Colonel Ashutosh Sharma (SM**)

Colonel Ashutosh Sharma




Native to Bulandshahar district of Uttar Pradesh, a boy who would never back down to failure, sharper than sword and determined to the core, young Ashutosh was an ardent proponent of the Indian Army. Diligent and resolute Ashutosh made inroads to the Indian Army in his 13th attempt through CDS(Combined Defence Services), his sheer determination to join IA, highly advocates for his passion and love for the olive green. Commissioned on September 1, 2001 into 19 Guards(The Brigade Of Guards), the gritty young soldier soon transformed into a consummate officer leading his team in the Valley for many counter-insurgency ops. Two time Sena Medal awardee, fondly known as 'Rajwar Tiger' once again stepped into the battlefield to lead his team in a cordon and hunt operation; Op Handwara. As per the inputs, 2-4 terrorists were in hiding in Handwara, quickly swinging into action Col Sharma soon established contact with the terrorists hiding in adjacent houses and holding few civilians hostage. A fierce gun-fight followed resulting in elimination of two infiltrators, while taking on the rest, Colonel was shot and later succumbed to his injuries. Before leaving for heavenly abode, he had managed to rescue all the hostages, he was posthumously honoured with his third Sena Medal. Colonel Ashutosh Sharma may not have lived long but he'd surely lived a soldier life to the fullest.

Ashutosh Sharma

Born on July 3, 1975 to Shri Shambhu Dutt Pathak, a soil conservation officer and Shrimati Sudha Sharma, Ashutosh was the younger of the two siblings. He hailed from Parwana Mahmodpur Village of Aurangabad area in Bulandshahar district, Uttar Pradesh. His elder brother Piush Sharma who is now based in Jaipur also wanted to join the Indian Army, unfortunately he was cut short from realizing his dreams but embellished himself into a fine wildlife photographer and pharmaceutical professional. Ashutosh completed his schooling from Bulandshahar and later topped off his graduation from DAV Inter college, although academically very good, he found it difficult to crack the SSB(Services Selection Board) interviews even after clearing his written exam in all attempts.

Ashutosh Sharma with family
"He was passionate about the army uniform and spent a six year-long battle to get into the army. Every time he did not make it, he cried into my arms when I used to go to pick him up at the railway station on his return. 'Bhaiya, I tried my best', he would say," remembers Ashutosh's brother Piush Sharma

Ashutosh's friend Vijay Kumar, who is now Deputy Commandant in CISF recalls how he always told Ashu to look for options in Paramilitary Forces but his words were all Greek to him and Ashutosh's constant reply was, "It has to be Army and Army only, nothing else". Paradoxically even after so many failures his zeal for the Indian Army never derailed. A long wait and 13 attempts it took for Ashutosh Sharma to checkmark his holy grail. Finally after cracking CDS exam in his final attempt, he made his way to OTA(Officers Training Academy), Chennai. During his training at the OTA, he was excellent in athletics and sports, especially hockey, he even represented the Hockey team of OTA at Inter-Academy competitions held at IMA(Indian Military Academy), Dehradun. Gentleman Cadet Ashutosh Sharma was commissioned on September 1, 2001 into the 19 Guards; The Brigade of Guards.

Ashutosh's family seeing him off for OTA Chennai
“He was passionate about the Army. He was a brave soldier. He talked, dreamt and lived the Army. He took pride in sharing glory of his unit (19 Guards Mechanised Infantry) and its traditions,” remembers Col Sharma’s brother Piush Sharma
Lt Ashutosh Sharma(2001) with brother Piush during commissioning ceremony at OTA

The Brigade of Guards is a mechanised Infantry regiment of the Indian Army, it was raised as the first 'all class' and 'all India' infantry regiment, while all other regiments recruited personnel from certain ethnicity or region like the Maratha Light Infantry and Sikh Light Infantry who recruit non-commissioned soldiers from specific regions only. The war cry of the Brigade of Guards is "गरुड़ का हूं बोल प्यारे" (I am the son of Garuda, Say O my friend) and the motto of the regiment is "पहला हमेशा पहला"(First always First) while the insignia of the regiment is the mythological bird "Garuda".

Ashutosh got married to Pallavi Sharma on April 22, 2004 in Jaipur, where he had moved from his native village in Bulandshahar district. Ashutosh had met Pallavi in Dehradun while they were in a coaching institute for entry in the Armed Forces. She knew him before he became an Army Officer and also stood by him when he received his gallantry medals. Together they had a daughter Tamannah who is now 12 years old. Unsurprisingly the love for the Armed Forces runs in Ashutosh's family, his wife herself wanted to put on the olive green uniform, "I wanted to join the Army myself but could not. If my age permits and if the ministry gives concession, I would like to don the uniform," says Pallavi Sharma. 'Ashu loved reading books on military leadership while listening to Kishore Kumar and Jagjit Singh songs,' remembers Mrs Sharma.

Col Ashutosh Sharma with family

Colonel Ashutosh Sharma in his almost 20 years of service travelled extensively from coast to coast and carried out many operations and managed to hone his field experience and leadership. 'Ashutosh also wanted to join the Special Forces, it was only regret that Ashu had that he couldn't make it into the SF,' recalls Piush Sharma. Colonel Ashutosh Sharma had alpha grading in all his courses and he was even commando instructor, eligible to train soldiers, apart from this he even trained at the prestigious Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. Col Sharma was awarded with his first Sena Medal in the year 2018 for his successful counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir. His presence of mind and weapon handling was so sharp that every bullet fired from his gun met a target. In the year 2019, he shot at a terrorist from a distance who was running with a hidden grenade towards his troop thusly evading his men from an attack which could have otherwise proved fatal. On August 15, 2019 Col Ashutosh Sharma was awarded his second Sena Medal(BAR) for his skillsets and vividness in handling the incident.

Col Ashutosh Sharma alongside Lt Col MS Dhoni

Ashutosh Sharma joined the 21 Rashtriya Rifles unit and few years later went on to be the Commanding Officer of the unit. 21 RR is a reconnaissance and support battalion of the Indian Army which draws its troop from the 19 Guards. 21 RR has also earned the distinction "Triple Centurion", for eliminating 300 terrorists in the Kashmir Valley. Being the CO of the 21 RR, the responsibilities of Col Sharma had increased many folds, the military tactics and strategic planning for cordon or hunt operations was on his shoulders, to him his unit was his first family and each men of the unit his own children. He used to solve any issues of his troop with utmost urgency and sometimes he would even go beyond the line of duty to solve personal or financial problems of his men. He had cancelled his own leave many times so that his men could go visit their families, being part of a Rashtriya Rifles battalion is a hard task, although the officers and soldiers draw almost 25% more salary than any other regiment but their operations too are twice as ferocious as anyone's. Piush Sharma, brother of Ashutosh remembers how Ashu once came to visit them in Jaipur on Holi, “He came unannounced around 7.30 pm on the day holika is burnt and gave us a pleasant surprise. We had a blast the next day".

Colonel Ashutosh Sharma visited his family on Holi in 2019

A year later, the whole world had come to a standstill, starting April 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic had started to affect the regular activities of the Indian Army. April 22, was 16th marriage anniversary of Mr and Mrs Sharma, Ashutosh had planned to visit but amid pandemic, it wasn't possible. He telephoned her that day and told how much he was missing her and family. "Maybe he had some intuition, we sometimes don't come to know at that moment, but definitely something was to happen," says Mrs Sharma. On May 1, Raising Day of 21 Rashtriya Rifles, Colonel Ashutosh and his unit couldn't enjoy the occasion due to prevailing covid-19 situation instead the celebration was limited to a Puja. The whole world could have chosen to stay at home but not the Indian Army, the summer season is the peak time for the terrorists to be launched across the LoC, the launchpads in the PoK and Pakistan are highly active during this time as the snow and ice covering the Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System(AIOS) during the winter starts to thaw and the fence beneath is in a derelict state easing the path for terrorists to cross. 30 terrorists had been neutralized by Indian Army in the April, 2020 alone.

May 1, 21 RR Raising Day

Operation Handwara


On May 1, 2020 Colonel Ashutosh Sharma got the intelligence input, according to the sources there were few hardcore militants present in the Wadarbala-Rajwara forests in Kupwara district. The Rajwara forest was Col Sharma's 'Area of Operation'(AOR), based on the inputs, 21 Rashtriya Rifles team along with personnel from CRPF and J&K police launched a joint combing operation in the Wadarbala-Rajwara forest. 21 RR troop was led by Colonel himself, besides him the team included Company Commander Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh Singh, and few more soldiers. The combing operation lasted the whole day and when the teams were returning from the Rajwara forests on May 2, 2020, another intelligence source hinted at presence of 2-3 militants in Handwara's Chanjimulla hamlet, the sources also believed that LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) commander Haidar alias Iqbal was also present in the village. The infiltrators clad in combat uniform seemed to have crossed the LoC and taken shelter in safe house, reportedly they had also taken few civilians hostage to make them their shield against the incoming fires from Indian Army.

Operating locations of 21 RR. Pic credit: KnowYourHeroes/GoogleEarth

Commanding Officer Colonel Ashutosh Sharma along with his 21 RR unit quickly swung to action and reached the Chanjimulla village at about 1.30 pm, on inspection of the area, it became clear that the terrorists were hiding in adjacent houses. On being challenged by the troops at about 3.45 pm, militants started to fire heavily thence started a fierce gunfight between the two sides, the Rashtriya Rifles men had to be a little more cautious as the civilians were in captive inside the house. A mortar was shelled into the house by the soldiers that eliminated 1 terrorist. The time was running out quickly, the hostages needed to be evacuated before the dusk, amid the heavy firings Col Sharma decided to form a small 5 membered team and move inside the house. It was a big gamble taken by the CO of 21 RR but he wasn't any neophyte in those situation, in his 18 years service, Col had seen and tackled numerous operations of such kind. Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh Singh and Sub-Inspector of Jammu and Kashmir Police Sageer Ahmed Qazi barged into the house to rescue the civilians, but as per the locals the 2nd terrorist had moved out of the house into a cowshed nearby.

Op Handwara

The second militant opened fire at the 5 men team and lobbed grenade towards them, according to the little information that is in the public domain, Col Ashutosh and his 4 men lost contact with rest of the 21 RR team. The RR team tried to establish contact with them but to no avail, at about 6 pm, reinforcement team came to take charge of the situation but it was too dark and weather too took a sharp turn, hence the operation was halted unwillingly. Next Day with the sign of first light, the operation was resumed and the Rashtriya Rifles team succeeded in eliminating the second terrorist around 9.30 am. On searching the house, bodies of 4 RR soldiers, 1 J&K police personnel were found, it is believed that while evacuating the hostages, Col Ashutosh Sharma and team were caught amid the grenade blast and later succumbed to their injuries attaining 'Veergati'. Two terrorists including Lashkar-e-Taiba Commander Haider aka Iqbal was gunned down thus concluding the operation.

Usually in an operation involving 2-3 militants, the Commanding Officer does not lead the charge rather a Major rank Company Commander handles the combing operations but on May 2, 2020 Colonel Ashutosh Sharma did not want to leave the task of evacuating the civilians to young men of the unit and he himself chose to enter the cluster of houses. The 21 RR unit had lost 4 men including their Commanding Officer, to bring some stability among the men, Colonel Gagandeep Singh had been appointed as CO of 21 RR to see it through the summer until a new CO would be selected properly. Colonel Ashutosh Sharma was honored with his third Sena Medal(BAR) for sheer exhibition of exemplary leadership, courage and comradery, while Company Commander Major Anuj Sood was honored with Shaurya Chakra. Naik Rajesh Kumar and Lance Naik Dinesh Singh were awarded with Sena Medal on Republic Day, 2021 for their fearlessness and pluck while evacuating civilians safely.

Fallen Soldiers of Operation Handwara
"I feel honoured. I feel blessed. I feel complete. I accept his decision of barging into that house to eliminate terrorists to save civilians and sacrificing his life. I have no complaints, no regrets. I accept even that with a smile because that was his decision and the right thing to do according to him," says Mrs Sharma

The loss of a Commanding Officer comes as a mighty blow to the troops of the unit, amid this Mrs Sharma keeping her personal loss aside tried to boost the morale of the unit, she even called every men of the 21 RR and while talking to Major Anuj Sood's wife Aakriti Sood, she said if something happened to Major Anuj and nothing to Ashu, then 'How would I have faced you?'

"One martyr had come to my house, but five martyrs had come to their unit. If I had cried that unit would have disintegrated. My emotional outburst or feeling does not have to be in public. At the funeral, I was Mrs Colonel Ashutosh and many eyes were on me. I knew I had a responsibility," says Veernaari Pallavi Sharma.

We remember and salute Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Major Anuj Sood and soldiers of Rashtriya Rifles who laid their life in the line of duty while trying to save innocent lives of civilians. Col Sharma was true to his uniform and his valour still continues to inspire the troops who fight the militants in the Valley.

Do not lament the death of a warrior in the battlefield. As those who sacrifice their life in the war are honoured in the heaven.

KnowYourHeroes. Lest we forget them