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Karam Singh

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Karam Singh

Karam Singh
Singh 2000 on a stamp of India
Born15 September 1915
Sehna, Barnala, Punjab, India
Died20 January 1993 (aged 77)
Sehna, Barnala, Punjab, India
AllegianceBritish India
Service/branchBritish Indian Army
Indian Army
Years of service1941–1969
Honorary Captain
Service number22356[1]
Unit1st Battalion (1 Sikh)
Battles/warsWorld War II
Indo-Pakistani War of 1947
AwardsParam Vir Chakra
Military Medal

Subedar and Honorary Captain Karam Singh PVC, MM (15 September 1915 – 20 January 1993), an Indian soldier, was the first living recipient of the Param Vir Chakra (PVC),[2] India's highest award for gallantry. Singh joined the army in 1941, and took part in the Burma Campaign of World War II, receiving the Military Medal for his actions during the Battle of the Admin Box in 1944. He also fought in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, and was awarded the PVC for his role in saving a forward post at Richhmar Gali, south of Tithwal. He was also one of the five soldiers chosen to raise the Indian flag for the first time after independence in 1947. Singh later rose to the rank of subedar, and was conferred the rank of honorary captain before his retirement in September 1969.

Early life[edit]

Karam Singh was born on 15 September 1915 in the village of Sehna, Barnala district, in Punjab, British India. His father, Uttam Singh, was a farmer. Singh also intended to become a farmer, but he decided to join the army after being inspired by the stories of World War I veterans from his village.[3] After completing his primary schooling in his village, in 1941, he joined the Army.[4]

Military career[edit]

On 15 September 1941, he enrolled in the 1st battalion of the Sikh Regiment. For his conduct and courage in the Battle of the Admin Box during the Burma Campaign of World War II, he was awarded the Military Medal.[5] As a young, war-decorated sepoy, he earned respect from fellow soldiers in his battalion.[3]

War of 1947[edit]

In the aftermath of the independence of India in 1947, India and Pakistan fought over the princely state of Kashmir for a brief period.[6] During the initial stages of the conflict, Pakistan's Pashtun tribal militias crossed the border of the state, occupying several villages, including Tithwal.[7] That village, being on the Line of Control in the Kupwara Sector, was a strategically important point for India.[8]

On 23 May 1948, the Indian Army captured Tithwal from Pakistani troops, but the Pakistanis quickly launched a counter-attack to recapture the area. The Indian troops, unable to withstand the attack, withdrew from their positions to the Tithwal ridge, preparing to regain their positions at the right moment.[9]

As the battle at Tithwal continued for months, the Pakistanis grew desperate and launched a massive attack on 13 October, hoping to drive the Indians from their positions. Their primary objective was to capture the Richhmar Gali, located south of Tithwal, and the Nastachur Pass, east of Tithwal.[9] During the fierce battle on the night of 13 October at Richhmar Gali, Lance Naik[a] Singh was commanding a 1 SIKH forward post.[10]

Although outnumbered ten-to-one by the Pakistani troops, the Sikhs repelled their attacks multiple times. With their ammunition running out, Singh ordered his men to join the main company, knowing that reinforcement was impossible under Pakistani shelling. With the help of another soldier, he brought two injured men along, though he himself was wounded. Under the heavy Pakistani fire, Singh moved from position to position, boosting the morale of his men and intermittently throwing grenades. Despite being wounded twice, he refused evacuation and continued to hold the first line of trenches.[10]

During the fifth wave of attacks, two Pakistani soldiers closed on Singh's position; Singh jumped out of his trench and killed them with his bayonet, greatly demoralizing the Pakistanis. Singh and his men then successfully repelled three more enemy attacks before the Pakistani troops finally retreated, unable to capture their position.[10]

Param Vir Chakra[edit]

On 21 June 1950, Singh's award of the Param Vir Chakra was gazetted. The citation read:

Tithwal in Jammu and Kashmir was captured on 23 May 1948. After that date, the enemy made numerous attempts to recapture Richmar Gali, and thence Tithwal. On 13 October 1948, coinciding with Id, the enemy decided to launch a brigade attack to retake Richmar Gali, and bypassing Tithwal, advance into the Srinagar Valley. Lance Naik Karam Singh was commanding a section at Richmar Gali. The enemy commenced its attack with heavy shelling of guns and mortars. The fire was so accurate that not a single bunker in the platoon locality was left unscathed. Communication trenches caved in. Bravely, Lance Naik Karam Singh went from bunker to bunker, giving succor to the wounded and urging the men to fight. The enemy launched eight separate attacks that day. In one such attack, the enemy managed to obtain a foothold in the platoon locality. Immediately, Lance Naik Karam Singh, who was severely wounded by then, with a few men, hurled himself in a counter-attack and evicted the enemy after a close quarter encounter which accounted for many enemy dead, having been dispatched by the bayonet. Lance Naik Karam Singh proved himself to be a dauntless leader of men in crisis. Nothing could subdue him and no amount of fire or hardship could break his spirit.

— Gazette Notification: 2 Pres/50, 21.6.50, [11]

He was one of the five soldiers selected by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to raise the Indian flag for the first time after independence in 1947.[2] Singh later rose to the rank of subedar, and was conferred the rank of honorary captain before his retirement in September 1969.[4] He died on 20 January 1993 in his village, and was survived by his wife, Gurdial Kaur, and children.[2]

In 2014, the family of Karam Singh, decided to publicly auction his PVC as a protest against the government's failure to grant them benefits due to them.[2]

Other honours[edit]

In the 1980s, the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), a Government of India enterprise under the aegis of the Ministry of Shipping, named fifteen of its crude oil tankers in honour of the PVC recipients. The tanker MT Lance Naik Karam Singh, PVC was delivered to SCI on 30 July 1984, and served for 25 years before being phased out.[12] The government also built a memorial in his honour at the District Administrative Complex in Sangrur.[4]


  1. ^ Lance naik is equivalent to lance corporal.
  1. ^ Cardozo 2003, p. 45.
  2. ^ a b c d "Family of second Param Vir Chakra recipient to auction medal". The Hindu. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b Cardozo 2003, pp. 44–45.
  4. ^ a b c "Death anniversary of Hony Capt Karam Singh today". The Tribune India. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  5. ^ The London Gazette. 16 May 1944. Supplement: 36518. p. 2271
  6. ^ Jacob N. Shapiro; C. Christine Fair. "Understanding Support for Islamist Militancy in Pakistan" (PDF). Princeton Education. Princeton University. p. 79. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 September 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  7. ^ Mikaberidze 2011, pp. 393–395.
  8. ^ Mihir Srivastava (31 July 2014). "In the Line of Fire". Open Magazine. Open Media Network Pvt. Ltd. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  9. ^ a b Chakravorty 1995, p. 60.
  10. ^ a b c Chakravorty 1995, p. 61.
  11. ^ Cardozo 2003, pp. 45–46.
  12. ^ Raj 2009, p. 179.