“Rifleman Manoj Kumar Bhati amar rahe [Long live Rifleman Manoj Kumar Bhati],” reads a large banner on a house wall with the soldier’s photo next to his regiment insignia as one enters a lane in Faridabad’s Shahjahanpur village. An elderly person comes and salutes the soldier’s family as villagers pour in to offer condolences.
Rifleman Manoj Kumar Bhati, 26, of Rajputana Rifles was among four soldiers who were killed in a militant attack on an Army camp in Rajouri district of J&K in the early hours of Thursday.
“Dukh toh hai par garv bi hai ki mera beta desh ke liye shaheed hua [There is sadness but I am also proud that my son sacrificed his life for the country]. He and fellow martyrs killed two terrorists and saved the unit…Since childhood, it was his dream to join the Army,” said his father, Babulal Kumar, a farmer.
Babulal said he had spoken with his son over a phone call on Tuesday morning. “It was a routine call. He said things are fine. He was brave…like a lion. He did not usually mention anything about militancy. We spoke about daily life.”
Babulal said he got the news of the demise at 8.30am on Thursday when a senior officer from his son’s unit called him. “He said ‘bete ko goli lagi hai’ [Your son has been shot]. I said I am coming there. There was silence for a few seconds before the officer said that my son had been martyred…he was so young,” said Babulal.
Youngest of four siblings in the family, Manoj joined the Army on March 27, 2017. His family said he was posted in Leh and Jammu before moving to Rajouri some time ago. He got married in November 2021 and his wife is nine-month pregnant, said his family members.
“She [his wife] is devastated. They were going to start a family. He had come home on leave in June and left for duty on July 22. When I spoke to him last week, he mentioned that he would be visiting home in October, but it wasn’t meant to be. He was fond of wrestling and used to practise it at his unit in free time,” said his elder brother, Sunil Kumar Bhati (34), who is also in the Army, posted as a Naik with 77 Armoured Corps in Nabha, Patiala.
Sunil said over 100 youths from their village are in the Army. “Har ghar mein fauji hai yahan [There is a soldier in every house here]. It is partly due to lack of jobs and also due to a sentiment to serve the nation. One can see young men running and preparing for an Army job in the morning on these village roads. But, this is the first time that a soldier from the village has been killed in action,” added Sunil.
The family is hoping for some assistance so that the future of his widow and their unborn child is secured.
Over 100 metres from Manoj’s house, several young men had gathered near a field, which was being cleared by an earthmover for the cremation. His family said that his body is expected to arrive from Jammu on Saturday morning.
Kanhaiya (21), who was wearing a white t-shirt with a photo of Rifleman Manoj, said, “I am also preparing to join the Army. Manoj is a martyr and an inspiration to us. I am not scared of sacrificing my life for the country.”
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The village sarpanch, Nahar Singh, said that he would request the government to dedicate a memorial in the name of the soldier.
“We also hope that the government builds a bridge for connectivity across Yamuna here, as a lot of villagers own agricultural land on the other side. Several drowning incidents have taken place recently. The bridge can be named in the soldier’s name as a tribute,” said Singh.