When India gained independence it had only 18 Brigadier rank officers and Brigadier Muhammad Usman was one of them. Being the youngest in his peer group, he was three days senior to Sam Maneckshaw, it was almost certain that Usman would rise to be the Chief of Army. A soldier who would not betray his nation he turned down a lucrative offer from Jinnah to serve Pakistan. But it was not enough to win the trust of the soldiers when the army was also being divided along religious lines between India and Pakistan. In November, 1947 he had been given command of Naushera in Jammu & Kashmir as Pakistan had invaded Kashmir. When many Muslim soldiers and locals had already sided with Pakistan here India had a Muslim as its army commander. Of course, there were a few apprehensions but they were soon silenced as Usman brought ‘Jai Hind’ as the salutation, which was earlier used by Azad Hind Fauj.
India was facing a lack of armed men and ammunition in Kashmir during the war as Usman tried to hold on to Naushera against a vigorous enemy attack. On 24th December 1947, a day before the birthday of Jinnah the enemy attacked Jhangar post near Naushera. After a bloody battle Usman’s men faced reverses but still held on to Naushera. Now, the enemy was at the gate of Naushera as Usman was holding on to it. With the fall of Jhangar Usman vowed that he would not sleep on a bed till the day Jhangar was liberated. A vow he kept for almost three months. Brigadier Usman did not sleep on a bed from 25th December, 1947 till 19th March, 1948.Usman inspired his soldiers with a moving message before launching an attack on Jhangar. He said;
“To every man upon this Earth
Death cometh soon or late
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his Gods”
Usman slept on the floor in the biting cold of Kashmir for three months and used a bed only after he liberated Jhangar from Pakistan.
On 6th February, 1948, when the much larger enemy force attacked Naushera it was under Usman’s leadership that Indian soldiers killed 2,000 enemy soldiers while losing only 33 of their own. It was a heroic display of army strategy where superior numbers suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Indian army. After the ‘Battle of Naushera’ Major General Kalwant in a press conference credited Usman for the victory. Usman wrote a letter to Kalwant protesting this statement and demanded that he should not be given credit as each soldier fighting the war was equally responsible. No wonder after this battle he was called ‘Naushera ka Sher’ (Lion of Naushera) and Pakistan declared a prize of Rs. 50,000 to kill him, a rarity in wars.
Usman organized a Bal Sena, which consisted of young kids to help the army in logistics. After the war three of these young kids were awarded by the PM Nehru for bravery. The war also created a shortage of food supplies. Mostly, across the world, it is a norm that the armies feed themselves at the expense of civilians but here Usman along with his soldiers kept a weekly fast so that they consume less food and poor civilians were fed by the army.
On 3rd July, 1948, Brigadier Usman died while fighting for his country. He was given a full state honour being the highest ranking officer to lay down his life for the nation. Usman was buried at Jamia Millia Islamia Graveyard after a funeral procession attended by the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Defence Minister Baldev Singh, Chief of Army Staff Cariappa, Sheikh Abdullah, Indira Gandhi as his funeral prayer was led by the education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.