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SHER-E-BASANTAR: STORY OF FAMAGUSTA AND IT’S TWENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD OPERATOR.

2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal ( ParamVir Chakra), Sher-e-Basantar.

This is the story of an aging father, a brave mother, and a proud brother. This is the story of Sher-e-Basantar This is the story of one of India’s youngest Paramvirchakra. This is the story of 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal. A young fellow who excelled in everything he did.

“We were both soldiers doing our duty for our Nation”, these were the words of Brigadier Khwaja Naseer of the Pakistan Army, who volunteered to host Brigadier (retd.) M.L. Khetrapal was on a three-day visit to Lahore to visit his ancestral hometown Sargodha (present-day Pakistan).

The year was 2001, Retired Brigadier M.L. Khetrapal was seen smiling after ages, he was elated about his visit to Sargodha, where he lived before partition, but little did he know that his visit would change his way of looking at life forever.

On his last day in Lahore, while taking a stroll in the garden after dinner, Brig. Naseer told his guest “I have a confession to make”.

Brig. Khetrapal replied, “Yes son, I’m listening.”

“Sir there is something I want to tell you…I participated in the 1971 war. I was a young Major, Squadron Commander of the Pakistan Army’s 13 Lancers. We fought Poona Horse in the Battle of Basantar. Sir, I am the man who killed your son.”

Young Arun Khetrapal with his parents and brother.

2nd lieutenant Arun Khetrapal, born on 14th October 1950 in Pune to Brig. M.L. Khetrapal. Trained at the prestigious National Defence Academy and later at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. Arun was inducted in the 17 Poona Horse, an armored regiment of the Indian Army on 13th June 1971.

At the time when the 1971 war broke out, 2nd Lt. Arun Khetrapal, a newly commissioned twenty-one-year-old officer was undergoing a Young Officers Course in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. He was recalled from the course to join his unit to take part in the war on the Western Front.

Also Read: SAGA OF JUSTICE:24 YEARS AND COUNTING

The battle of Basantar broke out on the western front of India and Pakistan in the Sakargarh sector, present at a strategically prominent place, both countries wanted to establish control over the area of Sakargarh.

17 Poona Horse was assigned the task of establishing a bridgehead across the Basantar River, an area filled with landmines. By 15th December 1971, Poona Horse’s ‘A’ Squadron had established Bridgehead but, on 16th December morning enemy counterattacked, deploying a whole armoured regiment at the location. The regiment was 13 Lancer, the same regiment Brig. (then Major) Khwaja Naseer was part of.

Quick reinforcement was demanded from the ‘A’ Squadron’s side, Arun who was in the ‘B’ Squadron volunteered to be a part of the reinforcement group. In the later part what followed was a fierce tank battle, 2nd Lt. Arun Khetrapal who was operating a centurion tank named “Famagusta”, which means ‘buried in the sand’. Twenty-one-year-old 2nd Lt. Arun and his buddy ‘Famagusta’ single-handedly destroyed several enemy tanks. When Arun’s tank was hit and caught fire, orders to abandon and return from the front were passed sensing a risk for his life but Arun refused and politely responded, “No sir I will not abandon my tank, my main gun is still working, and I will get these bastards”.

“Famagusta Jx 202, a centurion tank which 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal used. It is preserved at the Armoured Corps Centre and school in Ahmednagar.

The very next day on 17th December 1971 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a ceasefire and the war ended.

Curious Major Khwaja Naseer went to Indian soldiers and enquired about the brave soldier who was handling the tank. The soldiers replied, “2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal of 17 Poona Horse”. “Bahut bahaduri se lade aapke sahab, chot to nahi aayi”/ “Your officer fought bravely, he didn’t get hurt?” was Major Khwaja’s concern to which Indian soldiers replied, “Sahab shaheed hogaye / sir is no more”.

2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal was awarded India’s highest gallantry award in wartime Paramvir Chakra for his indomitable courage and sacrifice. Tall handsome Twenty-one-year-old officer with a very pleasant personality who was singularly devoted to his tank changed the course of the battle and became a national hero.

A fourth-generation army officer, army blood ran in his veins. Once in an interview, his mother said, “My son did nothing extraordinary, it was his duty. He did me proud, I’m equally brave mother”. The same Mother whose last words to his son before sending him to the warzone were, “Sher ki tarah ladna / Fight like a lion”.

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