Silence was the only option
On 15 December 2012 Chitra Devi walked across the stage to receive the honour being awarded to individuals and organizations that had great contribution in our Liberation War. Chitra Devi is the wife of Shaheed Sepoy Ansuya Prasad, the youngest recipient of the coveted Mahavir Chakra awarded by the Indian Government to those who demonstrated outstanding courage in India's wars. Sepoy Ansuya Prasad received the Mahavir Chakra for his valour during the operation in Shamshernagar airport area, Sylhet on November 30, 1971 during our Liberation War. He was only 17 years and joined the regiment after completion of his training 11 days prior to the eventful day.
On 29 November 1971 Indian and Bangladeshi joint forces comprising 3 Punjab Regiment (Indian Army) with artillery support and 2 Field Battery (Bangladesh Forces) attacked the Shamshernagar airport area. This was a strategically important location as the airfield located close to the border, was planned to be used by the Pakistan Air Force for launching air attacks on Indian airfields. The airport area was well defended by a company of 30 Frontier Force Regiment of Pakistan Army, a company of Mujaheeds and a platoon of Tochi Scouts. As the November 29 night offensive by the Indian and Bangladeshi was largely unsuccessful, the commander decided to launch another attack the following night, reinforced by the 10 Mahar Regiment.
The Pakistan Army was very well equipped and positioned all around the runway. Camouflaged machine-guns had a clear line of fire. Once the Indian and Bangladeshi offensive began, fierce battle erupted. The assault were however impeded by a well dug in defended position from where a machine-gun was observed to be creating havoc which made the advance impossible. The 10 Mahar Regiment was incurring casualties. Assaulting troops being quite close to the Pakistani position and in open area, it was not possible to bring artillery fire. Having no other alternative, the advance Company Commander of the assaulting the 10 Mahar Regiment decided to take out the machine-gun post using hand grenades. There was smoke and fire all around and the situation was getting desperate in the fluid battlefield. Company Commander signaled by hand Sepoy Ansuya Prasad to crawl to him. He signaled Ansuya to the machine-gun post and ordered it to be destroyed by grenades. Without hesitation, Ansuya crawled like a leopard into the hell of fire. His comrades watched in deep appreciation. Reaching near the target Ansuya was hit by a bullet but undaunted he continued to crawl towards the machine-gun post. I watched with admiration the valour of the young soldier. Bleeding profusely, Ansuya reached the machine-gun post and threw two grenades into the post. The area burst into flames. Surviving Pakistani soldiers were seen escaping from nearby trenches. As the 10 Mahar Regiment soldiers made the final charge, I could see only bits and pieces of human bodies from both sides on the blood-soaked ground. Ansuya Prasad's remains lay scattered amongst them. Eight days later, after the capture of the Kulaura railway station, the same Company Commander informed me that Ansuya had been awarded posthumously, the Mahavir Chakra.
On 16 December 2012 at a dinner for the honorees, Chitra Devi came to the table where I was sitting and introduced her. Someone in the gathering told her that I had taken part in the battle of Shamshernagar. Chitra Devi greeted me and sat in the vacant chair next to me. After a small discussion, she told me that she was married to 17-years-old Ansuya at the age of 13 just before the 1971 war. She remembers Ansuya as a very handsome and cheerful young man. He had enlisted very soon after their marriage, and was martyred soon after in Shamshernagar area. Her one regret over the years was that his body was not returned to their home and she could not see his handsome face for one last time. An officer and a Subedar came to her home and informed that Ansuya had fought bravely and in his effort to save the lives of his fellow soldiers had to embrace martyrdom. She remembered of screaming in her top voice and loosing her consciousness.
When she regained her consciousness, she saw worried faces of her relatives and the officers looking at her agonizing face. She had only one request for them, "Bring his body back so that I could see him for the last time".
There was no response. She requested the officers time and again to bring back his body, but in vain. Days passed and she had to adjust to reality of life. She was forced to be strong, to hold on to herself, to resist the storm of fate. But her biggest regret was that she did not see him in his eternal sleep. The sleep he earned by being the dutiful child for his country.
Tears were rolling down her cheeks. It seemed all this had happened recently. The wound was still fresh for her. She then asked me the question I had been dreading since she sat down to speak to me. Did I see Ansuya's body after he was martyred? I could not reply. How could I tell her there was nothing left of the body, only scattered remains that were left of him in the battlefield! How could I destroy the one image she has of him in her imagination that he died with his handsome face intact! I could not find it in myself to tell her what really transpired that day.
For over 41 years, Chitra Devi hold on to the memory of a man who sacrificed his life for the liberation of our country. I could not burden her with the images of his violent death. For Chitra Devi, a widow for over 41 years, let Ansuya always remain, the cheerful 17-years-old, the young man with the handsome face.
Silence was the only option I had at that moment.