Mumbai: Valiant Major who died fighting terrorists yet to be honoured

Updated: Feb 11, 2019, 10:21 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Family of Major Akshay Girish, who laid down his life fighting terrorists in Nagrota in 2016, expected him to be honoured this year, but his award is still under the review of a committee

Mumbai: Valiant Major who died fighting terrorists yet to be honoured
Major Akshay Girish with his wife and their newborn daughter

Major Akshay Girish laid down his life fighting terrorists in Nagrota, near Jammu, over two years ago, saving the lives of 16 people. Now, a request to honour him with a gallantry award is still under review of a high-level committee appointed by union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. His family and regiment were hoping the announcement would come before Republic Day this year, but that did not happen.

Major Akshay's bravery was acknowledged by his 51 Engineer Regiment and his superiors had referred his name for a gallantry award, which even the corps and Northern Command had given a nod to. However for some unknown reason, his name figured in the 'mention in dispatches'.

Major Akshay Girish
Major Akshay Girish

In anguish
Major Akshay's family has a proud tradition of serving in the armed forces. His father retired as a wing commander in the Air Force, while his grandfather was a colonel in the Army. Speaking to mid-day from Bengaluru, Meghna Girish, Major Akshay's mother, said, "We have been in anguish since August 15, 2017, over the denial of deserved recognition to Akshay's courage and selfless sacrifice for the nation on November 29, 2016." Meghna recalled the fateful morning, when the 51 Engineer Regiment Quick Reaction Team (QRT), lead by Major Akshay, was responding to a call of help from the 166 Artillery Regiment, which was under attack.

Sixteen people, including women and children, who had been trapped by terrorists in their homes were saved by the immediate and effective response of the QRT. Major Akshay himself went into the building to evacuate the families after a two-and-a-half-hour standoff. He died while fighting the leader of that terrorist group, when the terrorist launched a grenade at him. The grenade blew up his thigh.

"So fierce was the fight that Akshay could not be evacuated until the combing operations late in the evening. Although he was recommended for a Chakra by the most senior field commanders, his name figured in the mention in dispatches - an unprecedented dilution of the award," added his mother. The family refused to accept this. After multiple efforts from Major Akshay's regiment, family and veterans asking for the re-initiation of deserved recognition and honour did not get a response, they brought the issue to Sitharaman's notice.

Met Sitharaman twice
"I also registered a grievance document with the PMO, requesting an appointment with the PM, and have posted reminders. I believe they sent the grievance to the Ministry of Defence," said Meghna.

"The defence minister called us through her personal assistant and met us twice at her office, first time in May 2018 and the second time in the presence of the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat in November 2018. After giving us a patient hearing, she decided on setting up a review committee to resolve this long outstanding issue.

"On January 3, we deposed before an Army Court of Inquiry (CoI) in Delhi and also submitted all relevant documents. They called all QRT team members as well as senior officers who were part of coordinating the counter-terror response in Nagrota. They reviewed the entire counter-terrorist operation and Akshay's role and sacrifice for the nation. As per our information, the CoI submitted its report in the first week of January and we believed the issue would be resolved before this Republic Day," said Meghna.

"We have full faith in the present government as both the PM and defence minister have always stood by our armed forces. We are confident that they will surely act on this reassurance to recognise the courage and sacrifice of a brave soldier who always believed in the motto, 'service to the nation comes first, always and every time'," she added.

The other side
An Army spokesperson said, "The matter is still under consideration. I have nothing else to share on the subject at this moment."

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