Three weeks ago, Sepoy Prashant Sharma, 23, told his childhood friend Pariskshit Sharma over the phone from Kashmir that he was “lucky to have survived a military operation”. On Saturday evening, Parikshit sat in disbelief at Sharma’s house in village Budhana in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, hours after news trickled in that the soldier had been killed in an encounter with militants in Pulwama in the wee hours of the day.
Sharma was to return home two days later, and was supposed to get married on December 6.
His brother Nishant, a year younger, said Sharma called home on Friday night at 8.30. “He said he was going for a routine operation. We also discussed his wedding preparations.
Editorial| Truth about Pulwama
At 6.45 am, our father got to know he had died in the line of duty.”
The encounter happened as a joint team of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, Army and paramilitary forces closed in on Zadoora village in Pulwama after specific inputs regarding the presence of militants there. The police said the militants opened fire, and Sharma was shot in the initial firing. He succumbed to his injuries in hospital. Three militants were killed in the gunfight, and the security forces said they were affiliated with the Hizbul Mujahideen.
The Pulwama encounter happened a day after four militants were killed in an encounter in nearby Shopian.
The police identified the three militants killed in the Pulwama encounter as Adil Hafiz, Arshid Ahmad Dar and Rouf Ahmad Mir, all locals. It said the three had “planned and executed several terror attacks” in Pulwama. Adil Hafiz was allegedly involved in an attack on a naka, in which a police personnel had been killed and another injured. The police claimed to have recovered an AK-47 rifle and two pistols from the killed militants.
In a statement, the Army said, “Late Sep Prashant Sharma was in the lead element of his party when it came into contact with the terrorists… In the ensuing firefight, three terrorists were eliminated and Late Sep Prashant Sharma suffered multiple gunshot wounds on his chest. Despite being grievously injured, he continued to fight.”
Sharma’s father Sheeshpal Singh, 48, who retired as Army Naik, said the 23-year-old, who had won some cycling championships, joined the forces in 2017 through sports quota. “Initially he trained for the Army’s sports division, but was later moved to the Rashtriya Rifles. He was deployed to Pulwama around a year ago.”
Villagers and neighbours recalled how fond Sharma was of cycling, even dreaming of winning a gold medal for the country in the sport. Sheeshpal said that recently he had purchased a cycle worth Rs 2.5 lakh, after saving up money for it.
Said Parikshit, “He trained for months in Rishikesh, and would cycle along highways. During the peak of his training, he would clock 80-90 km every day.” Even in calls home from Kashmir, he would talk about how much he missed cycling. That’s what makes him sad, Pariskhit added. “It wasn’t that Prashant was afraid of the dangers in Kashmir, he just wanted to achieve more in the sport. He was a sportsman.”
Sheeshpal said Prashant was good at everything he put his mind to. “He enjoyed studying and cycling, he was very fit, trained hard. He would take on challenges, and Pulwama was a challenge. My son wanted to make the country proud by winning a gold medal in cycling… I believe he made the country proud today by dying for it.”
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced compensation of Rs 50 lakh for Sharma’s family, apart from a job for a member of the family, and said a road would be named after him in Muzaffarnagar.
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