Martyrs Day Celebration at Qila Darhal

Dr Mandeep Azad Dr Manmeet Motan
28 Oct is celebrated every year as ‘Annual Martyrs Day’ (Shaheed Diwas) to pay homage to the martyrs of Qila Darhal. The people of Qila Darhal fought with invaders on 28th Oct 1947 bravely with Pakistani tribesman and attack was repulsed. The martyrs of Darhal Qila halted the advancement of Pak raiders/ Qabailis and inflicted heavy casualties to Qabailis. Jathedar Ram Singh and his men fought bravely and repulsed the attack from September 4, 1947, till the arrival of Indian Army. Every year Martyrs Day is celebrated in the area. Nowshera (alternatively spelt Nowshehra and Naushera) is a town and tehsil in the Rajouri district . It is a small town located on the bank of Manawer river just 4 km inwards from the Manawer bridge on Jammu-Poonch national highway. It is a border tehsil of Rajouri district with a vast areal and demographic extent. It is a beautiful place with a number of tourist attractions including the fort of Mangla Devi, holy cave temple of Mangla Mata, Central Gurudwara of Sikhs in Nonial, Qila Darhal and other Dargahs and temples. Similar to battle of Saragathi on 12 September 1897 wherein an estimated 12,000 – 24,000 Orakzai and Afridi tribesmen attacked Saragarhi, cutting off Fort Gulistan from Fort Lockhart. The Afghans attacked the outpost of Saragarhi where thousands of them swarmed and surrounded the fort, preparing to assault it but the brave sikh soldiers led by Havildar Ishar Singh, the 21 soldiers in the fort-all of whom were Sikhs-chose to fight to the death, in what is considered by some military historians as the greatest last stand in history. The post was recaptured two days later by another British Indian contingent. Similar to such battle was fought in Qila Darhal where in brave civilians held the ground from September 04th 1947 to October 28th, 1947 till arrival of the Indian Army. They decided not to run but to fight till the last breath. This kind of heroism is not normal it needs special level of patriotism and love for your motherland. Qila Darhal a small village 20 kms northwest of Nowshera was inhabited by the Sikhs and majority of them were the retired Army soldiers or large number of them had taken part in second world war. Their decision to save their land gives a big message of nationalism to all of us today.
On 17 June 1947 Indian Independence Act was passed by the British Parliament for granting independence to India and the partition of the country into two sovereign states of India and Pakistan. At the time of partition of the sub-continent there were 562 princely states ruled by the Maharajah and Nawabs. Such states were asked to accede to either India or Pakistan or remain independent. Among such princely states was the state of Jammu and Kashmir ruled by a Maharaja Hari Singh having Muslim majority population. Though all the states acceded to India or Pakistan on various dates before or immediately after 15th Aug 1947, the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir delayed his decision in regard to accession. Maharaja sought from both the Dominions a standstill agreement to come into effect on 15 Aug. 1947. However only a few days after Pakistan accepted the standstill agreement, it was on 4th September that raids from Pakistan side were reported on be J&K Border. It was reported more armed raids into state territory by Pakistan nationals and soldiers on 13th, 17th, 18th and 28th September. On 3rd October, Kashmir Government protested to Pakistan against hundreds of armed people from Murree Hills in Pakistan operating in Poonch. Further incursions into Kashmir took place on various dates during October. Pakistan was determined to coerce the state into accession to her despite a standstill agreement. Besides the several incursions by armed forces and nationals into the state territory, it began an economic blockade of the state. Supplies of food, petrol and other essential commodities to Kashmir were cut off. Communications were tampered and free transit of people was hindered. These raids grew into a regular warfare. The enemy captured Muzaffarabad and Baramulla in October. Seeing this Maharaja signed the instrument of accession with Government of India on 26th Oct 1947 and Indian forces came to J&K on 27th Oct 1947.
Suspecting the future dangers in the month of October, the residents of Qila Darhal started preparing for their defence and save their motherland. The people of Qila Darhal, Lam, Rajua, Jajote, Seri, Sarila, Tatua, Hill Kayla and Andruth assembled in the fort in first week of September 1947 irrespective of caste and religion. They started the preparations for their defence in the hour of attack and arranged the ration and other commodities for a period of 6 months. The tribesmen from Pakistan attacked the fort of Darhal. The people of Qila Darhal fought with invaders on 28th Oct 1947 bravely and attack was repulsed. While the enemy captured Rajouri and reached Nowshehra, numerous attacks were repulsed in Darhal by the brave civilians as they held the ground from September 04th 1947 to October 28th, 1947 till arrival of the Indian Army. A fierce battle ensued in the area of Darhal Fort wherein heavy causalities were inflicted on the enemy. During this battle, Jathedar Ram Singh, Hukam Singh, Sohan Singh, Suchan Singh and Pritam Singh laid down their lives. There were many injured in this battle but all fought bravely and made ensured that won’t let them in the fort till their last breath. Young, old, irrespective of their religion, even women being led by Sardarni Bhagh Kour fought with enemy very bravely from the top of Fort. This fort has now become an integral part of the sacrifices made to preserve Independence. To fondly remember and commemorate the heroic deeds of civilians and army personals for saving the day, 28th October is celebrated as Qila Darhal Defence Day ever since. In the memory of the supreme sacrifices made by villagers & army Personnel, a memorial has been made to immortalize the sacrifices. Shaheed Garh (Qila Darhal) War memorial made at some distance from Fort stands tall as a testimony of bravery and sacrifices. The twelve feet high marble and granite super structure on a four feet high platform showcases the names of all army personals and civilians who achieved martyrdom in the areas of Jhangar and Lam since Independence. It’s a fact that Fort of Qila Darhal has played an important role in safeguarding the independence of region. Sikhs have sacrificed their lives for the protection of the oppressed, the helpless and other religions. While various communities across the country have contributed to meeting these challenges, the Sikh community’s contribution has been disproportionately large relative to the small size of its population. The Sikhs fought gallantly on numerous battlefields in the First and Second World Wars. In all, 83,005 Sikh soldiers made the supreme sacrifice on the battlefields of the two World Wars; another 1,09,045 were wounded in battle. While the Sikhs from Punjab, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir serve in large numbers in the Punjab and Dogra regiments and other fighting arms like the Regiment of Artillery and the Corps of Engineers. The battle of Qila Darhal also depict the bravery and valour of the sikhs along with the residents of Qila Darhal who fought with enemy and made them step back. Inspite of this Qila Darhal having such an important significance, the fort is neglected and not in a good condition. We should try to save our heritage places to give a message of bravery and sacrifice made by our great ancestors. History needs to be preserved to boost patriotism in the younger generation. We should make sure to tell our younger generation about these incidents of heroism to infuse a sense of nationality and patriotism.