Two months after he was killed in a firefight at Batagund in South Kashmir’s Shopian, Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani has been awarded the Ashok Chakra, the country’s highest peacetime gallantry award.
Wani was once part of the Ikhwan, the government-backed counter-insurgency militia of the 1990s, and is the first Kashmiri soldier to be awarded the Ashok Chakra, according to the Army. President Ram Nath Kovind will present the award to his wife Mahjabeen Wani on Republic Day.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Mahjabeen said, “I have lost my husband and no award will bring him back. We have not received any formal letter informing us of the award. I’m told he is being honoured but I don’t know what to tell my sons.” She is currently in Kota with her sons Shahid (18) and Athar (20).
At their family home in Chack Ashmuji, Kulgam, his brothers narrate his story with caution, “We would be happy if he was still alive, then it would mean something.” They don’t want to be identified because of Wani’s past affiliation with Ikhwans. The Ikhwans were a government-sponsored militia primarily comprising surrendered militants active across Kashmir active until the 2000s.
“His life was more difficult because of the Ikhwan tag. He lived that life for very long as he left home early. We wish he was around to accept this award, he would have been very happy.”
The family’s fear arises from the stigma attached to this militia, loathed by the public because of the alleged atrocities committed by the group during its peak.
Lance Naik Wani joined the Army’s 162 Infantry Battalion (Territorial Army), Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, in 2004. “His extraordinarily fearless and courageous personage was reflected in getting the Sena Medal for gallantry twice in 2007 and 2018,” the Army said in a statement issued Wednesday. “A very genial man he was very mindful of the problems of his village and the surrounding area. Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani also had many acts of selfless service in the area he belonged to. His heroic efforts during operations will be a beacon of light for the youth of Kashmir,” said the statement.
The 2018 Sena Medal was awarded to Wani for “eliminating one terrorist from a very close distance”. Calling him a “source of inspiration for others” the Army said, that despite an injury, Wani took out one militant and injured another in an encounter, in his last operation.
“On 25 November, Lance Naik Nazir Wani was participating in a counter-terrorist operation against six terrorists in Hirapur village near Batgund, Kashmir. Under intense hail of bullets from the terrorists he eliminated the district commander of the LeT and one foreign terrorist in a very daring display of raw courage. In the ensuing gunfight, he was hit multiple times including his head. He also injured another terrorist before succumbing to his grievous injuries.”
The eldest of four brothers, he rarely visited his family home in Chack Ashmuji, 75 km from Srinagar, for fear of being kidnapped or killed. His younger brother, who works as a mechanic, said that he cannot recall the last time he met his brother. “We never let him come home, not even Eid because we were afraid for him. He and his family lived in a house in the main town. Travelling deep into the villages is not safe for anybody in uniform,” he said.