“An Unsung Hero Is Better Than An Insulted Hero” An Army Major’s Mother Fights For Justice
Eight months after Major Akshay Girish was martyred in the Nagrota Terror Attack 2016, his parents were under the impression that their son had been recommended for a Shaurya Chakra on August 15, 2017. They were in for a rude shock when they realised that their son’s name was under ‘mention in despatches’ (MID).
As per definition, “Mention in Dispatches has been used since 1947, to recognise distinguished and meritorious service in operational areas and acts of gallantry which are not of a sufficiently high order to warrant the grant of gallantry awards.”
The family openly questioned the decision and said that this was an ‘unprecedented denial of due honour to a soldier who gave his all to save precious lives and make his Regiment, Army and country proud’, that it was ‘morally and ethically, an act of injustice’.
Nagrota Terror Attack 2016
On the fateful day of 29 November 2016, a group of heavily-armed Pakistani Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists dressed in police uniform infiltrated into the Army’s 166 Field Regiment artillery unit, unchallenged, in Jammu and Kashmir’s Nagrota.
“Major Akshay did not hesitate once to leave his bubble of safety to do what he could for his countrymen, and we will always be proud of him. His legacy shall always be kept alive,” wrote Sangeetha Girish, wife of Martyr Major Akshay Girish on Facebook on his first death anniversary.
Following a significant security lapse, the terrorists opened fire at the men in the unit and barged into the officer’s accommodations. They killed four soldiers before entering two residential buildings. They tried to create a hostage-like situation with 12 soldiers, two ladies and two children being held captive.
The attack had been strategically planned well in advance, and the heavily armed terrorists had local support. They were driven to a spot behind a long hill ridge the previous night. They dressed in police uniforms, walked about a kilometre to reach their target at one end of the Nagrota cantonment.
The pitch dark winter night made it convenient for the terrorists to climb the outer wall, cut the wired fence and shoot dead the lone sentry before he could even raise the alarm.
Major Girish, from the neighbouring 51 Engineer Regiment of the Bengal Sappers, was the first one to reach the location with his QRT team, Maj Kunal and others.
Soon, there was a massive exchange of fire and the situation just become worse as the terrorists were armed with heavy ammunition and were aware of every corner of the unit. They were spread across different blocks of the accommodations and were firing from almost every direction possible.
Major Girish’s Sacrifice
Maj Girish led the team strategically, without letting any terrorist escape. He decided to evacuate a pregnant lady officer, families and children from a building. As he and his buddy (soldier) went ahead giving cover to each other, Maj Girish encountered the leader of the terrorist group and was shot multiple times.
After being grievously injured, he continued to fight fearlessly but unfortunately, succumbed to his injuries after the terrorist launched a grenade at him using an under-barrel grenade launcher that blew up his thighs. This was the first time the Pakistani terror group used such equipment.
Maj Girish’s body could not be recovered till late evening until the three terrorists had been killed.
Maj Girish displayed exemplary leadership in assessing the danger when terrorists attacked the unit at about 5:30 am in Nagrota.
“On November 29th, we suddenly woke up at 5:30 am to the sound of gunshots. We thought it was training, but there had not been any intimation. Soon even grenades went off. At around 5:45 am, a junior came in to tell him that militants had taken the artillery regiment hostage and he’d have to change to combat clothing. The last thing he said to me was ‘you must write about this,” read Sangeeta’s post on Facebook in 2017.
“I started getting jittery and had a sinking feeling. At 11:30 am, I could not help myself and made a call. One of his team members picked up the phone and said “Major Akshay has gone to a different location,” the post added.
After Sangeetha was informed that her husband martyred on duty, she wrote, “My world collapsed. I was inconsolable. I wish I had texted him. I wish I had hugged him goodbye. I wish I had told him I loved him one last time. But we never expect things to go wrong. I sobbed like a baby like my soul was being ripped apart.”
Though the officers involved in the operation managed to save every individual taken as hostage, the operation ended with seven Army personnel martyred, including Major Akshay.
Greaving Family Remains Unheard
The Logical Indian team visited Major Girish’s residence where every nook and corner of the house was about the sacrifice made by their brave son, his uniform to medals, awards to pictures.
“We cannot accept our martyred son’s name being associated with a ‘mention’ something that is defined as ‘not gallant enough for a gallantry award. We prefer Akshay to be an unsung hero rather than see his courage and selfless sacrifice being dishonoured in this manner,” Meghna Girish, mother of the Major Akshay Girish told us with teary eyes.
Since August 2017, Meghna and her family have been trying to seek public support to request a review through relevant authorities in government.
In April 2018 Meghna Girish and her family applied for a review of Major Akshay’s honour. A few weeks later, they approached Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an Indian member of Parliament.
Chandrasekhar, who runs the Flags Of Honour foundation that claims to ensure ‘our Bravehearts are never forgotten’, brought the family’s case directly to the attention of the then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The family then managed to address both Minister Sitharaman and Army chief General Bipin Rawat in November 2018.
On January 3, the Defence Minister made an announcement:
Meghna replied to the statement with a lot of hopes, “Thank you, Hon. Raksha Mantri for your kind reassurances on concerns. We anxiously await the review by the committee and are hopeful the effective QRT response will get due recognition, as will Akshay’s courage and supreme sacrifice that saved many lives in Nagrota.”
Based on request of the parents of Late Major Akshay Girish Kumar to Hon'ble Raksha Mantri,fresh examination of the operation conducted by the martyr has been carried out.Outcome of the examination has been perused by the parents of Late Major Akshay Girish Kumar.@DefenceMinIndia https://t.co/isynx8kDld
— ADG PI – INDIAN ARMY (@adgpi) March 30, 2019
The then General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 16 Corps said in a statement: Major Akshay rushed in to rescue ladies stuck inside the firing zone. He didn’t care for this life. He didn’t think for his own family, his wife and 18-month-old daughter who were IN STATION at the time, and led his team selflessly to neutralise the terrorists.
“I never knew I would have to take screenshots of messages from other officers talking about Akshay’s courage. These screenshots have now become proof to show that my son deserves to be honoured,” Meghna said.
This does not just affect Maj Akshay’s family but all those who are still serving with all the enthusiasm and love for their motherland.
“The then Army Commander and all the senior officers supported the fact that Akshay’s sacrifice deserved way more than just a MID or a formality. Akshay laid down his life for this country. Is this what he deserves? Why do we and all those who consider him a hero have to run around to prove his bravery? How is this justified?” Meghna said.
“Many people have reached out to us and sent us images of Akshay, saying that they respect his bravery. I don’t know how to react. I send a namaste to them. What we have been put through after Akshay left us was not expected. We don’t see any solution to this pain,” she added.
Two months later, Meghna was informed that the review committee had concluded the task and the report was submitted to the defence minister’s office.
“Hoping and praying for anguish at this long delay to be mitigated this week. A family needs closure. Cannot explain the pain,” Meghna tweeted on March 17, 2019.
Looking at a wall full of Akshay’s pictures, Meghna said, “We don’t want an award or medal for Akshay. He is already a hero in our minds and to so many in this country. But, I don’t want his valour to be insulted with this ‘Mention in Dispatches’. This will set a wrong precedent for other Bravehearts in future. We don’t want that.”
“A massive tragedy to our forces and the country was averted by determined courage and sacrifice. I hope that the system of awards is made much more efficient and accountable,” she said.
“Why did they recommend him for a Shaurya Chakra till the final list was announced. Why is the review process taking so long to give honour to someone who deserves it?” Meghna added.
A grievance registered with the Prime Minister’s Office remains ‘under process’.
“We want the Mention in Dispatch to be withdrawn. Don’t insult our son and his sacrifice. We respect the system and the forces. We don’t want to blame anyone. We want justice for our son and his act of bravery,” she said.
Remembering Their Son
“He was always very passionate about joining the Army. He always wanted to wear the uniform and be the first one to serve the nation, no matter what,” Meghna proudly sharing her son’s values and passions.
“I remember how he was so disturbed during the Pathankot Attack and confidently said if something like this happens, he won’t think twice before doing his duty courageously,” she proudly added.
Naina, Maj Girish and Sangeetha’s five-year-old daughter, is proud to have a brave papa.
She smiles yet, her loss cannot be imagined. Her brave papa who once did not leave her hand for a second, had to leave her forever, to save other kids like her from terrorists. It could have been a massacre in Nagrota. Thank you all for love and blessings to Naina. pic.twitter.com/oWHsS2BtDR
— Meghna Girish (@megirish2001) October 29, 2018
“Naina is just a replica of her father. She is brave, and she stands up for what she believes in and what she wants to do. Today, she says ‘my papa fought with bad uncles, and he got hurt, so he is in the sky now,” Meghna shared.
A year after Akshay's martyrdom, Naina recollects conversations with her papa.
Here she teaches us what 'Army is…'
This random video captures innocence and faith.
Love is an emotion.
Her papa's love for the Army and Countrymen also stays within her.
— Meghna Girish (@megirish2001) February 11, 2019
“As she is growing up, she hears people around her using words like terror attacks, martyr etc. Sometimes we’re scared for her, but with time we’ve realised, she has accepted the irreversible loss in the best way possible. We all are learning from Naina,” Meghna said.
The family of Martyr Major Akshay Girish continues to fight and demand justice for their brave son who sacrificed his life for the motherland. They have decided the journey hereon would be all be about celebrating his life after martyrdom.