SRINAGAR, Nov 3: It’s a routine for every Kashmiri journalist to turn his head to left when he enters the highly-fortified XV Corps headquarters of the Army in Srinagar in memory of an officer who saved the lives of three newsmen and one of his staff members before being gunned down by Lashker-e-Toiba militants 20 years ago.
Major P Purushottam, along with five other troops, laid down his life thwarting a ‘fidayeen’ terror attack on the defence public relations office that is thronged by journalists.
The Army later instituted an award recognising his presence of mind and supreme sacrifice to safeguard civilians. The trophy is given to one of the 30 Army Goodwill Schools run by the XV Corps in Kashmir valley which performs best in spreading goodwill among the masses.
The award was instituted 16 years after his death by the then Corps Commander Lt Gen (retd) Subrata Saha.
Maj Purushottam, who literally lived up to his name, laid down his life while saving the lives of the three Kashmiri journalists who had come to meet him on the fateful day-November 3, 1999 — minutes before LeT militants carried out their first suicide attack on the fortified office of the strategically important Army cantonment.
Till date, this has been the only terror attack on the Badami Bagh cantonment here.
The Army officer had arrived in the Kashmir Valley at a time when militancy was at its peak and misinformation against the Army, engaged in counter-insurgency operations, was spreading fast due to involvement of militant sympathisers.
Many Kashmiri journalists still remember him as an “an excellent gentleman, totally different from the lot we find in Kashmir in uniform in the last many years” and they credit him for introducing the Army to the Kashmiri media and built a direct rapport between journalists and the generals.
Purushottam longed to be where the action was, not as a PRO but as part of the 7 Bihar Regiment, to which he belonged since 1990. He was commissioned into the Army in June 1982 and joined 4 Bihar where he remained till 1988.
On the fateful day, gunshots rang one after the other and Purushottam, without caring for his own safety, pushed the journalists and a personnel from his unit into the washroom attached to his office.
Firing indiscriminately, the mercenaries entered the Major’s room and, when they left, Maj Purushottam and five members of his staff lay dead. All three journalists cheated death, thanks to the quick-thinking by Purushottam.
The defence PRO establishment, led by incumbent Col Rajesh Kalia, laid wreaths on behalf of the troops and information service staffers as a mark of tribute to the slain troops, including Subedar Brahm Dass, Havildar P K Maharana, Sepoys Choudhary Ramji Bhai, Md Razaul Haque and C Radhakrishnan.