At the times, when Ladakh was attacked in 1948 by raiders for Pakistan many of the local civilians played an important role in keeping the region safe. There were people like Colonel Chhewang Rinchen, the 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche,Sonam Norbu and many other Ladakhi workers, volunteers and families who played a role of warriors and can never be forgotten.
As per The Better India, another such figure in this regard, lesser known in the pages of history, is Eliyah Tsetan Phuntsog, a civil officer posted in Nubra, who according to Colonel Thakur Pithi Chand MVC of the 2nd Dogra Battalion played an extremely important role in providing supplies, transport and porters and gathering volunteers to fight alongside his troops as well as kept the morale of the local civilians high in times of danger.
Even after joining government service, Phuntsog didn’t lose touch with Buddhist studies and was well regarded for his knowledge of religious texts. However, his life would change dramatically upon meeting with Joseph Gergan a Ladakhi Christian scholar from Nubra who would go on to pen the Bible in Tibetan in the late 1920s and fall in love with his daughter, Sungkil.
“Phuntsog had, by now, parted from his first wife, but Gergan would not allow the marriage to take place unless his would-be son-in-law were formally baptised. Tsetan Phuntsog’s baptism finally went ahead in September 1934, when he took on the Christian name Eliyah, and he married Sungkil the following year,” writes John Bray.
Phuntsog was sent to Tibet many times on various assignments like investigating crimes or some border conflicts with Tibetan authorities.
In late 1947, Skardu came under attack from Pakistani raiders who were claiming the region for their newly-formed government in Islamabad following Maharaja Hari Singh’s decision to sign the Instrument of Accession with India.
Phuntsog, who was posted in Skardu, had managed to escape ahead of the raiders, and found his way to Ladakh, where he worked as a supply officer for the Indian Army.
At the time, Phuntsog was a Civil Officer posted in Nubra Valley. Major Chand requested him to provide supplies, transport and porters for his troops until the time he could arrange for the same from Leh. He was also part of an impromptu War Council formed by Major Chand for Nubra, who was the chief administrator.
Eliyah Tsetan Phuntsog was the Chief Civil Force organiser of Nubra operations in close coordination with Prithi Chand, a highly popular officer who often shunted between the war front and villages to maintain supply and coordination,” says Rev. Elijah Spalbar Gergan, a renowned educationist and relative of Phuntsog.
Phuntsog managed to obtain all the assistance Chand needed from the local populace. In fact, he also acted as a guarantor for gallant volunteers like Chewang Rinchen along with Kalon Chewang Rigzin for the provision of firearms and ammunition.
Throughout this operation Gaga (Kaga/elder brother in Ladakhi) Thsetan Phuntsog gave all assistance to the troops. He himself used to stay in the front looking after the demands of the jawans, he provided volunteers to fight and indeed he not only kept the morale of the civilians but also of the soldiers at the front.
After the ceasefire, Phuntsog was appointed Leh’s first tehsildar in independent India. After that he became an Information Officer before retiring from government service. Following his retirement from government service, he served as a full-time missionary along with two European couples until 1956. In 1963, he even founded a school for Tibetan refugee children at Rajpur, which is also near Dehradun at the request of a few Tibetan refugees he had met. Sadly, he passed away later in 1973 but marked an immortal name on the pages of history.