Married barely a month ago, Kshama Priya had barely learnt to apply sindoor on her forehead, a vermilion dot that symbolises a Hindu woman’s marital status.
She will no longer. The sindoor was smudged on Tuesday and her bangles crushed — another macabre ritual that befalls a widow.
Her husband, Diwakar Kumar, was one of the 10 CRPF men who died in a counter-insurgency battle with Maoists on Monday night.
“It was my husband’s first job after marriage. It became his last,” the wife said in Bihar’s Khagaria.
Priya and Diwakar — the lone brother to four sisters — got married on June 27.
Mother Sunita Devi, recuperating from a kidney surgery done a month ago, passed out when the news broke. So did a sister of the fallen CRPF soldier.
The entire home was bathed in gloom.
Grief engulfed Parmeshwar village in Buxar district too, the hometown of CRPF personnel Anil Kumar Singh. Meera lost consciousness when she was told about her husband’s death this morning.
“His father passed away when Anil was a kid. The responsibility of bringing up his four siblings was thrust on him. When he got the CRPF job, we were all happy that the family’s bad days were over,” said a villager. “But we find solace that he did not retreat from a fight.”
Singh married Meera in 2011 and the couple has two kids, too young to understand the loss.
Bodh Gaya was abuzz with curiosity, and anger, when bodies of the braves were brought from the jungles of nearby Aurangabad district on Tuesday. Hulking military personnel carriers and ambulances of the CRPF units and the Anugrah Narain Medical College Hospital zipped in and out through the day.
Early in the morning, doctors, nurses, and anesthetists were summoned out of their beds. Bleary-eyed, they waited until the first two bodies arrived.
“Helicopters couldn’t land because of Maoist fire in the jungles,” said a police officer, clarifying the delay in evacuating the wounded, and the bodies.
Information from the jungles was hard to come by too. But by 9 am, the number of casualties was clear: 10 soldiers killed, none missing.
Outside the hospital, a large crowd milled. Buddhist pilgrims kept a safe distance, fearing the worst as the sea of khaki reminded them of the Bodh Gaya blasts in July 2013, when 10 bombs exploded in and around the Mahabodhi temple complex.
“Believe, there is a man, almost 6-feet tall, killed among the Naxalites. It could be Sudhakaran, quite high in the Maoist pecking order,” said in officer, waiting at the hospital for the bodies.
“Is Sandeepji among the casualty?” someone else asked. Sandeepji, a Maoist commander active in Bihar and Jharkhand, carries Rs 5 lakh on his head.
The body bags kept coming till 4pm. Slogans muffled the officers’ chitchat, and the rumble of monsoon clouds: “Long live our soldiers.”