Many of us keep hearing about various gallantry awards being conferred to citizens of India. One such award is the Param Vir Chakra (PVC). PVC is the highest Indian military decoration awarded for showing an ultimate degree of valour and self-sacrifice in the face of the enemy. The medal is so prestigious that it has only been awarded 21 times, 14 of which were posthumous awards. Out of the 21 awardees, 20 are from the Indian Army and one from the Indian Air Force. And this lone brave heart from the IAF was none other than Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon.
Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon was born on 17 July 1943 in an Army family in the village of Isewal, Ludhiana. His Dad was Honorary Flight Lieutenant Tarlok Singh Sekhon from the IAF. Having been groomed Fauji style, NirmalJit Singh Sekhon insisted on joining the Air Force and was successfully commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the IAF on 4 June 1967.
Having completed his training and promoted as Flying Officer, Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon was detailed for a detachment as a Gnat Pilot based at Srinagar. This was basically for the Air Defense of the valley against Pakistani air attacks. From the very outbreak of hostilities of the 1971 war, Nirmal and his colleagues fought successive waves of Pakistani aircraft with valour and determination. On 14th December 1971, Srinagar airfield was attacked by a wave of Pakistani Sabre aircraft. There were about 6 Sabre aircraft bombing and strafing the airfield.
Without caring for his life and the dangers involved in taking off during an ongoing attack, Flying Officer Sekhon jumped into the cockpit and took off. Levelling out, he engaged a pair of the attacking Sabres. In the ensuing fight, he secured hits on one aircraft and successfully set another on fire which was seen heading towards Rajauri sector covered in smoke. However by this time, the other Sabres came to the aid of their companions. Though outnumbered by four to one, Flying Officer Sekhon engaged the Sabres both skillfully and boldly at almost tree top level altitudes. During the dogfight, Sekhon’s fighter sustained heavy damages and he failed to eject out of the Gnat as the Ejection System failed and the canopy of the Gnat had flown off. Sekhon went down with the aircraft but his legacy was established forever in the mountains near Srinagar. Coming out on top of six Pakistani Sabres had odds of 1:6, and Sekhon did it in style making the enemy scurry for cover.
Nirmaljit had various instances and stories of bravery attributed to him as fondly remembered by his coursemates. However this particular act of heroism, supreme gallantry, exemplary flying skills and service to the nation displayed by Flying officer Sekhon in the face of certain death not only set new heights in Air Force traditions but also deservedly earned him the highest military award, The Param Vir Chakra as the only IAF Officer to have been conferred, posthumously.
As a mark of honour and respect, Fg Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon is remembered for his gallantry and statues of him have been erected in many cities across India. A marine tanker built in 1985 was named Flying Officer NirmalJit Singh Sekhon, PVC. A statue in tribute of NirmalJit Singh Sekhon was also erected at the district court of Ludhiana in the courtyard next to the flag pole. A decommissioned Gnat fighter is part of the memorial and serves as a gate guardian. At New Delhi too, his statue along with a decommissioned Folland Gnat fighter has been placed in the Indian Air Force Museum, Palam.
True to Indian Traditions of remembering our Shaheed’s eternally, someone very aptly said, “Shaheedon Ki Chitaon Par Lagenge Har Baras Mele, Watan Par Mar Mitne Walo Ka Bas Yahi Ab Baaki Nishaan Hoga.” Nirmal continues to stay in our hearts and the nation remains indebted to such a soldier, forever.
Picture Credit: The Bombay Bugle