Buddhist chants resonated across Choglamsar of Leh in the wee hours of Monday as the mortal remains of Special Frontier Force (SFF) soldier Company Leader Nyima Tenzin was taken out from his home at the Tibetan Refugee Settlement for his last journey. Thousands waited on the streets around 7 in the morning to get their last glimpse of the Tibetan hero who was draped in both Tibetan as well as Indian national flag.
The mortal remains were taken around the entire area and even touched the Headquarters of Vikas Regiment also known as Establishment 2-2, the secret Tibetan guerilla squad which played a significant role in the recent repositioning and strategic mobilisation at the Pangong Tso by India. SFF directly reports to the external intelligence agency of India – Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW).
While the Indian Government has remained silent on the operation where Tenzin was Killed In Action (KIA) for operational and national security reasons, tales of his bravery are being narrated by proud fellow Tibetans across the world
Even though SFF has made many sacrifices in the last many decades, their operations and existence have mostly remained a mystery. Known as the best mountaineers and ruthless to defend their territory in the most difficult terrain, the SFF almost entirely comprises of Tibetan refugees in exile settled in India.
While the Indian Government has remained silent on the operation where Tenzin was Killed In Action (KIA) for operational and national security reasons, tales of his bravery are being narrated by proud fellow Tibetans across the world.
“He was a very brave commando. Tibetan by blood but Indian at heart. He died in the line of duty on 29th August night during an operation near the Blacktop peak around the South Bank of Pangong when he stepped on an old anti-personnel mine which was put by Chinese PLA around 1962’, revealed a source.
The tragic incident happened at the same time when the Indian Army launched a major operation in the south of Pangong after pre-empting Chinese PLA mobilisation around the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh and thwarted their plan to illegally transgress and encroach upon Indian territory.
India’s defensive measures to safeguard New Delhi’s interests and territorial integrity, responding to China’s provocation along the LAC, has resulted in a fresh diplomatic and military standoff between the two countries after the Galwan Valley violence. In the violence 20 Indian Army soldiers were killed in action and an unidentified number of Chinese PLA soldiers were also killed and injured. Although the Chinese regime has hidden the causality figures fearing backlash domestically.
Back in Leh, the Special Frontier Force (SFF) gave a gun salute in the backdrop of moving Tibetan Buddhist chants as the funeral pyre of Tenzin was lit by his young son. His wife, daughter, and younger son witnessed the ceremony. The sacred chants continued as The Last Post was played and teary-eyed Tibetans who had come in thousands stood in silence with their hands folded.
It is perhaps for the first time that a public funeral which was widely televised and spoken about on social media was held for an SFF soldier. The move has triggered a great leap of faith and satisfaction for the Tibetan community as they finally feel that India not only sheltered them but also recognised their supreme sacrifice for the common cause. The sacrifice that nobody to date spoke about due to an unwritten diktat.
“We Tibetans from all over the world pay our tributes and respects to Nyima Tenzin and his family. We have lost yet another brave soul in the conflicts initiated by China in this once peaceful border region, which never belonged to China before the illegal occupation of the buffer-zone country Tibet,” Thinly Chukki who is the Special Appointee for Human Rights at the Tibet Bureau tells me from Geneva.
“China has become a global threat to peace and stability, and the world, including the UN, needs to take decisive actions against authoritarian China under the Chinese Communist Party regime before it is too late. We cannot remain mute spectators and let the world go through yet another world war or a global pandemic,” she says.
At Majnu Ka Tilla in New Delhi which is yet another Tibetan refugee settlement, the community organised prayer for the fallen soldier and remembered him as ‘an unsung Tibetan Hero of India’s resistance against Chinese PLA’s aggression’.
Separate prayers were held in different corners of the world including at Mcleodganj in Dharamshala which is also known as Little Lhasa and is the seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile in India. Candlelight vigil was organised through Dolma Chowk and the Dalai Lama Temple on Monday evening with hundreds of Tibetans lining up with Indian tricolour and Tibetan freedom flags.
“I on behalf of Tibetan Youth Congress offer our deepest condolences to the family members of Senior Tibetan Deputy Leader Nyima Tenzin of 7 Vikas and young Tibetan Jawan Tenzin Lodhen who were killed and injured respectively while defending the Indo-Tibetan border on the 30th of August. I also pay my utmost appreciation and respect to the other Frontier forces who stood and strong and firm against Chinese aggressive and expansionist policies. Martyr died defending the Indo-Tibet border and we will continue their legacy to attain complete independence of Tibet so that Mother India will see a safe and secure border,” Gonpo Dhundup, who is President of Tibetan Youth Congress told me from Mcleodganj, Dharamshala while participating in the candle-light vigil in memory on Nyima Tenzin.
The public funeral of the Braveheart SFF Soldier has also indicated a massive shift in India’s policy and sent a strong message to Beijing which is now known for expansionist tendencies and hegemonist approaches across the globe.
Among others who participated in the state funeral of Tenzin were National General Secretary of BJP Ram Madhav, Ladakh MP Jamming Tsering Namgyal, and SSP Leh representing Ladakh Police Rajiv Pandey. While the Second in Command from SSF laid the wreath, the absence of Indian Army’s GoC of the 14th Corps which oversees the entire Ladakh was felt.
Moist eyes in Leh during the funeral silently sought to avenge the death. Tenzin’s passing away has led to seething anger and fresh outrage against China amongst the Tibetan across India and the world. Even though the anger isn’t visible to the naked eye, it’s raging within every Tibetan who has heard of Tenzin’s selfless act to defend Indian territory.
It would be a fitting tribute to the fallen soldier if India posthumously honored him with the Shaurya Chakra. While the demand for Bharat Ratna to His Holiness The Dalai Lama should also be considered, this would be the most appropriate time for the nation to honor the unsung hero to demonstrate the significant shift towards its China policy.
Till then the Buddhist Chants will continue to resonate across Eastern Ladakh and along the LAC. And the Tibetans will silently demonstrate their courage and love for India.
The author has a decade’s worth of experience in covering conflict, internal security and foreign policy for various national media outlets. Last week he was in Ladakh to report on the ongoing India-China border standoff. He tweets at @AdityaRajKaul