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SARAGARHI, BATTLE OF

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SARAGARHI, BATTLE OF, a heroic action fought by a small detachment of Sikh soldiers against heavy odds, took place on 12 September 1897 in the Tirah region of North-West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan). The heroes of Saragarhi, barely 22 in number, belonged to the 36th Sikhs, since re-designated as 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army. During a general uprising of the turbulent Pathan tribals of Tirah in 1897, the battalion was deployed to defend Samana Ridge, a hill feature 8 km in length separating the Kurram and the Khanki valleys.The headquarters and four companies were located in Fort Lockhart at the eastern end of the ridge and the other four companies in Fort Cavagnari, commonly known as Gulistan, at its western end, with several smaller outposts at different strategic points.

Saragarhi was a small picket perched on a rockyrib cropping up transversely across Samana Ridge halfway between Fort Lockhart and Gulistan preventing direct communication between the two bases.Overlooking both the wings, Saragarhi, manned by only 20 sepoys (riflemen) and one noncombatant sweeper under the command of Havildar (sergeant) Ishar Singh, was tactically a vital post for communication which in those days was possible only through visual signalling. The Orakzai and Afridi tribesmen, several thousand strong, attacked Gulistan twice on 3 and 9 September but were repulsed with heavy losses on both occasions. Chagrined at the reverses, they looked for a smaller target to ensure easy success.

On the morning of 12 September 1897, they fell upon Saragarhi, a small square, stone block house, and surrounded it making any reinforcement to the besieged impossible.Havildar Ishar Singh and his men, undaunted by the hopeless situation they were in, fought back with grim determination. The incessant fire from the besiegers took its toll, and after a 6 hour long battle, the only soldier left alive was the signaller, Sepoy Gurmukh Singh, who had meanwhile kept the battalion headquarters informed about the situation through messages flashed by flag. At last asking for permission to stop signalling he took up his rifle to join combat.

He fell fighting single handed. The valour and tenaciousness of the Saragarhi soldiers won wide acclaim.Each of them was posthumously awarded Indian Order of Merit (I.O.M.). Their next of kin were each granted Rs 500 in cash and two squares (50 acres) of land. Their battalion, 36th Sikhs, also received Battle Honours.

A memorial in the form of an obelisk standing on a base built with stones from the Saragarhi post was raised at the site by the government while memorial gurdwaras were built with public contributions at Amritsar and Firozpur. The Sikh Regiment celebrates 12 September every year as Saragarhi day.

References :

1. St. Nihal Singh, India`s Fighters. London, 1914
2. The Spokesman Weekly. Delhi, 20 September 1971
3. Portrait in Courage. D.G.P.C., Delhi

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