On Army Day : How General Thimayya stood up to Nehru’s Chief Minister for the honour of a woman

Our valiant Indian Army has always shown exemplary courage in protecting the nation from external enemies. At the Siachen glacier, temperatures can dip to -50 degrees Celsius.  In the Thar desert of Rajasthan, the temperature can soar to 50 degrees Celsius. Imagine what would happen to us, to our family and our friends, to our homes and the things we love, if the Indian Army took a day off.

But our Indian Army also has a glorious tradition of standing up for all that is fair and just and good within the country. An earthquake, landslide or flood? The Army is there. A giant international sporting competition is about to start in a few days and the infrastructure is still not ready because economist Prime Minister and his greedy colleagues ate all the money? Don’t worry, the Indian Army will build the suspension bridge in a matter of hours to save India the blushes before foreign visitors.

I was saving this story to tell it on Army Day. It is about the legendary General Thimayya, one of Nehru’s most powerful Chief Ministers and the honor of a woman. I first came across this story somewhere on Facebook. Intrigued, I looked everywhere for a reference, until I found the definitive version from Maj. Gen. Dhruv C Katoch published in the magazine “Salute to the Indian soldier.”

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The year was 1959 and the place was Amritsar, where 5 Jat was posted at the time. Some of the officers and their wives had gone to the railway station to see off an officer and his wife who was going away on duty. At the railway station, there were some goons who passed lewd remarks and actually tried to molest the women. Not surprisingly, the officers of the unit began chasing the goons, who ran away and tried to hide in a nearby cinema hall.

The Commanding Officer of the unit was one Colonel Jyoti Mohan Sen, who on learning about the incident, immediately sent reinforcements to surround the cinema hall from all sides. The goons were captured and detained inside the Army Camp.

Here is where the story gets interesting. What kind of goon would be so power drunk that he would think there would no consequences for trying to molest a woman in the presence of officers of the Indian Army? That would be the son of Pratap Singh Kairon, then the Chief Minister of Punjab. Veteran Congressman, one of Nehru’s confidants.

A night in detention for the son of the Honorable Chief Minister? Imagine the anger of Honorable Chief Minister Pratap Singh Kairon, who on the next day, had to go personally to rescue his son. The story even goes that he was made to walk! No VVIP vehicle!

Naturally, the matter echoed in Parliament, but not in the way you would like it. Those were different times. Back then, democracy was not in danger and expressing dissent was real easy.

And so it happened that an explanation was sought … not from Chief Minister Pratap Singh Kairon, even less from his boss Bharat Ratna Prime Minister Nehru. An explanation was sought from Army Chief General Thimayya for the conduct of his officers.

General Thimayya’s  response :  “If we cannot defend the honour of our women, how can you expect us to defend the honour of our country?”

This Army Day, please don’t forget to pay your tribute to the Indian soldier.

Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.

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