2nd Lt. Puneet Nath Datt
2nd Lieutenant Puneet Nath Datt, 1/11 Gorkha Rifles, was a born soldier who belonged to the illustrious Datt family of Mohyals, the militant Brahmin race of India. The Datts derive their lineage from Dronacharya, the military tutor of the Pandava Dynasty. The Mohyals have a chequered history of soldering right from the medieval times, having taken part in the battles of Karbala in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Right up to 1946, there existed a regiment of Mohyals Brahmins, commanded by Lieutenant General Kunhiraman Palat Candeth, PVSM, a retired soldier of yore. Dicky, as he was popularly known, was the son of Late Major Pramod Nath Datt who also retired from the 1/11 Gorkha Rifles. He was the grandson of Late Shri Prem Nath Datt, a leading advocate of Jaipur and the family were permanent residents of Rajasthan. Besides the dynastic military background, he got the inspiration to join the Indian Army from his maternal side also in that his grandfather, Colonel S N C Bakshi, retired from the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) and his maternal uncle, Commander V K C Bakshi, Indian Navy. Born at Jodhpur on 29 April 1973, he had a brilliant academic career and took keen interest in sports and extra curricular activities. He did his schooling from St. Bethney's School in Darjeeling, from St Joseph's Academy in Dehradun, from St. Xavier's School in Jaipur and finally completed his class XII from Tagore Public School in Jaipur. He excelled in football and rowing whilst in school. Throughout his childhood, his ambition was to join the Indian Army. As a little boy, he used to don his grandfather's or father's uniform, complete with the Gorkha Hat and pretend to be an officer. As a child, he used to mix very freely with the Gorkha jawans of his father's unit and could speak fluent Gorkhali. He was dearly loved by the jawans or 'Dajus', meaning elder brother, as he addressed them and to whom he was known as their favourite 'naani', meaning little one.
While still at High School, Dicky diverted his full attention towards his goal in life, i.e. joining the Indian Army by preparing for entry in the renowned National Defence Academy. Through his grit, determination and hard work, he secured entry in the NDA in December 1991. At the NDA, he had a brilliant record and due to his proficiency in both academic & military subjects as well as outstanding officer like qualities, he was awarded the coveted rank of 'Cadet Sergeant Major' for his squadron - 'Echo'. As CSM, he won the prized Cross Country Shield for his squadron. He was also awarded three gold medals in rowing. Due to his initiative and leadership qualities, he was famous among his comrades as the 'josh-type'. So determined and full of zeal was he to join his father's regiment that throughout his stay at the NDA, he used to proudly display the Gorkha crest, always polished, on his study table. He used to write back home that his spirits soared whenever he met a Gorkha officer. Regimental to the core, he used to make it a point, before and after commissioning, to go out of the way to meet any serving or retired Gorkha officer about whom he got any information. He was a dare devil and had indomitable and dashing spirit. While posted at Himachal Pradesh, he rode his Enfield Bullet motorcycle from Palampur to Delhi non-stop for 12 hours. Deeply religious, he used to pray at the Hanuman Temple every Tuesday. Whilst at Himachal Pradesh, also known as the land of Gods, he paid pilgrimage on his Bullet to all nearby temples. He was a dutiful and loving son. He showered all his love and affection on his mother and grandparent. He was the idol of his sister and a father figure in her life. He was a trusted comrade to his friends, always ready to come to anyone's rescue and help in complete disregard to his personal interest, safety or convenience. He was full of ambition, keen to develop his military competence and was a keen reader of military history. He was an avid reader of all current political and military subjects on which he could speak and discuss with authority.
Within a short span of 1½ years after his commissioning, Dicky successfully completed the Young Officers' Course, Commando's Course, and Fire Fighting Course. He also passed his promotion exam 'Part B' in the first attempt. He was a member of the United Services Institute (USI) and the Defence Services Officers Institute (DSOI). The USI is a literary forum, while the DSOI is more of a social club. From the information gleaned from his personal diary, it is revealed that his aim in life was three fold. First and foremost was to attain the highest standard of professional proficiency. Within 1½ years, he passed a number of courses as mentioned, while still discharging his normal regimental duties. He was a committed professional soldier and very proud of his arm and service. As revealed in his diary, he had charted out his career by planning to do Para Training, a National Security Guards (NSG) course, and Staff College and ultimately to command the 1/11 Gorkha Rifles to which his father belonged. He also aspired to be awarded with the Chief of the Army Staff's commendation and a gallantry award while as a Captain. Secondly, he wanted to use his knowledge and training by single mindedly involving himself in complete eradication of militant forces and influences working against the interest and integrity of the nation for which he had dedicated his life. He had adopted the motto 'Death Before Dishonour'. The third on his list was to provide solace to his mother, Mrs Anita Datt and to provide support & happiness to his doting sister, Divya. Mrs Datt was heart-broken on account of the loss of her husband Major Pramod Nath Datt, while Dicky was undergoing training at NDA. Dicky also dreamt of building an exact replica of the family ancestral bungalow at Jaipur, which they had recently sold. During his training period and even while he was committed in operations against terrorists; he never forgot to call his mother, sister and grand-parents to inquire about their welfare and to tell them not to worry about him. During his short service as a commissioned officer, wherever he was posted in connection with training, courses and other commitments, he always picked up gifts and curios particular to the place and sent appropriate presents to all members of his family. Even on the eve of his last operation, he called his mother to inform her that he was sending six crates of fruit for distribution to friends and relatives. Feelings of the family can be well imagined when the crates were duly delivered after the last rites of the brave soldier were performed with full military honours.
Dicky achieved the supreme aim of his life of serving his motherland, when he took part in an encounter that panned out as a cordon & search operation on specific information from a source cultivated by him regarding presence of foreign militants in a building in the Naushera locality of Srinagar. The operation started in wee hours of 20 July 1997 and the building was completely surrounded by 0400 hours. The militants were secure within the three storied building located in a thickly populated and congested area. At daybreak when the terrorists found that they were surrounded, instead of surrendering to the Indian Army, they resorted to indiscriminate firing. Utmost restraint had to be exercised while trying to liquidate the onslaught so as to avoid any damage to innocent civilian life and property in the vicinity of the building. One militant visualizing the hopeless situation ran out firing on the search party. Seeing the militant firing on his troops, he ordered his troops to take cover and with utter disregard to personal safety sprang up and shot the militant in an eye-to-eye encounter. Meanwhile sensing that the militants were trying to escape, he showed exemplary presence of mind & initiative and maneuvered his position to block the rear exit of the building. Displaying indomitable courage and guts, he shot down another militant who was trying to escape. The remaining militants inside the building meanwhile continued firing on our troops and as a result of which he was seriously wounded. But he did not give in and maintained his sustained crusade against foreign mercenaries and taking courage in both hands, lobbed a grenade inside the building, killing the remaining militants and destroying a considerable amount of the enemy's arms & ammunition. Almost single handedly destroying the enemy, our hero attained martyrdom and immortalized himself by carving a niche in the annals of his Regiment and the Indian Army's history. For his bravery and in recognition of the initiative and dare devilry displayed in the pursuit of his mission to eliminate militancy from the face of his motherland, 2nd Lieutenant Puneet Nath Datt was awarded the Ashok Chakra (posthumous), the country's highest gallantry award in peace time on 15 August 1997.
What those who interacted with Dicky say about him...
Complied by Captain Vikramjeet Singh
"A thorough soldier."
"You can't be that good."
"He was General material."
"Echo - 87 ka to ek hi tha - Puneet…."
"Sir, aap hi batao, kaya vo pagal nahin tha?"
"Sir, he was our role model; our inspiration."
"Nobody could face Major K.K. Arun. He did, and that too, in style."
"Sir, I am also from Echo squadron, or rather, Puneet Datt's squadron."
"He and I always had a clash. It was like a clash of the Titans. I salute him from deep inside my heart."
"A very nice guy. I don't know how and why I still remember him, when we all have a tendency to forget."
"As Company Sergeant Major, he was the godfather of the squadron. He shielded us from the seniors of other squadrons."
"I remember him because he showed doubts to the ACA, in NDA, in front of the whole academy and stood for what is right."
"As Company Sergeant Major, he demanded only one thing from us - to win the X-country. And, when we did that, he asked us all to relax."
"During the squadron cross – country practices, he would always come in the fourth enclosure. But, on the final day, he would finish in the second enclosure. How and from where did he get the strength to do so, we never understood."
0650 Hours, 18 September 1994 - MH NDA, Khadakwasla
by Sub Lieutenant Kartik Murthy, Indian Navy
CSM Puneet Nath Datt reports sick. On being asked his ailment by the Duty Medical Officer, Datt replies, "I do not want any category Sir, I have no problem."
"Why the hell did you report sick?" the doctor asks. Datt answers, "Sir today is the final inspection for the interior Economy Trophy. I wanted to miss drill so that I could supervise the finishing touches."
"How dare you report sick for such a reason? And you have the audacity to tell me this?" yells the DMO. Unflinchingly Datt replies, "Sir at least I told you the truth."
0819 Hours, 26 January 1998 - Rajpath, New Delhi
by Sub Lieutenant Kartik Murthy, Indian Navy
As the thin and frail woman stood facing the President of India, the noise and excitement of the Republic Day Parade faded into the background. Only the Tricolour stood out fluttering in the cold winter day. With stoic grace, she stood as the citation read out for her 24 year-old son, 2nd Lieutenant Puneet Nath Datt reverberated across the crowded Rajpath and beamed into the homes of millions of people across the nation. He was awarded the Ashoka Chakra, posthumously for the most conspicuous act of bravery, exemplary leadership and supreme sacrifice. As the President stepped forward to hand over the medal, the people watched in silence. And for one brief shining moment, the nation was one, elevated by the courage of a single man, and united in pride & grief for a young son of India who died following the Armed Forces' favourite aphorism "Death Before Dishonour".
It was indeed my proud privilege to have been very closely associated with this man, my hero. As a junior in his squadron, I always saw in him a resolute courage that stemmed out of his confidence in himself and the ideals he believed in. It was only because he had the courage to tell the DMO (Duty Medical Officer) the actual reason for reporting sick, it was only because he had the courage to run cross-country with high fever so that he wouldn't let the squadron down in its quest for a fourth consecutive glider, it was only because he had the guts to lose his band defending a junior in front of the Commandant who offered him his appointment in exchange of that junior's name, it was only because he had the moral courage to stand up for what he thought was right, that 2nd Lieutenant Puneet Nath Datt was not found wanting in physical courage, when his country asked of him the supreme sacrifice.
Article & Photographs © The Datt Family
Adapted from a piece written by Colonel S N C Bakshi (Retd.)