NEW DELHI, Dec 26: After eight years in coma fighting for his life, Lieutenant Colonel Karanbir Singh Natt of the Territorial Army breathed his last at the Jalandhar military hospital on Sunday.
A Sena Medal winner, Lt Col Natt (47), the second-in-command of the 160 Infantry Battalion TA (Jammu and Kashmir Rifles), was hit by a bullet that pierced through his lower jaw during a counter-insurgency operation at Haji Naka village on the edge of a dense forest, seven kilometres from the Kupwara’s Line of Control (LoC), following intelligence regarding the presence of terrorists in the area, on November 22, 2015. He was airlifted to the Army Hospital Research and Referral, New Delhi, in a critical situation and was shifted to Jalandhar military hospital in 2018 in a comatose condition, where his family members and army medics took care of him.
Lt. Col. Natt was an experienced officer who had served in the army for almost 20 years. Before joining the Territorial Army, Lt. Col. Natt had joined the regular army in 1998 after passing out from the Officers Training Academy in Chennai and was commissioned in the 19th Battalion of the Brigade of Guards, a mechanized infantry regiment, through the Short Service Commission entry of the army.
In November 2015, the Kupwara area of Jammu and Kashmir witnessed back-to-back encounters. On November 17, the 41 Rashtriya Rifles commanded by Colonel Santosh Mahadik launched a massive anti-terror operation in the Kalaroos area of Kupwara. He led the operation from the front and in a fierce gun battle, he was hit in the chest and was severely injured and died due to the gunshot wounds.
Lt. Colonel Natt received a burst of fire after the terrorists were cornered in a hut. The officer was hit in the face by a Kalashnikov bullet and was seriously injured but he saved three of his men during the operation.
In all these eight years, the family members, including his 79-year-old father, Colonel Jagtar Singh Natt (retd), wife Navpreet Kaur and daughters Guneet (19) and Ashmeet (9), were hoping and praying that he would make a full recovery.
“We were always hopeful that my son would speak to us, and see his wife and daughters one day. But that day never came in these eight years. We had never lost a hope that my son would recuperate from the coma and looked after him dedicatedly day and night in past eight years,” said Col Natt, a veteran from the 22 Punjab and a soldier who fought the 1971 War in the Shakargarh ‘Bulge’ sector and also battled the Mizoram insurgency.
He added that his son fought for his life with all the grit and valour in these years as the family and army medics spared no effort to take care of him. “For eight years, the family was following the same routine of visiting him every day and talking to him for hours despite knowing that he would not listen and speak. We were socially disconnected in these years as the family had not attended a single social gathering in the past years,” he said.
Originally hailing from Dhadiala Natt village, situated near Batala in Gurdaspur district, the family of Lt Col Natt moved to Jalandhar for his treatment. He was commissioned as a Short Service Commission officer in The Brigade of Guards in 1998. He also led a missile platoon during the Kargil War in 1999. After serving in the regiment for 14 years, he was relieved from service in 2012 before he joined as the second-in-command (2IC) of the 160 Territorial Army (JAK Rifles) and formerly of the 19th Battalion of the Brigade of the Guards.
“The love for olive always fascinated my son and he attained martyrdom after eight years. Being a Fauji father, I can only say that it was a great pride to be a father of such a brave decorated army officer,” he said.
His father added that in all these eight years, he found his daughter-in-law Navpreet Kaur, bravest of all, as she remained calm and poised throughout and took great care of her husband besides looking after parenting and education of two young daughters.
Colonel Anil Alagh (Retired), who was the commanding officer of Lt. Colonel Natt’s former regiment, wrote a heartfelt post in 2018 to share the struggle of Lt. Col. Natt’s family and what he is going through. The officer was airlifted to Srinagar and then taken to the Army’s Research and Referral hospital in Delhi. Lt. Col. Natt was in a vegetative state, a condition in which a person was awake but shows no sign of awareness, on the day he was brought in.
“I can’t find the words,” Col. Alagh. “My heart rips apart every time Ashi says, ‘When will Papa get up? When will he come to pick me up from school? When will he see my school functions?’ Many more questions…I hug her tightly and say, ‘Very soon.’ Wondering what will happen? Gunnu says he should be with us always even if he is in this condition…we have him,” Mr Alagh wrote quoting Lt. Col. Natt’s wife. “I would like my civilian friends to understand this post, the scars the family members, the children of our soldiers bear,” Mr Alagh wrote.