Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan
Sandeep Unnikrishnan (Malayalam: സന്ദീപ് ഉണ്ണിക്കൃഷ്ണന്,Kannada: ಸಂದೀಪ್ ಉನ್ನೀಕೃಷ್ಣನ್) March 15, 1977 – November 28, 2008) was a Major in the Indian Army serving in the elite National Security Guards (NSG) who was killed in an encounter with terrorists in November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“Do not come up, I will handle them.” These were probably the last words which Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan told his men as he was hit by bullets while engaging terrorists inside the Taj Hotel, Mumbai during the Black Tornado operation.
During the operation, when a commando got injured Major Unnikrishnan arranged for his evacuation and started chasing the terrorists himself. The terrorists escaped to another floor of the hotel and during the chase Major Unnikrishnan was seriously injured and succumbed to his injuries.
Major Unnikirshnan spent 14 years at the Frank Anthony Public School. A popular figure among his contemporaries, he wanted to join the Army, even attending school in a crew cut. He is remembered as an outstanding student by his teacher. In 1995 he finished ISC Science from here. He was the house captain and he participated in sports and described by his school principal as “fantastic athlete”. Most of his athletic records remained unbroken for many years. He described himself as a movie maniac in his orkut profile.
Besides his display of courage from young age he had a soft side to him and was a member of the school choir.
His NDA buddies remember him as “selfless”, “generous” and “calm and composed”.
In 1995, we were a bunch of gangly 18-year-olds, wondering what the hell we were doing climbing up Sinhgad fort on a miserable, rainy day, when I first met Unni. He was an ikki, a first termer, bone-weary, but always gung-ho. When we made it to the top, the first stop was for a fill of water. Soggy, bushed and thirsty, we ran to the natural spring that has been feeding soldiers since the days of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Unni was the first to reach and started drawing water from the well. We lined up with our canteens, but a tourist first held out her water bottle. Unni filled it. Then, another. Unni filled that too. Within seconds, there was a long line of tourists waiting for water. Without a word – and with a smile to us – Unni dutifully doled out his generosity. He never got to us. He himself never got a sip. The order came to move on.
– An NDA coursemate
His happy-go-lucky face masked a ruthless and determined soldier, so did his thin physique hide a tough, never-give-up spirit that was seen in various training camps and cross country races he participated in with in the NDA.
He was commissioned as Second Lieutenant to the 7 Bihar Regiment in June 1999. After serving the Indian Army in different locations in Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen and Rajasthan to counter insurgencies for two terms, he was selected to join the National Security Guards.On completion of training, he was assigned to the Special Action Group (SAG) of NSG on January 2007 and participated in various operations of the NSG.
He was a popular officer who was loved and adored by his seniors and juniors alike. During the `Ghatak test’, the most difficult test of the Army, Major Unnikrishnan topped twice in these tests earning commendation from seniors. Perhaps this was the reason or his passion for bravery that he opted for the NSG commando service which he joined on deputation in 2006.
Operation Black Tornado
On the night of 26 Nov 2008, several iconic buildings in South Mumbai were attacked by terrorists. One of the buildings where the terrorists held people hostage was the 100 year old Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Major Unnikrishnan was the commander of 51 SAG deployed in the operation at the Taj Mahal Hotel to rid the building of terrorists and rescue the hostage. The terrorists had held a few women as hostages in a room and locked it from the inside. After breaking open the door, the round of fire by the terrorists hit Major Sunil Yadav, his buddy pair. He led his team from the front and engaged the terrorists in a fierce gunfight. He arranged for Major Sunil Yadav’s evacuation and regardless of personal safety chased the terrorists who, meanwhile, escaped to another floor of the hotel, and while doing so Major Sandeep continuously engaged them. In the encounter that followed, he was shot from the back, seriously injured and succumbed to injuries.
“Long Live Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan“, “Sandeep Unnikrishnan Amar Rahee” – these are the lines that were heard from outside the Bangalore house of the NSG Commando Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and thousands lined up to pay their last homage to the martyr who laid his life to save thousands of innocent people at hotel Taj Mahal, Mumbai. Family members, friends and army personnel besides thousands of ordinary people came out in the streets to pay homage to the martyr who laid down his life during the unprecedented anti-terror operation.
The funeral of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was held with full military honours.
Kerala Chief Minister’s visit and controversy
On the day of Sandeep’s funeral the local Kerala government from his home town did not send any representative to attend Sandeep’s funeral. Local and national media criticized the decision of the local politicians. In what appeared to be an attempt to save face, the Kerala Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan and Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan called on the Unnikrishnan family on November 30, 2008. Sandeep’s father K. Unnikrishnan was angry at this and he very loudly criticized the visit and required them to leave. Later, V. S. Achuthanandan told media that had it not been for Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, not even a dog would have visted his parent’s house. This again invited harsh criticism from the media and public. However, Achthanandan stated that he would not apologize to the Major’s family. He added that he respects the slain Major’s family.