Prabhu Singh would have turned 25 today. But a day before his birthday, he was killed and beheaded in Machil sector of Kupwara district in north Kashmir. Two other soldiers of 57 Rashtriya Rifles, Shashank Kumar Singh and Manoj Kumar Kushwaha, both from Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh, were also killed.
At his home in Shergarh tehsil, his father, Chandra Singh, recalls how he decided the day Prabhu was born that he would be a soldier. Any other line of work was “unimaginable”, he says. “My father, Achal Singh, served the country. I was also in the Army from 1979 to 1998, and was posted in Jammu and Kashmir among other places. Three of my brothers served in the Army’s Armoured Corps, Artillery and in the Madhya Pradesh Police. It is our family tradition to serve the country,” he says.
“The government should take strict action against Pakistan or else lakhs of soldiers will be martyred. The Prime Minister should do something now,” he adds.
Other relatives and neighbours recall the BJP’s 2014 poll slogan of “ten heads for one”. “Chunavi waade kabhi poore nahi hotey, kuch na kuch kami reh jati hai (Poll promises are never fulfilled, something is always lacking),” says the grieving father.
Prabhu, who got married in July 2013, has left behind a two-year-old daughter, Palak Kanwar. His wife Om Kanwar and mother Raju Kanwar have not eaten since around 7 pm on Tuesday, when the family received a call from the Army informing them about the death, say relatives.
“He visited us last month, and left home 10 days before Diwali. We last spoke to him on Monday. I called him up yesterday, but he did not answer his phone. He would have turned 25 today,” says Chandra Singh.
A temporary shelter has been set up outside Prabhu’s home, where officials from the district administration and Army discuss the funeral arrangements with his family members. The issue is whether to allow the family to view his body. Some relatives say they should at least allow them to view the face, but officials fear that it may disturb some family members, “especially the women.”
“We have put off the decision for now. A decision will be taken when senior officials arrive for the cremation on Thursday,” says Lt Col Guman Singh Bhati, zilla sainik kalyan adhikari for Shergarh tehsil.
Babu Singh, BJP MLA from Shergarh, says Shergarh is known for sending its sons to the Army. “Prabhu’s family alone has sent about 25 men to serve the country. Now, more sons of the village are eager to serve on the nation’s borders,” he says.
Bhom Singh, 21, who passed his Class XII exam two years ago, says he runs on the highway each morning. Bhairon Singh, 19, says he too runs each morning with his brothers and cousins “to prepare for the physical tests in the Army”. “We run five kilometres daily, but we have to be careful of vehicles. We are proud of Prabhu’s sacrifice,” he says.
The sarpanch, Mohan Singh, points out that the village doesn’t even have a road connecting it to the highway. “The nearest school is four kilometres away. Our children have been unsuccessful in passing the written test for Army recruitment. We also need a stadium for our youth to exercise so that we can continue the tradition of sending our sons to the Army,” he says.
Outside the village, a tanker sprays water on the dusty track. Some labourers hastily unload stones from a couple of trucks, so that the “vehicles of dignitaries do not get stuck on Thursday”.