The bravery award had to be received in secret. In the pro-militant village where security forces are a bad word and discontent against India runs deep, Muzaffar Ahmad Bhat has gone where no man had gone before.
He had joined the army and laid down his life for the country.
Muzaffar, a Kashmiri Muslim like the rest of the village, had joined the army at 20 as a sepoy and was posted with the 55 Rashtriya Rifles battalion then stationed at Pulwama town in south Kashmir.
Muzaffar was an easygoing, religious person –– he loved playing cricket and often listened to the “Naat” — verses recited in honour of Prophet Mohammed.
Joining the army was a tough call: in a state where unemployment runs deep, Muzaffar had been struggling to make ends meet, working as a labourer between his studies.
But the army was not a career option for youth in his Nowgam village, a stronghold of Kashmiri militancy. They hated the army.
“Just joining the Indian army is looked down upon here,” his elder brother Riyaz told the Hindustan Times. He also showed audacity against the sentiment of the village and works with the Jammu and Kashmir police, posted at Anantnag.
“Killing those fighting for azaadi (freedom) is worse,” Riyaz said. “A gallantry award from India is not an honour in our village, but a stigma.” That challenge soon presented itself.
On December 4, 2007, the unit received specific information that armed militants had entered Ludramar village, not too far away from Pulwama. Muzaffar’s platoon rushed there and began a search operation.
Two armed militants, who holed up inside, began firing. Bullets brought down the two men firing away in the forefront –– Muzaffar and havaldar Chuni Lal.
Chuni Lal collapsed in a near-unconscious state. Muzaffar still kept firing. He shot dead one militant. Then Muzaffar lifted Chuni Lal on his shoulder to carry him to safety.
Another militant’s bullet struck Muzaffar in the back, and they collapsed on the ground. Both injured men were rushed to hospital soon after. Neither survived.
The irony of Muzzafar’s life was that the story of his valour could not be told in his anti-India village.
A little over a year later at the Army Day function in New Delhi on January 15, Muzaffar was posthumously awarded the Sena medal for gallantry, his father Abdul Ahad Bhat received the medal on his behalf. Except for the elder brother, no one knew back home.
Abdul Bhat had travelled to Delhi secretly, and Riyaz flatly refused to provide his martyred brother’s photograph for this report.
“We are proud that Muzzafar laid down his life for the nation,” said Riyaz.