On the eve of Vijay Diwas I feel like a Dog with Two Tails to recap the jim-dandy achievements of Albert Ekka, the first ever Tribal Christian to win the Param Vir Chakra. Exactly 51 years ago on 16th December 1971, India imposed a humiliating defeat on Islamic Republic of Pakistan — the country was split into two. The Army of Islamic Republic of Pakistan unconditionally surrendered with 93,000 Pakistani soldiers, which was the biggest ever surrender after World War II.
There were 93,000 prisoners of war from Islamic Republic of Pakistan, post the war, such was the magnitude of this humiliating surrender which has not happened since World War II when the Germans surrendered in Stalingrad. On December 16, 1971, Lt Gen Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, the Chief Martial Law Administrator of East Pakistan and Commander of Pakistan Army forces located in East Pakistan signed the Instrument of Surrender. The day is celebrated as Vijay Diwas, the day India helped in the liberation of Bangladesh. It is the finest moment in the history of India as well as for the Indian Army.
But even before the declaration of 1971 war on December 3, two most decisive victories had been attained by the Indian Army in East Pakistan. By 10.30 am on December 3, six hours before the declaration of war, 14 Guards had completely decimated the seemingly impregnable defences at Ganga Sagar complex inside the eastern front of East Pakistan west of Agartala, and its braveheart Lance Naik Albert Ekka had earned the first Param Vir Chakra during Operation ‘Cactus Lily’, commonly referred to as Bangladesh War.
Albert Ekka, was the first Catholic tribal soldier to win India’s highest military award, “Param Vir Chakra”. The Param Vir Chakra is India’s highest military decoration, awarded for displaying distinguished acts of valour during wartime.
Albert Ekka was born to Mariam and Julius Ekka on December 27, 1942. The Ekkas, were a devout Christian couple. Like most of the Tribal youngsters, Albert Ekka was at ease in the art of tracking and was a good marksman with the bow and arrow besides being exceptionally good in the game of hockey.
The Achievements of Tribal Christians is Hockey is well-known. India won its first ever Olympic Medal in Hockey in the year 1928. That Indian Hockey team was captained by a Tribal Christian, Jaipal Singh Munda. India’s Most capped player & current President of Hockey India, Dilip Tirkey also belongs to the Tribal Christian community and same is the case with Birendra Lakra, the Vice Captain of Indian Hockey Team that won Bronze at last Tokyo Olympics.
During one of the district tournaments, Subedar Major Bhagirath Soren of 7th Bihar spotted Albert Ekka and got him enrolled in his battalion. He was initially enrolled in BIHAR Regiment of the Indian Army but later moved to the newly raised 32nd Guards Battalion in January 1968 along with his ‘C’ Company of 7 BIHAR which was allotted to the newly raised Guards Battalion. In April 1971, the 32nd Guards Battalion was re-designated as 14th Battalion of The Brigade of Guards.
Lance Naik Albert Ekka made the supreme sacrifice on December 3, 1971, during Operation Cactus Lily in the 1971 India-Pakistan war, also referred to as the war for the liberation of Bangladesh. Despite being seriously injured, Lance Naik Albert Ekka silenced two enemy guns that were causing major casualties to the Indian troops in Gangasagar. In doing so, he laid down his life and was posthumously awarded the highest wartime gallantry award of India – the Param Vir Chakra. According to his Param Vir Chakra (PVC) citation, “Lance Naik Albert Ekka noticed an enemy Light Machine Gun inflicting heavy casualties on his company… With complete disregard to his personal safety, he charged the enemy bunker, bayonetted two enemy soldiers and cilenced the Light Machine Gun. Albert Ekka displayed the most conspicuous valor, determination and made the supreme sacrifice in the best traditions of the Army,” the citation reads.
In 2000, on the occasion of 50th Republic day, the Government of India issued a postal stamp in the memory of Albert Ekka. The Tribal Christian was also honoured by naming the major intersection in front of Firayalal store in Ranchi as “Albert Ekka Chowk”, which also bears his statue. A block (sub-district) in Gumla has also been created in his name as Albert Ekka (Jari) block. In Tripura there is a eco park Albert Ekka Park named after him for his action to save Agartala from Pakistan during 1971 Indo-Pak war.
(The writer, Abhilasha Ekka who belongs to the tribal Christian community just like 1971 War Hero Albert Ekka, is currently serving as National Coordinator for ECG The Jesus Nation Church. She did her Masters from University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom and worked in Citibank, Dubai, UAE, before joining ECG The Jesus Nation Church based at Malawi, Africa)