By Debashish Mitra
This year’s edition of the VoW festival is being held in the very challenging times of an unprecedented global pandemic; yet the festival continues with its now established tradition – of bringing out the unknown. This is especially true of its Military History and Strategy vertical. Aside from the more topical challenges of the Northern Borders of the country, including sessions like the Great Game and thought-provoking debates on Tibet and Taiwan, this year’s MHS schedule includes a panel on the people that make the Indian Armed forces what they are, the ordinary men and women from all parts of our country who perform extraordinary acts in difficult and unfamiliar territories.
This year the vertical has chosen to start with the Valiant Dogras, a session dedicated to the history of the Dogra Regiment, one of the Indian Army’s oldest and most distinguished Regiments, and for good reason. The ‘Dogras’ originally are people who are the inhabitants of the hilly regions of Jammu and Kangra. Their long-standing warrior status traces very far back, even finding roots in the Mahabharata, with them being mentioned as both Suryavanshis and Chandravanshis. A small community, perhaps a little more than a million, they are staunch worshippers of Jwala Ma, an avatar of Durga, and of Vishnu. In fact the battle cry of the Regiment is ‘Jai Jwala Ma’ and the motto, which exemplifies the Dogra Spirit is ‘Kartavyam Anavatmam’ or ‘Duty before Self’. Similarly, the animal associated with the Dogra Regiment is the tiger, who is of course also traditionally associated with the goddess Durga.
For military convenience, those of the Hindu fighting classes who enlisted under the British from the regions of Chamba, portions of Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur and Sialkot, were added to this fighting force. It is their significant contributions to the different wars fought over the last 200 years that makes them special and noteworthy, and marks their numbers out as an extraordinary unit of Indian defence.
The first formal organisation of the Dogras as a fighting force was under Maharajah Gulab Singh of J&K, in 1820 when he was given the title of Rajah by the Great Maharajah Ranjit Singh. It was under the leadership of the daring General Zorawar Singh, called the ‘Napoleon of the East’, that the Dogras proved their legendary fighting qualities. He was probably the first General who went out of India to conquer lands, starting with Ladakh, extending it to Skardu and Baltistan and finally an attempt to conquer Tibet! India owes its Northern Boundary and its claims to Gilgit and Baltistan to this great Dogra General and the Dogra peoples. As a result of these campaigns and their performance in the Sikh wars, their valour and fighting came to the attention of the British. This led to their incorporation as a formal Dogra fighting force in the British Indian Army. The first full battalion, numbered 37th, was incorporated in 1884, the second, the 38th in 1891 and the third, numbered 41st in 1900, as units of the Crown Infantry. And so the glorious saga of the Regiment unfolded.
It fought in all the major wars, both World war 1 and 2 and all the wars that the partitioned India fought, 1948, Hyderabad in 1949, 1962, 1965 and 1971, covering itself with distinction.
Battle honours which are given for exceptional performance in a specific battle and theatre honours, which are given for the participation in a particular war theatre are indicators of valiant performance, measured against others fighting the same battles and wars.
The Regiment has a significant number of these: 28 were earned prior to Independence, in a short span of 60 odd years since they were formed and an additional 15, in the 25 years of war post independence. Over 300 gallantry awards were earned in WW2 alone with almost 1500 martyred and similar number in the wars since Independence.
The Dogra Regiment has also participated in every UN Mission that India has participated in, from the custodial force in Korea, where it earned special praise by the American commander and thereafter in Gaza, Congo, amongst others.
The Dogras have also excelled in sports and adventure, including shooting and mountaineering, earning an Olympic Silver medal as well a mountaineering awards
Now with 20 active battalions, it is one of the largest regiments in the Indian Army.
For a small population concentrated in a small geography in a remote part of India, their valour and performance over a 100 years, from France to Korea, Middle East to Malaysia, aside from the challenges within and on the country’s borders is exceptional.
It is for this reason, for its valour and determination in the face of all odds, and fight back from the brink of defeat and the challenges of grave adversity, that the Regiment exchanged its emblem of the Crown for that of the Malayan Tiger, leading to the author writing the book, ‘Birth of the Tiger’. It’s a session that’s not to be missed – the Valiant Dogras!