Hailing from a small village in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, a young boy whose only calling was fauj and fauji life. Hangpan Dada's life was no sort of dullsville, he showed traits of his daredevilry early in his childhood, jumping into fierce flowing river to save his drowning friends was a child's play for him, he'd even gained applause from the government of Arunachal Pradesh for his audacity. He was often known as a person who was "possessed", his fearlessness was second to none. No normal pet would match his ventures so he got a snake to relish his daringness, he was a man who knew no fear, mentally tough and physically strong, a soldier to the core, filled with exceptional courage and comradery. Paving his path into the Assam regiment of the Indian Army, Dada soon gained a stature of an experienced and proficient soldier. Selected into the 35 Rashtriya Rifles Battalion, he served in the frostbiting, snow laden and tricky terrains of the Kashmir Valley. Naugam Village in Anantnag district of Kashmir is quite a place for the infiltrators to cross the LoC, on the chilly -15°C night of May 26, 2016, four terrorists from the PoK launchpads crossed the mountain border along LoC and entered Hangpan Dada's patrolling area, little did they know what was to follow next. Dada's alert troop cordoned the terrorists, finding themselves trapped, infiltrators started raining fire at the 10 membered team of Havildar Hangpan Dada, no place to hide and no mood to back off, to save his troop Hangpan Dada single-handedly charged at the 4 terrorists and piled all the 30, 7.62mm bullets into the chest of the perpetrators resulting in 3 dead. While hunting for the fourth terrorist, Hangpan Dada was taken aback and was shot with the AK rifle, he succumbed to his injuries before he could be rescued. Dada's tactics doesn't meet the textbook ambush but those who experienced his cold courage that day, can only describe it as; a ghost taking on 4 men. Havildar Hangpan Dada was honoured with Ashoka Chakra(India's highest peacetime gallantry award) for his exceptional leadership, comradery and unmatched valour.
Born on October 2, 1979 in Borduria village in Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh, Hangpan Dada was fondly nicknamed 'Dada' by his comrades and friends. Dada was the youngest son of Shri Sanwang Dada and Shrimati Toijin Dada, the elder siblings of Hangpan are Laphang Dada and Nokron Dada. Sports and athletics was in his genes, belonging to the north-eastern state he was a keen sportsman, even as a child he used to run 10 km and do 40-50 pushups everyday. Fear meant nothing to him, he used to pet snakes in his childhood, he was fond of snakes so much that he rescued most of them from his village to the forest. Unfortunately once he even had to be evacuated by the Indian Army rescue chopper after a snake bite but that also didn't deter him from keeping snakes as pet. An extremely notorious kid who would sneak on mangoes from neighbor's tree, Dada was a cheerful and light-hearted man. Once a tourist bus fell into a gorge, disregard to his life, Dada quickly assisted other men to rescue the passengers from the deep gorge. Another tale of his courage is mouthpiece in his Borduria village when he rescued his drowning friend from an aggressively flowing river, Somhang Lamra, friend of Hangpan recalls how Dada saved his life at the last moment when he was about to be drowned, "I am here in front of you because of Hangpan…I am still alive because of Hangpan Dada," he says.
Somhang Lamra, friend of Hangpan Dada
Hangpan Dada(right) reading book with his friend
Hangpan Dada was fit as a fiddle, he had made his mind early to join the Indian Army and serve the nation. At the age of 18 after completing his education from Borduria Higher secondary school, he was recruited through a rally organised by Indian Army in Khonsa town, headquarter of Tirap district, Arunachal Pradesh on October 28, 1997. Initially he was part of the 3rd battalion of the Parachute Regiment and in 2005, 7 years later he was transferred to the Assam Regimental Centre and on January 24, 2008 he joined the 4th Battalion of the Assam Regiment. During this 10 year of service, Dada had made a mark of his own in the Indian Army, his buddies knew that no enemy could escape from Dada's Kalashnikov Rifle, his commanding officers had a firm belief on Dada's capabilities in the Battlefield and they wouldn't shy away from praising him.
Hangpan Dada in PARA uniform(left); Assam regiment combat uniform(right)
On March 1 2004, Hangpan Dada married love of his life Chasen Lowang who is also native of Borduria village. As recalled by Chasen, Dada was very talkative person, he loved having long discussions with the people in Borduria. He used to visit the family after one or two years and only for 15-20 days, whenever he visited his family and village, Dada made sure to go to the church and pray, he was a religious person and loved going for wishes with his friends. Hangpan and Chasen had two children, a boy named Senwang and a daughter Roankhin. Dada and Chasen had planned to open a restaurant in their district after retirement, "pork boiled with bamboo shoots was his favorite," says Chasen.
Dada with wife Chasen and children
In the year 2016, Dada made a request to be posted with the Rashtriya Rifles, he wanted to be among the action, normal was too tedious for him. Upon his request he was posted with the 35 Rashtriya Rifles Battalion, 35 RR unit is one of the 65 battalions of the Rashtriya Rifles counter-insurgency force. 35 RR draws its troop from the north-eastern states only for 2 to 3 years as 35-RR battalion are meant to hunt down the terrorists intruding across LoC from the snow-laden high altitude areas and the soldiers from 7 eastern states are highly agile and well trained for mountain warfare. Before leaving for the deployment in Jammu and Kashmir, Dada bought a blue Saree and a white blazer for Chasen, she always considered these two things as very expensive. Few days later, Hangpan visited the Church, offered the prayer and embarked on his 3,000 km journey to Kupwara, Kashmir.
Operation Sabu Dada
Map of the region where Op Sabu Dada took place. Pic credit: KnowYourHeroes/GoogleEarth
After being deployed with the 35 Rashtriya Rifles unit, Havildar Hangpan Dada was posted at the Shamshabari ranges. The mountain range is pretty close to the LoC and Leepa valley, Leepa is a beautiful touristy place in Pakistan occupied Kashmir which attracts backpackers from all over Pakistan. Apart from being a major attraction, Leepa valley is one of the major launchpads of the terrorists, a dark side of PoK which is unseen and unheard of on the social media, infiltrators find it easy to cross the LoC from here as the terrain makes it hard to fence the border and breaches in the fencing is easily overcome by intruders. Kupwara district is 34 km north-east from the Shamshabari ranges, this range has four main posts namely Headquarters, Observation Post, Sabu Post and Marsari Post, Havildar Hangpan Dada was placed at Sabu post as the Post Commander.
On May 26, 2016, some 150 km north-west of Srinagar across the Indo-Pak border, 4 terrorists were advancing towards the LoC from one of the many launchpads of Leepa Valley, checking on their AK rifles, carefully pushing extra bullets and grenades down the knapsacks of their trouser, the infiltrators started their 5 km trek towards LoC through lush Leepa Valley. The night saw heavy snowfall and rain, the chilly winds blowing added more distress to the soldiers patrolling in the -15°C climate atop the 14000 feet Shamshabari range. The soldiers of the 35-RR had only recently reoccupied the posts on these mountain ranges, usually the troops back down to the base for stock and supply purpose during uninhabitable winter season and only reoccupy their posts in summer which sees a whole new season of the intruders crossing the LoC.
These terrorists too take advantage of the winter and train well, they know what to expect from the Indian soldiers patrolling at the Shamshabari posts, once they leave back these ranges behind they can easily enter into the populated regions of Kashmir and cause a great deal of damage, On the other hand the 35-RR soldiers atop the mountain are no neophyte, they have gone through years of training in mountain warfare. The four terrorists slowly started their movement along the ridgeline of the Shamshabari mountains via the Marsari post to minimize their chances of being caught. Dawn was creeping in when the terrorist were crossing Marsari post on mountain top, a sentry of 35 RR Sepoy J N Baite heard some noises, snow leopards and bears are common sighting on the snow-covered heights, before presuming the noise to be of a wild animal, he remembered his Company Commander Major K Amirtha Raj's words, "Never let your guard down. Not even for a moment. Split-second decisions can mean the difference between life and death."
Sepoy J N Baite ventured in the direction of the noise with his fingers firm on the trigger of the gun, just few meters down his Marsari Post, he saw footprints on the snow covered mountain floor. He knew the resting time was over and now they'll have to skip their breakfast too, he quickly relayed the message over radio to his Company Commander Major K Amritha Raj. Major also had a long night of patrolling and he had just returned to his barrack to sip some hot tea, but this was a task that needed no delay, the intruders had to be caught and put down soon before they move out their sight range. The footprints were going downhill towards the Sabu Post, the terrorists had planned to reach the Sabu Post by crossing a gorge know as Meera Naar, after crossing Sabu Post, the road would be crystal clear. Havildar Hangpan Dada and his men were about to leave and move on a 2 hour journey down the slope to pick up supplies and rations, just then at about 5.30 am, the radio call from Major Raj alerted him about the terrorists wandering in his territory. Havildar Hangpan Dada, Commander of Sabu Post knew a fight was on, he briskly regrouped his 10 men and told, "वह हमारी पोस्ट तक आ गए हैं. बस, अब और आगे नहीं. यहीं खत्म कर देंगे"
Havildar Hangpan Dada
It was the first time he had established contact with the terrorists after volunteering to serve alongside 35 Rashtriya Rifles barely 3 weeks ago. The radio call from Major Raj was cut briefly, the team was unsure about the terrorist count, there could have been 2,4 or even 6 intruders. Havildar Hangpan Dada quickly swung to action and cordoned off the whole area with his 10 men troop, he was in no mood to let the terrorists escape from his sight. The eyes were wide open, troops ordered to spread, the conversations very hushed, Dada was all guns waiting for terrorists. A day back Dada had a short call with Chasen where he told her about the roles and danger a soldier faces in the battlefield, it seemed all of the talks were coming true. The terrorist were however nowhere to be seen, they had hidden themselves in the 10 feet snow-laden ridgeline. Company Commander Major K Amritha Raj ordered the posts atop to open automatic fire towards the area where intruders were believed to be hidden. To escape from the blazing gun fire coming from the top, the terrorists made a panicked dash down the slope towards Sabu post where Dada's men had been waiting. Dada could spot the silhouettes of the 4 men but the soldiers remained died down to have a clear position to launch the ambush. Midway on their dash, the terrorists stopped, maybe they had spotted Dada's men in hiding. The terrorists split themselves into a group of 2 to have better survival chances, what could have been an easy hunt for Havildar Dada, the operation's ferocity had now gone up by few notches. It was clear that the terrorists were adjusting their positions to have a go towards 35-RR soldiers, a 'khat-khat' magazine loading sound and the 4 terrorist came clattering down on the 10 men. There was no place to hide for Dada's troop, their plan seemed to have backfired, they were amid the raining fires from the terrorists. The operation was on its peak ferocity but when the toughest starts to shudder, men like Havildar Hangpan Dada rise to the task, it seemed the whole universe had shrunk to that Sabu Post and its responsibilities on Dada's shoulders.
To save lives of his men, Havildar Hangpan Dada charged at those 4 infiltrators in the 10 feet snow covered ridge, what followed next could only be narrated as a 'possessed man hunting down 4 terrorists', before anyone could sense anything, Dada had piled all of his 7.62 mm, 30 bullets in the enemies chest, the whole area echoed from the sound of blazing bullets coming out of Hangpan Dada's Avtomat Kalashnikov rifle. 2 down in a brisk and 1 injured severely while one took shelter behind the rock. Hangpan Dada quickly clamped a fresh magazine to his AK rifle, his troop had now taken cover behind the rocks, however Dada was exposed this time. One of the two alive terrorist tried to mull down Dada from behind, to take down Dada in a hand to hand fight was no child's play, Havildar Dada quickly twisted the hand of terrorist and with a crunching sound broke the neck of third intruder, 3 terrorists were lying dead in the snow but Dada hadn't finished yet. A sepoy told him, "Dada ab cover le lo, aage khatra hai" but Dada was in no mood to stop before hunting down all the infiltrators, as he moved towards the 4th terrorist to complete his final hunt, a bullet wheezing past the boulders struck him in the neck, Dada fell down with a thumping noise. The last terrorist was still in hiding, Major Raj was given the news and he himself came to the Sabu post and pinned down the fourth perpetrator, but it was seven hours too late. Dada had fell in the line of duty, even in those last moments, his fingers were wrapped around the rifle's trigger. Dada was no more, this news was shocking for the whole unit, the soldiers of the regiment wept and officers sobbed, Chasen and his children couldn't believe that yesterday's short call would be the last time they ever heard Dada's voice.
"His actions spoke volumes about his mental toughness, unflinching dedication and sense of purpose," recalls Major K Amritha Raj.
On the occasion of 68th Republic Day in 2017, Havildar Hangpan Dada was honoured with Ashoka Chakra for his leadership, unflinching courage and comradery he showed on the May 26 night, Chasen Dada received the honour from the then President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee. She was visibly steeling her eyes in the ceremony, it was one of the most difficult moments for Chasen, but on that auspicious day Chasen was wearing the same Blue Saree and White Blazer that Hangpan Dada had gifted her before leaving for Kashmir.
Chasen Dada receiving Ashoka Chakra on behalf of Havildar Hangpan Dada
Various memorials and awards have been dedicated to the brave soldier of the Indian Army, a stand is named after Hangpan Dada in Eden Garden Cricket Stadium, Kolkata, a bridge on the Subansari river has been constructed in his memory, a memorial has been set up in his village too, the Arunachal Ratna has also been awarded to Late Havildar Hangpan Dada. The never ending list of awards and honour bestowed on the gallant soldier goes on. It is a good thing that the kin of soldier is taken care of by the people and the government of India. A soldier truly never dies until he is forgotten, these memorials are constant reminder of his sacrifices while serving us; serving this great nation.
Memorials dedicated to Havildar Hangpan Dada
Hangpan Dada's son Senwang too wants to follow the path that his father once ventured upon, a little too young but boy of the same blood wants to grow up and become an Army Officer. What Havildar Hangpan Dada did on that night neither meets any textbook ambush nor any tactical training, but when the death hovers over shoulder, the first thought is always the best. We see many Havildar Hangpan Dada in the Indian Army who disregard to their life stand firm between us and the enemies that's why it is said "Warriors are not born but made in the Indian Army".
Sources: Honourpoint, Noctedigest