Indian soldiers keep vigil near wreckage (not pictured) of a bus destroyed in Thursday's suicide bomb attack in Kashmir. Photo: Faisal Khan/NurPhoto

When Virendra Singh, a constable with the Central Reserve Police Force, left home in Uttarakhand for Jammu just days ago, he assured elder brother Jairam Singh that he would soon be back home to celebrate Holi – the Hindu Festival of Colors that falls on March 20 this year.

Singh, however, will never see another Holi.

On his way to Srinagar with more than 2,500 CRPF personnel, he was in one of 78 vehicles shredded by the blast when Jaish-e-Mohammad operative Adil Ahmad Dar rammed his explosives-laden SUV into the convoy. None of the occupants of Singh’s vehicle survived.

Jairam Singh, a former serviceman in the Border Security Force, got to know late Thursday that his younger brother would not be coming home. “My brother sacrificed his life for the country. The entire village is proud of that,” Jairam Singh told Asia Times.“But, our young men are being killed every day. Enemies of the country need to be curbed, or else soldiers will continue to die.”

The constable is survived by wife Renu and a five-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son.Udham Singh Nagar district magistrate Niraj Khairwal said Virendra’s  funeral will be conducted with full state honors once his remains reach his native village.

The terrorist attack on the CRPF convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar highway near Awantipora killed 42 and left more than 30 severely injured on Thursday afternoon. They are just the latest killings in the troubled Kashmir region, long a tinderbox where Islamic militants battle against the rule of New Delhi.  In recent years, there has been a steady rise in local recruits to terrorist units, as well as cross-border infiltration by militants, such as members of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad group.

Perhaps sensing the mood of national fury released by the attack, New Delhi sent a strong message to Islamabad on Friday, withdrawing the latter’s Most Favored Nation status with immediate effect.

But far beyond political chambers, the attack’s aftershocks were felt in villages nationwide. As news of the deaths of soldiers from more than 16 states reached their respective districts, anguished Indians commiserated – and took to the streets in protest.

Impacts nationwide

In Assam, where Bongaigaon district lost two soldier sons – Pabitra Barman and Hitesh Chandra Sarkar–several organizations staged demonstrations, burning Pakistan flags and shouting slogans against the neighboring country.

The general budget for 2019-2020 was to be tabled in Uttarakhand Assembly on Friday. That was postponed until Monday as news of two of the state’s soldiers who were killed in the attack reached their home state.

The impact of the explosion was felt in provinces as far distant as Bihar and Karnataka.

“He had told me he would be home in 15 days to look for a suitable boy for our eldest daughter. Instead, news of his death arrived first,” an inconsolable Babita Devi, wife of Sanjay Kumar Sinha, said to Asia Times.

Sinha, along with Ratan Kumar Thakur, hailing from Bihar’s Patna and Bhagalpur districts, respectively, died in the attack.

Sinha, posted to the 176th battalion of the CRPF in Jammu, had resumed duty just a week ago, promising to return home in a fortnight. He is survived by his wife and three children. His daughters have graduated; his son is preparing for medical exams.

Gloom has descended over Patna, but Babita Devi’s grief was unparalleled as fellow villagers and the media crowded around her home. She was crying and beating her chest when Asia Times reporters visited her “How will I marry off my daughters? How will my son complete his studies?” she asked, shock and trauma writ large on her face.

There were equally emotive scenes in Kahalgaon block’s Ratanpur village, where Ratan, who was posted with the 45th battalion of the CRPF, stayed. Minutes before his death, he had called up his wife, Rajnandini Kumari, to inform her that he and his colleagues were leaving for Srinagar and would reach it by 5 pm.

His father, Ram Niranjan, told Asia Times, “My daughter-in-law is pregnant; he had promised to come home this Holi and celebrate the festival with us…I have lost everything, but I am not worried for myself. I don’t know how my daughter-in-law will live without him.”

Ratan, who has a four-year-old son, Krishna, was Ram Niranjan’s only child. “I worked as a laborer, sold juice and hawked wares to earn enough so that he could complete his studies,” Niranjam said. “Our financial situation had started improving only recently, and now, he has left us.”

Mourning in Mandya

Karnataka lost a son, too, with the death of Guru H, 33, who hailed from Mandya district. After completing his training, he had joined the CRPF in 2011 and was posted with the 94th battalion in Jharkhand. He was later transferred to Srinagar.

The eldest son of Honnayya and Chikkolamma from Gudigere Colony, Guru had two brothers—Madhu, who works at the Karnataka Electricity Board office, and Anand, who is a home guard. The parents run an ironing shop.

A year back, Guru had moved into his new home; 10 months prior to that, he had married his uncle’s daughter Kalavathi from Sasalapura, Ramanagara district.

Just before his 15-day leave came to an end, Chikkolamma had appealed to him to leave his job and return home. Asia Times has learned that Guru refused, saying: “I want to serve my country; there are many soldiers like me there, and all we want to do is protect our fellow citizens.”

A friend of Guru’s from primary school, Mahadev, remembers him as a humble man who would mingle with everyone despite his prestigious government job. “He was never dominating or threw around attitude. He was a pure soul,” the friend said.

Simmering rage

Meanwhile, Indians’ fury against Pakistan, and the terrorists who many believe are incubated in the country, is flaring. Many are demanding New Delhi prosecute the struggle more aggressively.

“How long will our children keep dying like this?” asked one Patna resident. “The time has come for the government to launch a final and decisive battle against terrorism.”

Anger is fieriest among those who suffered losses of family members.

“The government should have a decisive battle against terrorists and their guardian Pakistan,” said Jairam Singh, who lost his younger brother. “Otherwise, the sacrifice of all other soldiers, including my brother, will go in vain.”

“The problem is that our soldiers are being martyred every day on [our] borders,” Singh’s father added. “But, no concrete policy has been put in place, while every other government claims they are fighting against terrorism.”

— With input from Lakshmi Bavge and Syeda Ambia Zahan.

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