In the 1990s, when militancy erupted in the Valley, Special Police Officer Kulwant Singh’s family stayed back, assured that their Muslim neighbours would never turn their backs on them. On Friday, when tragedy struck the family, the entire village was at their doorstep. Singh, 35, and two other police personnel were abducted and killed by suspected militants on Friday morning in South Kashmir’s Shopian district. A day later, the villagers rallied behind the lone Hindu family in Batagund village – from cutting wood for the last rites to ensuring that the entire village turned up for the cremation.
On Saturday morning, Singh’s neighbour Bashir Ahmad, who runs a shop in the neighbourhood, was among the first to reach the apple orchard in the village, where a piece of land had been marked for the cremation.
“I came here today to perform my duties. So what if our religions are different, we have been living in same village and it is our duty to help them at this hour,” said Ahmad.
The previous day, Ahmad had helped dig a grave for another neighbour, Firdous Ahmad Kuchey, a ‘follower’ with the J&K Police who was killed along with Singh. At Singh’s house, villagers began gathering early Saturday morning to help Singh’s elder brother Ranbir and his father Dhrub Dev with preparations for the cremation. Women neighbours sat around, consoling Singh’s wife, their two children and his mother.
“I have known this family ever since I was child. How could we leave them alone at this moment,” said a villager who didn’t want to be named. He had taken a day off from work to attend Singh’s last rites.
Around 10.30 a.m, by the time the body was brought to the orchard, most of the village had gathered for the cremation. Mohammed Yousuf Baba, village head of Batgund, said Singh’s family had been living in the village for over two decades. “We did what we could for the family,” he said. Singh’s uncle Gandrab Singh, who lives in Faridabad near Delhi, said he was moved by the presence of several hundred villagers at the cremation. “My brother’s family never left this village because they always felt safe,” he said.