Col JP Singh
Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan had been the battleground for several decades. State has produced some of the greatest soldiers of the world. Their valour is enshrined in the annals of military history.
Gen Zorawar Singh, the legendary conqueror, Gen Baj Singh victor of Chitral; Jem Parkash Singh Chib, Victoria Cross, Brig Rajinder Singh, Maha Vir Chakra, Maqbool Sherwani and Rfn Aurangzeb, Ashok Chakra, to mention a few, are from J&K. The turbulent history of Jammu & Kashmir post independence is a similar saga of valour and sacrifice made by men from all over the country. Some of the bravest of the brave include Maj Som Nath Sharma, CHM Piru Ram, Nk Jadhunath Singh, Maj Shaitan Singh, Lt Col A R Tarapore, Fg Offr Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon, 2Lt Arun Khetarpal, Capt Manoj Kumar Pandey and Capt Vikram Batra of ‘Dil Mange More’ fame, all Param Vir Chakras and many many others of their ilk. Their noble souls had no place of eternal rest in the state where they laid down their precious lives. To show gratitude to them, Indian Army made a unique war memorial at Bahu Wali Rakh, near the historic Bahu Fort, and named it ‘Balidan Stambh’. Its foundation was laid by Gen N C Vij, a Jammuite, on 6th January 2005,the then Chief of Army Staff; to commemorate the martyrdom of those who sacrificed their life in Jammu and Kashmir for upholding the sovereignty of India. It was inaugurated by Gen Deepak Kapoor, army chief, on 24 November 2009. It is here that the souls of our fallen heroes and saviour of J&K rest in peace.
Balidan Stambh is situated on the NH1A bypass, adjacent to the army Transit Camp and Jammu University. It is within 3-4 kms from the Railway Station & Bus Stand and is easily accessible. It is world class in design. The Stambh is 60 mtrs tall. Sacred flame burns below it. When seen from a distance, it looks like a .303 Mk IV Rifle with bayonet, an Infantry soldier’s weapon of pre-independence era. The solemn pillar is silhouetted on its rear over a 25 ft high wall where names of highest gallantry award winners and stories of their valour are etched in golden letters. Below the Satmbh, 60 majestic pillars stand as if soldiers are standing ready to charge the enemy position with the fire support of attack helicopters hovering behind them. The bayonet is seen piercing into the stomach of blue sky. All this symbolises a lot and is best left to the imagination of visitors. Its landscaped lawns, musical fountains, lofty water jets hitting the sky and above all an eternal golden flame under the arch of the Stambh, which are aesthetically integrated into sprawling environment. History of main battles and wars fought in J&K since independence are engraved in the majestic rear wall. Every name carved on the marble has a valiant tale to tell, most of which are etched in our mind. Hence Balidan Stambh is a perfect historical and emotional rendezvous for the people of Jammu region because most of the names etched there in gold, on black granite, are of their ancestors. It is visible from entire Jammu city and is comparable to various world fame monuments. Its elegance is seen to be believed.
While more than 1900 names are etched on the walls of the majestic J&K State Forces War Memorial Satwari, many of them are not there in Balidan Stambh. State Forces War Memorial is not accessible to public being inside the military station. Their names also need to be written on the sacred walls of this monument so that their progenies can see them.
Balidan Stambh epitomises pluralism and diversity of India which are the hallmark of our society. This Stambh also epitomises a vibrant linkage of rest of the country with Jammu & Kashmir. This monument is the bridge between India and J&K and not the paper penned, much acclaimed and delusive Article 370. To impress upon its emotional linkages with rest of India, Gen Deepak Kapoor handed it over to the State govt. Department of Tourism took over its promotion and maintenance and managed it well for some time. But the state govt backed out for want of its maintenance cost. Its plea was that since the army has made it, the cost of its maintenance be borne by the army. It is pity that the flame lit in memory of over 5000 martyrs who laid down their lives fighting militancy in J&K and those who gave their lives on the frontiers of J&K remained switched off for many years pending dispute over the cost of one LPG Cylinders a day. Finally on 18 Jan 2014, a ceremony was held for re-lighting the eternal flame under the aegis of Tiger Division, after which army undertook to keep the sacred flame burning. IOC pledged to supply LPG Cylinders free of cost. Thereafter the flame remains lit day and night.
Having attended the inauguration ceremony, I kept talking about it and telling/ taking people there to see this great monument; the bridge over blood stream, which connects J&K to India. On 16 July 2019, I visited the monument with morning walker pals of Green Belt Gandhinagar. They were first time visitors and were enchanted with its magnificence and solemnity. That is why I have observed above, “hope Jammu knows it”. I saw it being spruced up for the impending Kargil Vijay Divas related visits of military commnaders. May I request the civil society to spare sometime to light a candle in the memory of those who gave their today for our tomorrow on 26th July; the 20th Kargil Vijay Divas. JKESL led by Maj Gen G S Jamwal, AVSM, an alumni of State Force, and Fauji Public School are doing it.
So long it was with the army, lot of functions and activities were held there. Now its security and regulation is with civil police and the maintenance, upkeep and lighting of the flame is with the army. Its timings are 9 AM to 7.30 PM. At an average 100 people visit the monument daily. Due to Amarnath Yatra these days, the average is 150. Th. Randhir Singh, former minister, having seen the war memorial of European Countries feels that army should take over Balidan Stambh and maintain it like foreign country monuments. He has taken it up with Raksha Mantri and the Governor J&K. Besides routine visits, it is a most suitable place for the conduct of solemn military functions such as Kargil Vijay Diwas and unit raising and battle honour days. The change of baton ceremony of military and para-military commanders can also take place infront of the sacred flame. Like England, newly married couples should also pay visit to this inspirational monument of fame.
Col JP Singh