soldiers on steep and jagged terrain continued for several hours. A number of Indian soldiers died due to drowning/cold, apparently after they were thrown or fell into the river during the clash, it is learnt.
“From the condition of the bodies of the martyred soldiers, it appeared that they had fought a fierce battle. It appeared that they [Indian soldiers] killed many [Chinese]. The injuries looked like multiple stab wounds inflicted with sharp-edged weapons, and several of them also had multiple limb fractures,” a doctor at Leh’s Sonam Nurboo Memorial (SNM) Hospital, who had seen the bodies, said on condition of anonymity.
Sources told The Indian Express that from the conversation with the wounded soldiers who were brought to the hospital in Leh, it appeared that the Indian soldiers went at the Chinese with everything they had after their Commanding Officer, Col Santosh Babu was attacked.
This June 18, 2020, satellite photo released by Planet Labs, shows the reported site of a fatal clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan River Valley in the Ladakh region near the Line of Actual Control. (AP)
“They [Indian soldiers] went with full aggression after their Colonel and two others who went ahead were attacked… Then the Indian soldiers launched a full attack. They were saying [to staff at the hospital] that they snatched whatever knives etc., and hit them [Chinese] back hard,” a source said.
The sources told The Indian Express that at least 18 injured soldiers were being treated in Leh, and more than 40 others had been sent to military hospitals elsewhere in the country. The Army has not given the numbers of soldiers who sustained injuries in the clash.
Soon after the clash in the Galwan valley, around 230 km from Leh, the Army ordered largescale movement of troops to Ladakh. A build-up of forces had been taking place since the Chinese PLA started to gather in strength along the Line of Actual Control (LAC); the violent clash last week has led to a strategic re-assessment.
Army vehicles near Leh on Thursday, on way to Eastern Ladakh, which saw a clash with China recently. (Photo by Wangailkaya)
Leh on Sunday was almost entirely shut, locked down by the administration to control the surge of novel coronavirus infections. Roads were barricaded and markets were deserted, and police and security forces were out in strength.
No civilians, including the media, were allowed to move, and only Army, police, and government vehicles were on the roads. The silence in the largest town and joint capital (along with Kargil) of the Union Territory of Ladakh was periodically broken by the roar of fighter jets overhead.
On Saturday, Ladakh reported 92 positive cases of Covid-19, taking the number of active patients to 718, including 146 in Leh and 572 in Kargil district. A total 539 patients are in home isolation, while 120 are in Covid care centres. Three weeks ago, on May 30, the UT had only 30 active cases of Covid-19.
With large numbers of Army vehicles moving towards the Galwan valley, the Srinagar-Leh national highway has been shut for civilian traffic, and flights are the only way to reach Leh. A Covid screening centre has been established at Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, all arriving passengers are being thermally screened, and samples are being collected randomly.
Birbhum: Army personnel bury the mortal remains of Rajesh Orang during his funeral ceremony, at Belgoria village in Birbhum district of West Bengal, Friday, June 19, 2020. Orang was among the twenty Indian Army soldiers who were killed during a face-off with Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan valley. (PTI Photo)
Dr Motup Dorje, Chief Medical Officer, Leh, told The Indian Express, “After a surge in Covid-19 cases over the past one week, the district administration imposed a complete lockdown on Sunday. We are prepared; we have a dedicated Covid hospital with 42 ICU beds and 21 ventilators. We also have two Covid care centres with a total 110 beds, besides Covid care centres in the peripheral health institutions. No patient has had to be put on ventilator support yet”.
Col (Retd) Sonam Wangchuk, a hero of the Kargil war and Maha Vir Chakra awardee, said the tension on the border and the pandemic had together ensured an “unprecedented silence” in Leh. Col Wangchuk, who lives in Leh, told The Indian Express that he believed that the Indian soldiers had killed at least two Chinese for every life that they had lost in the Galwan valley clash.
“There were certain structures that were built by these people [Chinese] on our side. A surveillance party had gone there to see if those structures had been removed or not,” Col Wangchuk said.
“After this incident, we lost 20 boys but in return the casualties that we inflicted were more than double, around 40-43. I am sure we retaliated hard. Our boys, who are mainly from Punjab and Haryana, are of strong build and when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, we definitely have an upper hand. I am getting reports that our boys also killed many [Chinese soldiers].”
The Chinese, Col Wanchuk said, never admit their casualties. “This happened in 1962 as well. Our one Kumaon company killed a thousand of theirs, while we lost 130 boys. Even at that time, they did not admit their casualties. Most probably this time too they will not admit it,” he said.
This is the most difficult time for Ladakh in decades, a sparsely populated region of about 3 lakh people. Tourism, the mainstay of the region’s economy and the only source of income for the majority of the people, is in a shambles. Flights have resumed but the only passengers on board are migrant workers, personnel of the Border Roads Organisation, and mediapersons.
In 2019, over 1.33 lakh tourists had visited Ladakh until the end of June; this year, the number so far is only 6,055. The tourism industry is bracing for an estimated loss of over Rs 400 crore in revenues this year. “It appears that 2020 is going to be worst year of our lives,” said Ghulam Mustafa, one of Leh’s top hoteliers and head of the hoteliers’ association.
In this file photo, tourists are seen at a monastery in Leh, Ladakh. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal/File)0 0
“There are over 400 hotels and guesthouses in Leh. May to September is our peak business season. The coronavirus pandemic destroyed our business from March onward. And now we are hit with the tensions on the border,” Mustafa said.
According to Mustafa, more than 70 per cent of Ladakh’s population is dependent on tourism – workers and owners of hotels and guesthouses, taxi operators, tourist guides, travel agents, trekkers, etc. “When Corona hit us, a lot of the workforce went back to their native places. They could have began to come back, but the border tension has dampened our hopes”, Mustafa said.
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