Duty beyond death (1972-1999)

Sarvanan was born on 10 August 1972, in Rameshwaram. His father Lt. Col. Adi Mariappan had served in the Army Medical Corps and taken part in Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. He died in a road accident in Bangalore on 19 June 1989, while on leave. Saravanan had imbibed the sterling qualities of determination, courage and empathy from his father. Sarvanan studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools in Gaya, Kannur, Gurdaspur and Jorhat. He graduated from St. Joseph’s College, Trichy. His classmate recalls an incident when their bus had a headlong collision with a lorry while they were traveling to Kanyakumari. Seven people died and many were injured. Most of the students were in shock, but Sarvanan was quite well composed and helped the injured to board another vehicle. He was ever smiling and ever helpful. Army was in his blood and he joined the Officers Training Academy, Chennai. He was commissioned into 1 Bihar on 11 May 1995. He attended commando and High Altitude Warfare courses which honed his military skills. He was promoted to the rank of Major in 1995.

In 1999, his unit moved from Assam to Jammu & Kashmir for the Kargil operation. He wrote to his mother that he had been waiting for just such an opportunity and he would bring home a VrC. He made his last telephone call to her on 14 May. The unit was tasked to clear the enemy from Jubar ridge located on the Western side of Batalik sector. Batalik was the second highest battle field in the world after Siachen. Operation Vijay was launched on 26 May to evict the enemy and his unit was tasked to capture Point 4268 in Jubar Ridge. The terrain comprised of jagged rocks covered with snow and knife edge ridges with no greenery.

Two attacks failed. Saravanan volunteered to launch the third attack. A frontal attack was the only way. The enemy was well entrenched on heights which ironically were our own bunkers. The steep climb did not deter him. The attack was launched at 4 a.m. on 29 May. His final command to the men was, “Do or Die”. He killed two enemy soldiers by firing a rocket launcher and was wounded in the stomach by shrapnel. He did not give up. His commanding officer asked him to fall back in view of many casualties. Saravanan replied that he was close to the objective and would not spare the enemy who had killed his men. He added, ‘Nothing will happen to your Genghis’, which was his code name. He charged through a hail of bullets and killed two more enemy soldiers. He was the first to reach the top but received a bullet injury in the head at 6.30 a.m. and fell into a ravine. He breathed his last on 29 May. His unit 1 Bihar took an oath to capture Point 4268, which they did by 6 July. Saravanan’s body could be recovered only then, 37 days after his death, following a bitter fight. Even after death his body was staking claim over the land that is India’s. The entire Jubar ridge was cleared by 8 July. His mother received the news of his death from a friend in Bangalore. The official telegram came two days later.

The body was brought by air and the Tri-colour draped coffin was placed at the feet of his mother. Hundreds of garlands were placed on it and thousands of people came to pay homage to the Hero of Batalik- the first officer casualty of Operation Vijay. He was posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra and it was presented to his mother by President Narayanan. His mother is often referred to as the mother of the Hero of Batalik and is proud that her son kept vigil over the frontiers even after his death.

His mother and family have formed a Memorial Trust in his honour and a marble memorial has been erected opposite St Joseph’s College. A postal cover was issued in his name in 2008. His saga of bravery and patriotism continues to inspire the youth in India.

Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma (retd.)