Army and stories of sacrifice go hand in hand. The soldiers of the Indian Army lead and inspire not only on the battlefield but outside of it too. Ian Cardozo is one of those figures. His first battle with the Pakistani soldiers in Bangladesh left him with an amputated leg. His second battle was against the notion that injured soldiers cant serve the army the same way a healthy soldier can. Inspiringly, he won both of those battles.
Ian Cardozo was a specimen. He was an extraordinary athlete with genetically gifted long limbs. After completing his schooling in St. Xaviers, Mumbai, Cardozo joined National Defence Academy. Here he did something so remarkable that only once it has been repeated since then. He became the first to get gold and silver medals together as a passing-out candidate of NDA.
Cardozo joined the army and became part of the Gorkha Rifles. This regiment was one of India’s finest regiments and was Cardozo’s first choice after graduating. When the war of 1971 started, Cardozo was under training in the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington.
The second in command of the Gorkha rifles was killed in action in Bangladesh and Cardozo was ordered to replace him.
The war of 1971 was also known as the Bangladesh Liberation war. The Indian Army fought side by side with Bangladeshi rebellions to overthrow Pakistani rule over the country. Pakistan had fortified the India-Bangladesh border. The only way in was Airbourne. Ian Cardozo was airdropped deep in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka.
Indian Army was successful in securing Dhaka. The Soldiers now had to create a path back to India. On his way back, Ian Cardozo stepped on a mine that was meant to keep the Indian Army out of Bangladesh. In an instant, his leg blew up. His fellow comrades helped him up to a nearby tent. The Indian Army was deep in enemy territory and had no medical station nearby. With the help of bandages, the blood was stopped but the risk of infection remained. With no other option in hand, Cardozo took hands in his own matter. He put his khurkee (a special knife carried by Gurkhas) over the fire to sanitize it. And then he amputated his leg.
Some days later, the Indian Army captured a Pakistani Surgeon and brought him over to Cardozo. He performed a further operation on him and dressed the amputated leg.
The war was over and Bangladesh was made an independent country. Ian Cardozo had recovered well and was given a wooden prosthetic leg. He was awarded the ‘Ati Vishisht Seva’ medal for his extraordinary service to India.
He wrote to the then Chief of Army Staff General Tapishwar Raina to have him back in the military. Chief called him to a meet in the high-altitude region of Laddakh. During this meeting, Ian Cardozo kept up with the Chief as they walked through some slopes. This meeting was a test and Cardozo had passed with flying colours.
Ian Cardozo became India’s first disabled Commander. After his retirement, he started an NGO that created opportunities for disabled soldiers. Later, he became chairman of the National Centre for the Promotion of Employment of Disabled.
Soldiers are warriors. They are not just physically tough but have a calloused mind as well. Ian Cardozo first fought the war with his physical prowess, but destiny took away his prized physicality. But Cardozo fought his fate like a warrior. And won his second war with sheer willpower. This win over common conception against disability remains his biggest legacy.