Brigadier Farwaha, AVSM is a retired officer with 32 years of service in the Indian Army. He was a part of the 1965 Indo-Pak war, 1971 Indo-Pak war and the 1985-87 Mizoram Insurgency. After an illustrious career, he is now settled in the Army Welfare Housing Society in Pune. He enjoys gardening, yoga and reading books on military strategy and Indian politics.
What was your motivation for joining the Army?
In 1958, I was doing my Post Graduation in English from Punjab University. An advertisement in the newspapers offered a career in the Army by way of direct entry into the Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun. I got the forms and applied for the same. My motivation stemmed from having a good career.
After selection in the written examination, selected candidates are called to appear before a Selection Board consisting of president, Group Testing Officer and Psychologist. The Selection Board covers a wide spectrum of tests covering physical fitness, leadership qualities, personality/ character qualities and one to one interview with the president of the Board, who is the senior most member of the Board.
In that one to one interview with the president in 1958, this was the first question he asked me! And now I am being asked the same question after all these years (laughs). During that period, a career in the Army was considered a good option for the young aspirants looking for a suitable employment. It is an adventurous career requiring one to serve at various stations spread all over the country. It has been a wonderful experience serving the country in varying environments of war and peace.
Do you remember your selection process and training days in the military? Tell us a little about it.
The first stage of selection comprises clearing a written exam consisting of papers on General Knowledge, English and Mathematics. The number of candidates appearing for direct entry was around 5000-6000. The selection process is undoubtedly very tough and only 40 to 50 candidates - depending on the number of vacancies - are selected! After clearing the written exam, you are called for an interview by a Selection Board. The selection process is spread over four days. The Board first puts the candidates through a psychological test to assess one's character/ personality and aptitude for the Army. Over the next two days, the Board assesses you on situational leadership qualities along with physical fitness. The third part of the selection process is an one to one interview with the President of the Board - one candidate at a time - can be on any day after the candidates settle down on the first day. The interview for each candidate lasts for an hour or so. I remember being a little tense as I stepped into the room. The first question he asked me was what you just asked me at the beginning of this interview. Then we went on to discuss my hobbies. I was fond of reading books. Since I mentioned that I had read autobiographies of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the president asked me some very pointed questions about Mahatma Gandhi and relevant political issues of that time. The interview went on for an hour and it ended on a pleasant note. I had a minor setback in my Medical Board, because of some problem with my eyesight. The problem was duly sorted out after check-up in Military Hospital, Delhi Cantt and my selection was cleared. Incidentally, I stood first in the merit list for the candidates joining the IMA that year.
The training in IMA centers around study of military subjects, drill, physical training, sports etc. It would be an understatement to say that the training schedule is hard. The IMA puts cadets through a very hard schedule of training. The aim of training is to develop each cadet into a well-developed professional soldier fit to lead his men in war and peace. On completion of training, we get the designation of Commissioned Officer. Each officer is issued with a Parchment Paper commissioning him in the Army. The Parchment Paper is duly signed by the President in his capacity as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
Early days as an Infantry officer
What was the duration of your service and where all were you posted?
I served in the Army for a period of 33 years. On completion of my training in IMA, I was commissioned in the MAHAR Regiment & joined my unit - 3 MAHAR - located in the beautiful environs of Bakloh Cantt, located near Dalhousie (H.P). Bakloh Cantt is a beautiful hill station, typical British era Cantt, studded with bungalows housing the officers & their Messes. The barracks for the men looked equally majestic.
The Army in those days was heavily deployed in J&K in the North and NE region covering the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura. A fair share of the Army Units were located in Cantts in the rest of the country called peace stations in Army parlance. The units are periodically rotated between field areas and peace stations to give a fair chance to all ranks to serve in peace stations and field areas. The posting of officers follow the same pattern rotating them in peace stations and field areas.
I have had a mixed bag of postings to field areas and peace stations. I have served in Akhnoor, Rajouri and Baramulla Sectors of J&K. In the East, I have served in Sela / Tawang Sectors of Arunachal Pradesh and Lunglei Sector of Mizoram. The Peace Station postings were to Chandimandir, Ambala in Punjab, Mhow, Sagar & Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, Pune in Maharashtra and Jammu in J&K. I did a one year course in Defence Services Staff College, Wellington Nilgiris, which was considered a permanent posting.
Were you a part of any major missions, strikes or operations conducted by the Indian Armed Forces?
I have been a part of two major wars - the 1965 Indo-Pak War and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War- and the Mizo uprising in 1985-87. Each one of these have been challenging and rewarding in their own way. Without going into specific persons or incidents in these operations, I will narrate my experiences in them.
1965 Indo Pak War
During the period 1963-66, my unit – 3 MAHAR – was deployed in Chhamb – Jaurian – Kalidhar Sector of Akhnoor. The battalion headquarters was in Jaurian and the companies were deployed along the Cease Fire Line (CFL), now known as the Line of Control (LoC), facing the Pakistan troops. Cross border firing, patrolling, laying ambushes, raids across the CFL were the routine activities for an infantry soldier. The troops and commanders were on ground to dominate the enemy and prevent any untoward incident. Both sides had prepared permanent defences by way of bunkers, communication trenches and facilities like cook houses. Telephonic and wireless communication was available amongst the sub-units and with Battalion headquarters. All ranks were provided amenities to fall back to Battalion headquarter for rest and refit, two months annual and 20 days casual leave. These provided welcome relief from the stress and strain of the CFL environment.
The war clouds started building up around the month of Jun-July 1965 when the intensity of firing and cross border activities increased manifold. This was the time when Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar – sending infiltrators across the border to create unrest in the whole of J&K. On 15th August, the enemy opened heavy barrage of artillery fire on our positions on the CFL and also on our bases, where administrative echelons were located. We retaliated with equal ferocity, launched troops in depth and neutralized the enemy troops operating there under Op Gibraltar. In that artillery duel, we suffered heavy casualties including our Brigade commander, who made the supreme sacrifice. The Indian Army restored the situation by launching multiple operations. My company was actively involved in restoring the situation by recapturing tactical features captured by the enemy.
On 1st September, the enemy launched a major operation in Chhamb - Jaurian sector to capture Akhnoor with a view to cut off the main lifeline of troops deployed in Rajouri - Poonch sector. During these operations, my battalion played a very important role in holding our defensive positions and beating successive attacks by the enemy. In recognition of the service rendered, my battalion was awarded Battle Honour Kalidhar and Theatre Honour J&K. The Commanding Officer, Col GS Sangha, was awarded Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), the second highest gallantry award in the country. A number of our soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for the nation.
1971 Indo-Pak War
During the 1971 Indo-Pak War, I was Brigade Major of a Brigade deployed in Naushera - Jhangar - Lam Sector of Rajouri. I was involved in the planning of defensive and offensive operations against our adversary Pakistan.
In this sector, my brigade successfully captured enemy post ROTI subsequently named SHANTARAM in honour of the officer who made the supreme sacrifice in capture of this post.
1981-83 (Rajouri Sector)
In 1981, I took over command of 6 MAHAR (BORDERS) deployed on the Line of Control (LoC) in Rajouri sector of J&K. It was a challenging period, cross border firing, patrolling and ambushes were the routine day to day activities for troops deployed on the LC. The battalion dominated the area of operations by maintaining vigil on the LoC. I, along with one officer and one JCO were awarded Chief’s Commendation Card for the excellent work done by the unit in maintaining sanctity of the LoC.
Posted in Mizoram
I took over command of the brigade deployed in Lunglei Sector of Mizoram. The insurgency was at a low key since the Government of India was negotiating with Lal Denga for political settlement. In spite of that, some anti-national elements were carrying out activities detrimental to the interest of the nation. The units deployed in counter insurgency operations prevented the Mizo insurgents from carrying out any subversive activities thus forcing their leaders to come to the negotiating table.
During the same period, Chakmas, under persecution by the Bangladeshi radical elements made their way to Mizoram and were housed in refugee camps set up by the Mizoram State Administration. My brigade too provided relief to them from within resources available to units. The Chakma Refugee problem was amicably settled with the support and help provided by the troops. I was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) for services rendered in handling the insurgency in Mizoram and resolution of the Chakma problem.
Decorated with an AVSM by former President Ramaswamy Venkataraman
Do you recall the day your service ended?
Of course. I vividly remember the day when I was given a hearty send-off by my troops. The last week is entirely filled with parties, gatherings and dinners to mark the end of your service, with the last officers’ mess function marked with the traditional dining out ceremony and presenting of a memento (a form of memorabilia) commemorating the years spent in service of the nation. On the last day, I went through a ceremonial rope pulling ceremony in which all the Officers and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) pull an open jeep with you standing while others sound a hearty jaikara. The ceremony marks the tradition of pulling the retired soldier respectfully out of the uniform and into the new life. Everybody surrounds you and cheers you on. It’s a day that will always remain fresh in my memory because of the love, respect and affection meted out to me by each and every soldier who served with me.
Send-off ceremony in 1992
Sir, could you give us a glimpse in your personal life and the role your family played, supporting you in your glorious career?
My beloved wife passed away last month on 6th August 2020. Therefore, I would like to pay homage to her- Tripta Farwaha, she was known in the family and to friends as Dolly Farwaha. Joining me as my better half in November 1965, she played her role of an Army wife, mother and daughter-in-law in an exemplary manner. My life partner for 55 years, she was my shadow in the Army for 27 years. Staying separated during my postings in the field area or when we were together in peace stations, she would happily take up teaching assignments in schools run by the Army. She raised two schools as founder Principal, which today are the envy of any good institution in those stations. A singer par excellence, she enjoyed a game of Mahjong - a Chinese game - in her leisure time. She handled the challenges of a separated family admirably, when I was posted in the field area, with troops deployed on line of control in J&K or in Counter Insurgency operations in the East. She was a role model for the ladies of her unit / station. Her memorable role and achievements will continue to be a source of inspiration for me and my family. May God be with her.
With his wife during his service
We are extremely sorry for your loss, Sir. What do you miss the most about the Army now that you’ve retired?
The Army has a very wholesome way of life which is at variance from what is encountered in other walks of life. After one wears the coveted Army uniform, the organisation looks after all aspects of one’s life - taking care of you as their own. Once you leave that disciplined and orderly life, for a while, one is lost in the wilderness. However, the habits and culture that one develops in the Army helps one to cope with the vagaries of civilian life also.
With his family after retirement
Here, I must add an incident from my professional career that manifests the motivation and willpower that runs in the Armed Forces. In the pre-1965 war time, there was tension building up along the CFL. During that period, a party of mules carrying water escorted by soldiers was passing through hilly terrain. They were ambushed by the enemy which resulted in loss of lives of both soldiers and mules. The unit, naturally, took a resolve to avenge this incident. I asked my boys, “Look, we have to go across the CFL, we will inflict casualties on the enemy and fall back. This could be a dangerous mission, so I need volunteers”. While I had a strength of about 60 in my command. I needed only 10-15 people for the task, but when I asked this question, all 60 of my troops proudly volunteered for the task at hand! This is the level of motivation in the Army which is difficult to replicate in any other organization, where the honour of country, the army and the battalion is always foremost, and camaraderie and spirit-de-corps remain the guiding principles of professional conduct.
Do you attend any course reunions or are you a part of any veteran organizations?
Yes, we have a very strong and well-organised system of re-unions and get-togethers in the Army, which ensures that we not only remain connected with the Army but also with our brethren, both in the regiment and those with whom we did our training together. In the MAHAR regiment, we have a regimental reunion once every four years in which we get together in our Regimental Centre at Saugor (MP) and make merry for 2-3 days reliving all our old memories. In addition to this, the battalions too organize get-togethers commemorating their raising days, the silver or golden jubilees or anniversaries of the Battle Honour Days. Last year, I attended the Platinum Jubilee of 3 MAHAR in Jaipur, an event which was conducted over three days and was attended by a large number of serving and retired officers, JCOs and other ranks including some very senior serving officers. Also, I am from the 25th Regular IMA Course/ 16th NDA Course, and as a course, we keep meeting regularly. Officially, as coursemates, we have a get-together twice a year in Delhi, once on 12th June every year, the date of our commissioning and once in December. All those nearby attend these get-togethers as per their convenience. We also plan holidays as a group. Again, last year, we organised a cruise to Singapore and Malaysia and stayed together for a week and enjoyed the celebrations marking the 60th year of our passing out from the Indian Military Academy.
Do you have a message for the youth of the country?
I would like to tell the youth of our country that before choosing a career they must imbibe the spirit of hard work, sincerity, devotion and honesty in their personality so that they are respected for their work wherever they go. Next, if they do choose the profession of arms, they must always remember that a career in the Armed Forces is a way of life. It will offer them tremendous opportunities to grow while serving their country in a challenging environment. They must remember that discipline and willpower are the two factors that will make or break them.
Brigadier Farwaha with then then PM Rajiv Gandhi in Mizoram, 1987
There is no better feeling than the one we get while serving our country. The Armed Forces are and will remain the last bastion of defence for our country. Today, even more so, you can see how steadfast we stand in the face of hostilities against our country, both foreign and domestic. This profession remains one of the few which is still admired and revered by everyone across the country. My only piece of advice to the youth who join the Armed Forces is, like what President Kennedy said to his countrymen about their expectations from the Nation - Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. I would like to conclude on that note.