Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal was an officer in the Indian Army who participated in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 along the western border of India. He was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra for exhibiting exemplary gallantry against overwhelming odds. He was martyred on 16 December 1971 after being severely injured in a tank battle, during the Battle of Basantar.
Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal was born on Saturday, 14 October 1950 (age 21 years at the time of death) in Pune, Maharashtra. After the partition of India, his family had migrated to India from Sargodha, which is now in Pakistan.
As a young child, he was admitted to the renowned Lawrence School of Sanawar, Himachal Pradesh, where he stood out as an outstanding student, who was not only good in studies but also an abled sportsman, as a result of which he was appointed as a school prefect.
He had an inclination towards joining the army as he belonged to a family with a rich military history background, where his father, grandfather and great grandfather, all, served in the army. Upon completing his schooling, in June of 1967, Arun Khetarpal joined the prestigious National Defence Academy.
He performed so well in his training that he was appointed as the Squadron Cadet Captain of his Foxtrot Squadron.
After completing his training at National Defence Academy, Arun joined the Indian Military Academy before being finally commissioned in the army on 13 June 1971.
Parents & Siblings
His father’s name was Brigadier M. L. Khetarpal who also served in the Indian Army’s Corps of Engineers and his mother’s name was Maheshwari Khetarpal who is also a trained dietician from Lady Irwin’s College, Delhi.
His brother’s name is Mukesh Khetarpal who is working as a management consultant in Delhi.
His permanent address is C-31, Anand Niketan, New Delhi, Delhi – 110021, India.
Arun Khetarpal was commissioned in the 17 Poona Horse of the Armoured Corps as a Second Lieutenant. He was undergoing his Young Officer’s course, a compulsory course that all newly commissioned officers have to go through, when the war with Pakistan broke out, after which he was recalled to re-join his battalion.
Arun Khetarpal was moved to the western sector in Jammu. He was a part of the Indian Army’s 49 Brigade which participated in the famous Battle of Basantar. The brigade was tasked to capture and establish a bridgehead at Shakargarh, an area adjoining Jammu. On 15 December 1971, the area was captured by the Indian troops, but the tanks could not advance as the place was heavily mined by the retreating Pakistani forces. The engineers were then called to dispose of the mines for the tanks to move. But, only halfway through, the forward observation post of India observed alarming Pakistani armour activity. The 17 Poona Horse decided to move ahead, despite the mines and meet up with the rest of the advancing brigade.
The beginning of the armoured offensive
On 16 December 1971, Pakistani tanks from 13 Lancers, launched their first wave of counterattacks. They were far greater in number and were equipped with the then state-of-the-art American made Patton tanks, so the B squadron of the 17 Poona Horse, upon which the attack was launched, requested immediate reinforcements.
Arun Khetarpal comes to the rescue
Arun Khetarpal was part of the A Squadron, which was stationed close by, and responded immediately to the distress call of the B squadron. Arun Khetarpal launched a ferocious counter-attack upon the attacking Pakistani tanks and effectively defeated the first wave of the armoured assault upon the Indian positions. During the battle, Lieutenant Ahlawat, a tank commander from Arun’s squadron was injured and another tank commander was killed. Despite taking severe casualties, the Pakistanis would continue to regroup and counter-attack. Alone in charge, on the battlefield, Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal charged at the enemy tanks with his squadron’s remaining 2 tanks and effectively subdued another Pakistani attack by destroying 10 tanks of Pakistan.
A Pakistani army officer, Major (retired) A. H. Amin of Pakistan Armoured Corps, stated,
The only occasion when a breakthrough could have occurred was when two squadrons of 13 Lancers attacked together in the afternoon, but a gallant last ditch lone stand by 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal of Poona Horse averted the danger.”
In his book, A Deathless Hero – 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, Major General Raj Mehta wrote,
What can one say of a shy, self effacing, embodiment of the Chetwode motto who died? That he was disarmingly handsome and brave; that he was an inspirational leader and the Fakhr-e-Hind of his beloved country, India? That he was admired in death by his opposing number of the Pakistani Armoured Corps. That much and so much more can be said and written about this bravest of brave young officers, who willingly and selflessly gave up his tomorrow for the Indian Army’s priceless historical legacy of naam, namak and nishan. Go home therefore, dear reader, and tell them of him and say, with pride and with passion, that 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, PVC, (Posthumous), by the manner of his military skills, deathless spirit and his death, brought rare honour to his distinguished cavalry regiment, The Poona Horse and to soldiering, even as his life blood left his shattered body after he had engaged and destroyed his fourth Pakistani Patton tank.”
Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal was awarded India’s highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra for displaying raw courage during the tank battle at Basantar.
- To honour Arun Khetarpal, the parade ground at National Defence Academy has been named after him and an auditorium at Indian Military Academy has been named after the fallen soldier.
- His Centurion tank, the tank in which he fought the Battle of Basantar was restored and now has been installed at the Armoured Corps Center at Ahmednagar.
#FAMAGUSTA: The Centurion tank of #PoonaHorse commanded by #TheLegend 2nd Lt #ArunKhetarpal destroyed 8 Pak Patton Tanks in Battle of Basantar 1971. Honoured, privileged & blessed to be standing in front of it. With the present commandant. story soon on @IndiaToday #IndiaFirst pic.twitter.com/7oxOgWG1f2
— GAURAV C SAWANT (@gauravcsawant) October 13, 2018
- His statue was established at Lawrence School at Sanawar and a school stadium has also been named after him.
As Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal led the counter-assault with just 2 other tanks, his tank was hit by an enemy Patton tank fire which disabled the tank, as a result of which his tank could not move and caught fire. Arun and his tank’s driver were wounded severely because of it. Despite the odds, Arun managed to destroy 3 enemy tanks which were merely a hundred meters away from him. He was ordered to abandon the burning tank and reach for safety, to which he replied,
No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My Main gun is still working and I will get these bastards.”
As Arun moved his tank’s turret to fire at a Pakistani tank, Arun’s tank was hit a second time by the tank of Pakistani squadron commander Major (later Brigadier) Khwaja Mohammad Naser, which lead to Arun’s martyrdom on the battlefield. Ultimately sacrificing himself while denying a breakthrough to the Pakistani armoured columns.
- Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal’s great grandfather served in the Sikh Army and fought against the British when they wanted to capture Punjab.
- Impressed by Arun’s bravado, after the war, the Pakistani Commander met his Indian counterpart and inquired about Arun Khetarpal.
- When Brigadier M. L. Khetarpal, father of Arun Khetarpal, and his wife visited Sargodha, their ancestral place, they became the guest of honour of Brigadier Mohammad Naser, who stated,
Sir, there is something that I wanted to tell you for many years but I did not know how to get through to you. Finally, fate has intervened and sent you to me as an honoured guest. The last few days we have become close to one another and that has made my task even more difficult. It is regarding your son who is, of course, a national hero in India. However, on that fateful day, your son and I were soldiers, unknown to one another, fighting for the respect and safety of our respective countries. I regret to tell you that your son died in my hands. Arun’s courage was exemplary and he moved his tank with fearless courage and daring, totally unconcerned about his safety. Tank casualties were very high till finally there were just two of us left facing one another. We both fired simultaneously. It was destined that I was to live and he was to die. It was only later that I got to know how young he was and who he was. I had all along thought that I would ask your forgiveness, but in telling the story I realize that there is nothing to forgive. Instead I salute your son for what he did at such a young age and I salute you too, because I know how he grew into such a young man. In the end it is character and values that matter.”
- His tank Centurion Mark 7 tank was known as “Famagusta”, named after the city in Cyprus, where the Poona Horse was positioned in the September of 1944.
- His unit, 17 Poona Horse, was named ‘Fakhr-e-Hind’ by the Pakistanis after seeing their performance at the Sialkot Sector, during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965.
- In an article written by Lt. Col Dilbag Singh Dabas, he stated,
Having noticed Arun carrying his ceremonial Blue Patrol clothing and golf clubs along, his fellow officer asked Arun that why he needed these on way to fighting a war. And the reply by the 21-year-old was classic: Sir, I plan to play golf in Lahore. And I am sure there will be a dinner night after we win the war, so I’ll need the Blue Patrol dress as well.”
- Before leaving for the 1971 war, Arun’s mother told him,
Your grandfather was a brave soldier, so is your father. Go fight like a lion till the end.”
- Arun also played the Saxophone, a musical instrument, and was even a part of his NDA’s musical band.