Major Ashok Tara
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Now, He Shares Spotlight With A `Happy' Hasina
Major Ashok Tara was assigned yet another crucial mission just a day after 93,000 Pakistani troops led by General AAK `Tiger“ Niazi had surrendered to Indian forces after their famous “dash for Dacca“ during the December 1971 war. Already awarded the Vir Chakra in the Battle of Gangasagar a few days ago, 29-year-old Tara was told to rescue Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's wife and family , which included his 24-year-old daughter Sheikh Hasina and her child.
The family was being held hostage by a dozen trigger-happy Pakistani troops at a fortified house in the Dhanmandi area, just 20 minutes away from the Dacca airport. Tara, accompanied by only three soldiers, managed the task with sheer pluck and presence of mind, without a drop of blood being shed on either side, to the Bangabandhu family's eternal gratefulness.
On Saturday , 46 years later, Colonel Tara (retired) was among those who shared the spotlight with PM Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina at the “Sommanona Ceremony“ here to honour the 1971 war martyrs.
“Sheikh Hasinaji was very happy to see me and my wife Abha. She told Modiji that I had helped rescue her and her family all alone, without any weapons,“ said Tara, speaking to TOI after the ceremony .
India, incidentally , lost 3,843 soldiers in the swift 13-day war that reduced Pakistan to abject helplessness and led to the liberation of Bangladesh. But among all the bravehearts, Tara has a special personal connect with the first family of Bangladesh.
On that wintry day in 1971, Tara and his three soldiers drove to Dhanmandi, only to be stopped by a nervous crowd before they could reach the house where the family was imprisoned.
Pointing to a scorched car stopped in its tracks, with its driver dead inside, the people told Tara it was extremely dangerous to proceed ahead. Taking stock of the situation, even as the Pakistani soldiers trained their machine guns and rifles at him, Tara left his own weapon with his soldiers and went ahead on his own to the house.
The Pakistani soldiers, who it is believed had instructions to kill the entire family in the event of any contingency, warned him he would be shot if he came any closer. Using a mix of Punjabi and Hindi, Tara tried to convince the Pakistani troops, who had lost communication with their superiors, to lay down their arms amid nerve-wracking moments. “They had no idea that the Pakistani army had surrendered, Dhaka had fallen and the war was well and truly over,“ said Tara.
“I told them an unarmed Indian officer would not be standing in front of them if that was not the case,“ he said, even pointing to some Indian helicopters flying overhead to underline his assertion.
The stand-off finally eased, with Tara assuring the Pakistani soldiers that they would return to their families unharmed. The Bangabandhu family emerged unscathed, and the rest is history . In June 2012, PM Sheikh Hasina conferred the “Friend of Bangladesh“ award on Tara, who was commissioned into 14 Guards in the Indian Army in 1963 and retired as a Colonel in 1994.