Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan
Born in Kozhikode, Kerala in a Nair family based in Bangalore, Sandeep Unnikrishnan had made his mind to make his way into the Indian Army early in his school days, he joined NDA(National Defence Academy) in 1995 and got commissioned in the year 1999 in 7th Battalion of Bihar Regiment(Infantry). During initial years in Kashmir, he took part in Op Vijay and many other counter insurgencies and later in the year 2007 Maj Sandeep got assigned to NSG(National Security Guards). To hunt down the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack in Mumbai and to rescue the hostages, Major Sandeep was tasked to lead the commando team, he showed immense tactical knowledge, fearlessness and presence of mind during the attack, however the hero of the nation fell in the line of duty but inspired his buddies to eliminate all the terrorists. For his gallant, pluck and exceptional leadership in a dreading condition, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was honored with India's highest peacetime gallantry award Ashoka Chakra.
Sandeep Unnikrishnan with Family
Born on March 15, 1977 in Kozhikode, Kerala Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was the only son of retired ISRO officer Shri K Unnikrishnan and Shrimati Dhanlakshmi Unnikrishnan. Sandeep's family had moved to Bangalore from their native place Cheruvannur in Kozhikode district of Kerala. Maj Sandeep completed his schooling from 'The Frank Anthony Public School, Bangalore'. He was very bright in academics and equally excellent in athletics and sports, he was a good singer that could be comprehended from the fact that he was part of his school's choir. Sandeep loved watching movies and was passionate to join the Indian Army right from school days, he even attended school in crew cut hairstyle. He had all the traits that an Army Officer should have and in the year 1995 his dreams came to reality when he was selected for the 94th course of National Defence Academy. He was part of the Oscar Squadron during his NDA training.
Sandeep Unnikrishnan (first row; 2nd from right)
Parents of Major Unnikrishnan. Pic credit: Ajay Sukumaran
His NDA coursemates remember him as 'selfless', 'generous' person & someone who was 'calm and composed'. An incident recalled by one of the buddies of Sandeep goes as; During NDA training the cadets were made to climb the Sinhagad fort on a miserable rainy day, when they reached the top, the soggy, thirsty & tired cadets rushed to fill their bottles from the well. Sandeep was first to reach and he started drawing water from the spring, everyone was lined up with their canteens, soon a lady tourist passed her bottle to Sandeep asking him to fill it, then came another bottle and another, soon there was a long line of tourists and Sandeep was generously filling everyone's bottle. Neither Sandeep nor his buddies got a sip of water as the order to fall in came from the instructor, who knew, this selfless cadet would go on to live the "Olympian" spirit(as NDA's Oscar Squadron cadets call themselves) and give the supreme sacrifice.
Cadet Sandeep Unnikrishnan; Chest No 10(Left) during NDA days
In 1999, after passing out from the NDA, Sandeep joined the prestigious Indian Military Academy, Dehradun for training to transform himself from a Gentleman Cadet into an Army Officer. He was commissioned on July 12, 1999 as Lieutenant into the 7th Battalion of the Bihar Regiment which is an infantry regiment with motto "करम ही धरम" (Work is Worship) and war cries "जय बजरंग बली" and "बिरसा मुंडा की जय". Just after his commissioning, he was posted in Jammu & Kashmir during the Kargil conflict between Indian and Pakistan in 1999 and he took part in the 'Operation Vijay'. He was deployed at the forward posts amid heavy artillery firings and shelling from the enemy. On December 31, 1999 the then Lieutenant Sandeep Unnikrishnan led a team of six soldiers to establish a post 200 meters into the enemy territory against raining bullets from the opposing Pakistani troops. After Kargil War he immediately got promoted to the rank of Captain and subsequently to Major rank on June 12, 2002.
Sandeep Unnikrishnan with family
During his service in the Indian Army, he was deployed in Kashmir three times, twice in Siachen, two terms in Rajasthan, once in Gujarat(2002 riots) and Hyderabad, it was his ruggedness and attitude that made him adapt to such conditions. During the 'Ghatak Course' at the Commando Wing(Infantry School), Belgaum he topped the most difficult course of the Indian Army earning the Instructors grading and commendation. In the year 2007, he was selected to join the National Security Guards. The NSG is an elite-counter terrorism unit that falls under the ministry of Home Affairs, it is also known as "Zero error Force". The commandos of NSG are trained to tackle terrorist activities on land, air and sea. On completion of his training, Sandeep was assigned to the 51 Special Action Group(SAG) of the NSG. The SAG is the wing of NSG where personnel are drawn from the Indian Army and it includes 56% of the NSG's 'Black Cat Commandos'.
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan during NSG training
"Sandeep always wanted our country to win. When India lost a match, he used to be very disappointed. He also used to console me whenever an ISRO project failed. He did not like defeat"
These are the words of retired ISRO officer K Unnikrishnan, father of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Indeed defeat never comes to any man until he admits it. In the commando training school, the rangy man would go gung ho to tackle any kind of challenge, he was known for his vigor and skills.
26/11: The Taj Attack
The day of doom for Mumbai and the whole nation, November 26, 2008 when 10 terrorists of Pakistani Islamic terror organization 'Lashkar-e-Taiba' reached Mumbai by sea route on a hijacked fishing trawler from Karachi, Pakistan. The terrorists equipped with assault rifles AK-47, RDX, Grenades and Improvised Explosive Device(IED) launched a pre-planned and coordinated attack on major locations of the metro city.
Attack sites, Mumbai
The first attack took place at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus steered by terrorists Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab and Ismail, leaving 58 people dead and several injured. Both of these scavengers then moved to Cama Hospital, Nariman House was attacked next and then the terrorists targeted the Leopold Café, Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi-Trident Hotel. The coersive terrorists went on a slaughter in a dreaded attack lasting more than 60 hours, Mumbai city was on a lockdown, people were feared, continuous phone rings shook Mr. Rakesh Maria the then Commissioner of Police, Mumbai. Before anyone could understand what was happening more than 80 people had lost their lives. The terrorists had hijacked cars, taxis including police van to move places. There was symposium about the terrorists holding hostages inside Taj Mahal Hotel, the matter had gone beyond the capabilities of Mumbai Police. The Maharashtra government then decided to involve the National Security Guards to tackle the terrorists and rescue the hostages. Mumbai Police had done all in their capabilities to stop the terrorists from causing extreme mayhem in the city.
Ashoka Chakra ASI Tukaram Gopal Omble
Assistant Sub Inspector of Mumbai Police and retired Army Soldier(Naik in Corps of Signals) Shri Tukaram Gopal Omble exhibited great courage during the Mumbai attack. Unarmed Tukaram Omble ran towards Amir Kasab who was spraying bullets on everyone and firmly gripped barrel of his AK-47 rifle. The gun pointed towards stomach of ASI Omble and Kasab's finger on the trigger rallied a spray of bullets, killing Tukaram Omble. He showed extreme gallant and courage while stopping Ajmal Amir Kasab from firing on anyone else, he took 23 gun shots but held onto the barrel of rifle until his last breath, it was because of his bravery, terrorist Ajmal Kasab was caught alive and who later confessed the crime unveiling masterminds behind the 26/11 attack, if it wasn't for him, the scavengers inside the country were ready to paint Ajmal Kasab as a Hindu Sanghi terrorist to hide the red hand of Pakistan behind the attack, for his supreme sacrifice and unparalleled pluck, Shri Tukaram Gopal Omble was honored with Ashoka Chakra.
Operation Black Tornado: A tale of sheer courage
Operation Black Tornado as it is known, India's most complex and resilient mission undertaken by the 'Black Cats' of the NSG. Before taking any mission, the NSG commandos have a brief planning and location awareness, however the Mumbai operation became much more intense as it was to be carried out in the hotspot of an urban city. A batch of 200 NSG commandos sprung in after learning about the attack, later more commandos joined in. Just given time of 40 minutes before NSG's SAG wing commandos were dropped in, first at Taj Mahal Hotel, Nariman House & Oberoi-Trident Hotel, little they had knowledge about the venues they were engaging in. Murky waters to dive in but the "Black Cats" are trained for these moments, where most people quiver, Special Action Group unleash their true potency.
NSG Commandos inside Taj Mahal Hotel
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was part of the batch going inside the Taj Mahal Hotel to eliminate the terrorists and rescuing the hostages, As recalled by his father K Unnikrishnan,
" I knew he could not sit in the NSG campus, I knew he would join the operation but I did not expect something like this"
The terrorists were in hiding inside the 560 room palace hotel, the job for the NSG commandos became even difficult as those terrorists were lighting up the hotel rooms to create smoke, making it impossible to verify their exact floor location giving the terrorists time to recuperate and regroup at different locations inside the Hotel. The "Black Cats" could not open fire as there could be casualty to the hostages as well as to the hotel staff hiding from the terrorists.
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was the team commander of the 10 commandos of 51 Special Action Group that charged inside the Hotel, after approaching the entrance of the Taj, they worked carefully to identify the Hotel staff and got vital information about the hiding locations of terrorists. Just few minutes leading into the Operation, an intense fire-fight broke out between both camp. NSG's had to look after the hostages while maintaining minimum collateral damage. Carefully and methodically commandos began neutralizing the terrorists, as more and more terrorists got eliminated and hostages were rescued, the morale of the SAG commandos kept rising. The team had reached sixth floor and they suspected that terrorists were holding hostages inside a closed room on third floor. They descended down through staircase and broke open the door, while taking on a terrorist in a cross-fire a buddy commando Sunil Yadav was shot, Major rescued him and held his position to take down the perpetrator. Later Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan gave chase to hunt the terrorist who had escaped from the third floor, In the encounter that followed Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was shot on his back that proved fatal. While taking on the terrorist up the staircase, his last words to his buddy was, "Don't come up, I'll handle them..."
NSG commando standing at the place from where terrorist had shot Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan
Location where Major fell during the fire-fight
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan had died a hero, his leadership and exceptional courage motivated the troop to eliminate the terrorists and complete the assigned task. By 9 pm on November 28, 2008 the Operation Black Tornado had come to an end with elimination of all the terrorist except Ajmal Kasab who was sent to custody and later hanged to death. The Mumbai attack had taken the life of more than 158 innocent people and left several severely injured. For unmatched valor & unyielding fighting spirit, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was honored with India's highest peacetime gallantry award, Ashoka Chakra.
One of the hostages rescued by Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan described how he operated during the mission, 'There was no sign of fear on his face, he seemed to resemble the calm face of "Mahavishnu" from the calendar.' Every year this rescued hostage sits at the very same place Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan had fallen, he shares time with parents of Major Sandeep too. Sandeep Unnikrishnan's unit officer themselves say that they wouldn't have been able to do what Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan had managed to, this is the greatest award any fellow soldier can get.
"Many roads are renamed after martyrs but people will still use the old name, If people would write the full name 'Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan' with honour, I'll appreciate that.....that is enough for me"
- K Unnikrishnan, father of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan