By Mookonda Nitin Kushalappa
Major Mangerira C. ‘Vinod’ Muthanna was an army officer who guarded India’s frontiers in the Kashmir valley against cross-border terrorists. He was born in 1964 in Chettimani village, near Bhagamandala town, Madikeri taluk in Kodagu. Joining the Officer’s Training Academy in Chennai in 1984, he was commissioned into the army the following year. He first served in Jammu and Kashmir (1985-1991), then in Punjab (1991-1993), next in Arunachal Pradesh (1993-1996), later in Bangalore (1997-1999) and finally again in Jammu and Kashmir (1999-2000).
During his 15 years’ tenure he rose from the position of a Second Lieutenant to that of a Major. He was part of the 5th Sikh Light Infantry unit, Rashtriya Rifles. In the year 2000, Major Muthanna was posted at Khanabal in Anantnag district, Jammu and Kashmir. This remote army base was however near Srinagar and along the main National Highway of Kashmir. Under constant attack from terrorists, it was the army’s responsibility to guard the civilians and the infrastructure around the camp.
On an eventful day, the 12th of January that year, four Lashkar-e-Toiba militants arrived in a Maruthi Omni van, at around 6 in the evening. Armed with AK47s, grenades and rocket launchers, they forced themselves into the barracks and began to fire indiscriminately. But the Jawans returned fire and stopped the moving vehicle. One militant was promptly shot dead and another was wounded by the soldiers. However, the remaining two escaped unseen into a small, two-storey building nearby.
Major Muthanna informed his Commanding Officer about the situation. The attack had stopped for a while but the militants’ location within the camp was unknown. Upon the CO’s instructions the Major had the area sealed and searched. The militants were discovered in that building, which was across the road. It had only one entry-point and a stairway. Two jawans then entered the building in order to capture the militants. But they were shot at and cornered.
At that moment Major Muthanna decided to risk his life in order to save his men. He quickly entered the building after them. While he provided cover to the two injured jawans, they were taken away to safety. In the meantime he managed to shoot dead one of the two militants. But in the process he was fatally wounded himself. He sustained a bullet wound on his right side below the hips. A grenade hurled at him had exploded in his face, again on the right, and badly injured him. Seven hours had flown by since the militants’ arrival. The time was 1.30 in the midnight. The Major had lost consciousness by then.
The two Jawans who were undergoing treatment had informed the others that Major Muthanna was fine when they parted. The Army had fired upon the building in order to save the Major trapped within. The remaining militant pretended to surrender and was to be taken away. Before he was to be disarmed an interrogation took place. It was then that he began to fire again at the soldiers from inside the building. The soldiers shot back at him. He was killed but not before he removed the pin of a grenade and held on to it while dying. His intention was to blow up anybody who would lift his corpse.
The building was taken by the army at 3.30, in the wee hours of the morning. Meanwhile the Major, aged 36, succumbed to his injuries. His corpse was found inside the structure. The alert soldiers became aware of the unexploded grenade. They were able to prevent any further damage to themselves from the probable explosion. The terrorist’s final plan was hence thwarted.
Lives of civilians and soldiers were saved by Major Muthanna’s courageous deed. He was awarded the Shaurya Chakra posthumously. This military decoration, an equivalent of the Vir Chakra, was for his bravery and self-sacrifice, beyond the call of duty, during an enemy attack in times of peace.
Major M. C. Muthanna Marg (road), Major M. C. Muthanna Army Goodwill High School / Public School and a recreation hall named after him, all three in Khanabal in Jammu and Kashmir, were inaugurated by the Indian Army. Manjunath Acharya of Somwarpet made the sculpture of him which was unveiled near the Town Hall at Madikeri in 2010.