It was a rare sight in the militancy-ridden Valley; personnel of the paramilitary CRPF bore aloft the coffin of their colleague and laid him to rest, while hundreds of locals mourned.
It was the funeral of Muhammad Shafi Bhat in Buran village of Pattan in north Kashmir's Baramulla district, known for its separatist sentiment. He was one of the 13 CRPF jawans killed in a Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh on Monday. So far, in the Valley, large funerals have been seen only to mourn militants killed during gunfights with the security forces.
Bhat, whose funeral was held on Wednesday, was the first jawan from the Valley to be killed by naxals. The 33-year-old man had joined the central force six years ago. He is survived by two children, one of them just three months old. His death has also shattered his wife and aged parents.
Bhat had returned to his place of posting three weeks ago after a short vacation in his hometown. "He had promised to come back in spring but the dreaded militants (naxals) did not let him fulfill his promise,'' said his father Mehrajuddin Bhat, a retired government employee.
Proud that his son laid down his life for the country, Mehrajuddin says he is shattered that his two minor children have no-one to look after. "I am proud but his death has broken my back," he says. "I look at his children, one boy is three months old and another is two and half years old, how will they survive? He was the reason for us to live.''
The aged father also appealed to the government to "take down the killers".
"In the last one year 1500 jawans have lost their lives there (in Chattisgarh). It was my son today; it will be somebody else's son tomorrow. If the government could control militancy in Kashmir and Punjab why not in the naxal area?'' he asked.
The family said Bhat used to complain about how ill-equipped the central force was compared to the Maoists. "Why doesn't the government send in the army in the area,'' Bhat's broken father asked.
Remembering the CRPF jawan as a valiant young man and a helpful person, local residents who started pouring into his home after the news of his death broke out, have urged the government to take care of the trooper's family.