Sandeep Unnikrishnan was a Major in the Indian Army serving in the elite Special Action Group of the National Security Guards (NSG). He was killed in action while fighting terrorists in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. His bravery was honoured with the Ashoka Chakra, Indiaâ€™s highest peace time gallantry award, on 26 January 2009.
â€œDo not come up, I will handle themâ€, were the last words which Major Unnikrishnan told his men as he was hit by bullets while engaging terrorists inside the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower during Operation Black Tornado, according to NSG officials.
Later, NSG sources clarified that when a Guardsman got injured during the operation, 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.
Sandeep Unnikrishnan came from a Nair family residing in Bangalore, where they had moved to from Cheruvannur,Kozhikode District, Kerala He was the only son of retired ISRO officer K. Unnikrishnan and Dhanalakshmi Unnikrishnan.
Unnikrishnan spent 14 years at the Frank Anthony Public School, Bangalore, graduating in 1995 in the ISC Science stream. A popular figure among his contemporaries, he wanted to join the Army, even attending school in a crew cut. His peers and teachers recalled him as being a good athlete who was active in school activities and sports events. He was also a member of the school choir, and very interested in movies.
Sandeep joined the National Defence Academy (NDA), Pune, Maharashtra in 1995. He was a cadet, part of the Oscar Squadron (No. 4 Battalion) and a graduate of the 94th Course of NDA. He graduated as a Bachelor of Arts (Social science stream).
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 Lieutenant to the 7th Battalion of the Bihar Regiment (Infantry) on 12 July 1999. After serving the Indian Army in different locations in Jammu & Kashmirand 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 â€˜Ghatak courseâ€™ (at the Commando Wing (Infantry School), Belgaum), the most difficult course of the Army, Major Unnikrishnan topped the course, earning an â€œInstructor Gradingâ€ and 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.
During Operation Vijay in July 1999 he showed grit and determination at the forward posts in the face of heavy artillery firing and small arms fire by Pakistan troops. On the evening of 31 December 1999, Major Sandeep led a team of six soldiers and managed to establish a post 200 metres from the enemy and under direct enemy observation and fire.
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 team commander of 51 SAG deployed in the operation at the Taj Mahal Hotel to rid the building of terrorists and rescue the hostages. He entered the hotel in a group of 10 commandos and reached the sixth floor through the staircase. As the team descended the stairs, they sensed the terrorists on the third floor. 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 Commando Sunil Yadav, who was Major Unnikrishnanâ€™s partner.
Major Unnikrishan led his team from the front and engaged the terrorists in a fierce gunfight. He arranged for Commando Sunil Yadavâ€™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.