Wednesday, February 22, 2023

That Patriotic Donkey is VirChakra

While transporting military weapons and other equipment, she had been captured by Pakistan during 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. Her name is Pedongi. She was taken along by the Pakistani forces.

A fortnight later, Pedongi used all its ‘common sense’ and exhibited its loyalty to India, by managing somehow to escape from the Pakistani forces. She not only returned to motherland, but also carried the boxes of Pakistani ammunition and a medium machine gun on her back, and made her way back to an Indian Army outpost. It was fully exhausted as it had run about 20-25 kilometers with the load.

She is not a woman soldier or transporter. She is a donkey named Pedongi. President conferred Pedongi the “Vir Chakra’.

India Army Mule War Memorial at ASC Centre and College at Bengaluru

Pedongi was a bay mare of Spanish breed. Pedongi was initially called as Hoof Number 15328) when it joined the army in 1962. She was a part of the Animal Transport units under the Indian Army Service Corps. Her job was to work alongside troops during war to transport ammunition and other stores to forward units as well as transport casualties to military hospitals on some of the most treacherous tracks in the world.

In those days, even during peace time, the contribution of Pedongi and her fellow mules was vital in providing last-mile logistics supply to isolated army units. During winter, heavy snowfall would convert the frontier into a terrain where no vehicle (perhaps even man) could possibly go. If not for the supplies brought by the mules, the soldiers would have been unable to stay at their outposts.

Donkeys serving in hard terrain

As an army officer told a media organization, “these mules work just as hard as the soldiers.”

She has a long career, with incidents of braving bullets, airstrikes and battle trenches. She has proved her mettle as a brave and intelligent military mule. She was highly respected and valued for her many feats. She has an interesting story of being captured by Pakistan forces and successfully managing to return back to Indian forces.

In 1987, 29-year-old Pedongi was stationed at 853 AT Company ASC when she came to the notice of Commanding Officer Maj Chunni Lal Sharma.

Indian army was mightily pleased by her loyalty and gumption. The Animal Transport Battalion Commander reported the matter to his seniors who recommended a citation of bravery for Pedongi. She was honoured by the Indian Army for the contribution in military service. They named its swanky new lounge at the Central Army Service Corps (ASC) officers’ mess in Delhi after an MA (Mountain Artillery) mule, Pedongi.

Mules like Pedongi generally serve the army for 18-20 years. Sharma was astonished and impressed to find out that this hardworking animal Pedongi was still willing and able to serve in altitudes as high as 17,000 feet even though she was the oldest MA mule in the Indian Army!

Denkeys serving the Army in difficult terrain along side the soldiers

The mule’s long and loyal service was very impressive. Seeing this Major Sharma formally appointed Pedongi as the mascot of 53 AT Company ASC. In 1989, Pedongi’s picture also graced the ‘season’s greeting card’ of the unit. The ageing animal was later shifted to Bareilly where she spent her last years grazing in green fields and enjoying the affection of soldiers posted at the military base.

In 1992, Pedongi was specially taken to Delhi where she was presented with a bravery citation and a blue velvet ceremonial rug at the 223 Corps Day Function.

 She was also formally given the name Pedongi (after the town of Pedong, a battle location in North Sikkim).  She has a glory of getting into the Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘Longest-Serving Military Mule’ in 1997 before passing away peacefully in Bareilly on March 25, 1998.

At one point of time, just before the Kargil war, there was a proposal to disband the Animal Transport units and replace them with all-terrain vehicles. But when war erupted in Kargil, intense shelling along the motorable roads in Drass and Kargil made logistics support to remote outposts by vehicles and even helicopters impossible. These animals came to their rescue, they were the only ones who continued to work in the face of heavy shelling. The sturdy and sure-footed mules could go through rugged ridges and precarious tracks on which no vehicle could reach. The wisdom dawned and the proposal to disband them was scrapped.

As per another media report, an army officer opined, “the dauntless and loyal military mules of the Army Service Corps have enabled last-mile logistics supply in the most inhospitable conditions along our frontiers in all past wars and operations in the highest tradition of the Indian Army.”

Indian Army pays homage to Padangi

Its brass plate citation with the medal of Vir Chakra still adores the museum at the ASC centre at Bangalore.  How I wish every mule whether it has opportunity to display valour or not but has served the nation/ Indian Army selflessly is treated like Pedongi. The President of India bestowed the gallantry award of “Vir Chakra” to Pedongi. 

Its very happy to know that at present, the Indian Army maintains a 6,000-strong force of mules. Historically, these Animal Transport units continue to provide a reliable mode of last-mile transport in the harsh terrain along the Indian frontier.

Men might be fraudulent or treacherous, but these animals serve the nation with real patriotism and loyalty to the nation. The corrupt men cannot corrupt them. They are real deshbhakths. Salute to the most reliable Pedongi and all such animals which serve our soldiers in inhospitable terrains.

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.

1 COMMENT

  1. Pl do a fact check. This story if false. The mule did not get a Vir Chakra. Rather it was given a name Pedongi instead of a number that mules are otherwise allotted in the Army and was also presented a blue ceremonial rug. The Vir Chakra bit is however pure imagination and folklore!

    https://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/cover-story/vir-chakra-india-pakistan-bashers-animal-transport-pedongi-pakistan-army-indian-army/articleshow/36219272.cms?

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