Inspiring Faith and Valor: Lt Col Shrikant Hasabnis’ Journey from Galwan to Pandharpur Wari

Hasabnis Galwan to Pandharpur
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By Hasabnis Family

Pune, 12th June 2023: Pandharpur Wari days approach, when lakhs of bhakts (devotees) of Vithoba will march from Alandi and Dehu (both in Pune) to Pandharpur. They embark on this 150-mile journey of faith, love, and dedication, unmindful of the searing heat and the inevitable challenges they will face. 

It is with great pride, that, today we pay homage to Lt Col Shrikant Hasabnis VSM, a consummate devotee of Pandurang, the hero of Galwan. 

In September 1962, then-Major, Hasabnis received orders to occupy Galwan, a post at 17000 feet, held by a platoon of a Gurkha Battalion. The Gurkhas had been surrounded by Chinese forces, and therefore helicopters were assigned for Hasabnis and his company’s induction. 

When inducted, twenty of his sixty soldiers from the proud 5 JAT Battalion ‘A’ (Alpha) Company had no weapons. Faced with hundreds of extremely well-equipped Chinese troops surrounding them, these men knew survival was unlikely. Nevertheless, not one soldier asked their Chhota Saab (as Major Hasabnis was affectionately known) to send them back to safety, in the helicopters. In the brutal onslaught launched by the Chinese on October 20, 1962, half of his men perished within minutes, but not without inflicting significant casualties on the Chinese. Despite overwhelming odds, Hasabnis inspired his men to fight like lions, until the last man and the last round. With no ammunition left, nineteen soldiers, including Major Hasabnis himself, were taken captive by the Chinese. Of course nothing of this devastation was known to their own Battalion HQ, located 150 km away, till much later.

During his captivity, Major Hasabnis drew strength from his spiritual upbringing to withstand continuous attempts by the Chinese to convince the prisoners of the superiority of the Chinese communist system over the capitalist Indian system. Major Hasabnis had worn his trousers over the pyjamas, in the few seconds that he had before his tent caught fire due to the incessant Chinese firing and bombardment by the Chinese. He converted his pyjama string into a chanting bead thread. In arguments with Hasabnis when the Chinese tried to assert that no God existed, he calmly explained to them the definition of a point in geometry. A point has no dimension but exists, just like our God, who is dimensionless but exists, he told them. The Chinese were left speechless and could no longer argue with him.

The first news reached his family through his brother-in-law, Col. MD Soman, who was posted at the JAT Regimental Centre. Col. Soman wrote, based on inputs received from an aerial reconnaissance sortie by the Indian Air Force over the area, that the Galwan post had been completely destroyed, and there were no survivors. 

However, the first official communication from Army HQ to reach Pune stated that Major Hasabnis was “Missing, believed Killed.” His wife, Sujata, never accepted this, and her faith was vindicated after three agonizing months of uncertainty when the Red Cross informed her that Maj Hasabnis was a Prisoner of War.

Upon repatriation in May 1963, Major Hasabnis was given the onerous responsibility of raising 16 JAT. The battalion carries on the tradition of valor which Major Hasabnis had set during raising. His efficient planning, based on his knowledge of the ground situation, earned him plaudits during intense counterinsurgency operations. At one point, in his typical unabashed style he told the GOC of the Division that the GOC’s plan was destined to fail. Hasabnis was granted permission by the GOC to execute his own plan parallel to the Division’s plan. Weeks later, the GOC like a true soldier admitted the failure of his plan, while Hasabnis’s plan achieved a resounding success. For his flawless planning and execution, Hasabnis was awarded the Vishist Seva Medal.

During the 1971 Indo-Pak war in (now) Bangladesh, Hasabnis commanded 6 JAT, and his troops captured a large number of Pakistani prisoners in intense operations. His leadership from the front, willingly exposing himself to the risks his men faced, earned him a gallantry award of Mentioned in Despatches.

After retiring from the military, Hasabnis brought the same zeal and commitment to everything he did. He was nominated to the prestigious Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Mandir Trust and served on the shrine board for nearly three years. While he was a strict taskmaster for the Trust’s employees, he implemented the military tradition of prioritizing the welfare of the personnel before oneself. To this day, employees of the Temple speak reverently of his contributions. One notable achievement was the rejuvenation of the Temple garden using compost made from the massive pile of flowers offered daily by devotees, demonstrating his commitment to environmental conservation and cleanliness in the temple complex.

Col Hasabnis, along with his wife Sujata, participated in the Wari pilgrimage religiously for 25 years before health issues prevented them from completing the journey on foot. Even during his military service, he would take leave of absence to partake in this incredible pilgrimage. However, until his passing, he faithfully went to Pandharpur for darshan every year during the Wari. 

Based on his firsthand experience of the pilgrimage, Hasabnis had numerous suggestions to make Wari more people and environment-friendly. The futuristic changes he made in the way the Wari was conducted are remembered even today. One change he nearly succeeded in implementing was the halt location of the Palkhi in Pune. Presently, the halt is situated in a congested part of the city, making it extremely challenging for devotees to reach. However, all necessary clearances and arrangements were obtained for the two palkhis of Sri Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj and Sri Sant Tukaram Maharaj to stop at the open ground next to Sarasbaug. Unfortunately, political interference hindered the process, denying Pune devotees a more comfortable darshan.

Despite resistance from entrenched power brokers, the need to decongest the halts and relocate them to accessible places for devotees was strongly advocated by Hasabnis. He did succeed in shifting the halt at Phaltan from the city to an old disused airstrip.

Colonel Shrikant Hasabnis departed for his heavenly abode in January 2022. He is fondly remembered and missed by all those who had the good fortune of being touched by his generosity.