A shroud of sadness hangs over a small village in the interiors of strife-torn southern Kashmir, the walls of which are covered with paintings of Pakistani flags and graffiti calling out for ‘azadi’. Venture into its alleys, and you come across a two-storey house where neighbours have gathered to mourn the death of 22-year-old Ummer Fayaz, an Indian army soldier who had come home to attend a marriage function, allegedly at the hands of militants.
Ummer’s body was found at Harmain Chowk in Shopian on Wednesday morning, hours after he was abducted by masked assailants from the marriage venue of his cousin in an adjacent village.
“My son was born in 1994, and was about to turn just 23 in a few weeks. He was a very good boy, my only one…” said Fayaz Ahmed, his father, before breaking down. Then he lapsed into silence, tears still streaming down his face, even as his relatives pitched in to narrate the story of the deceased soldier’s life.
Ummer’s father Fayaz Ahmed at their home in Kulgam, (Waseem Andrabi/HT File Photo)
“Ummer was an exceptionally brilliant student who secured 96% in his Class 12 exams. Though he was preparing for the All India Engineering Entrance Examination, he qualified for the National Defence Academy first,” said Asmat, Ummer’s younger sister, adding that their father – a farmer – had wanted him to become a pilot.
The soldier’s mother wouldn’t speak. She just stared blankly into space, oblivious to questions posed by mediapersons around her.
Many, including the deceased soldier’s younger sister, claimed there seemed to be no perceivable threat to his life. “Ummer was not scared. He would roam around freely even after becoming an officer in the Army. He used to spend time with us, and did not possess even an iota of vanity,” said Sohail Ahmed, who studied with Ummer till Class 6 before going to study at the Novadaya Vidyalaya in Aishmuqam.
Recalling the last two times Sohail met Ummer, he said: “I invited him to my sister’s wedding, but he couldn’t attend it. He apologised profusely for that. On another occasion, I met him at a grocery store and discussed cricket. Ummer was a big fan of Virat Kohli.”
According to Asmat, Ummer had even come down on vacation when the anti-India unrest was at its peak last year.
Mohammad Ashraf, a relative, said three gunmen had climbed over the walls of the house from where Ummer was abducted. “The wedding of Ummer’s cousin was still underway when that happened. Apparently, the gunmen went upstairs and specifically targeted him.”
Villagers attended Ummer Fayaz’s funeral in Kulgam. (Waseem Andrabi/HT File Photo)
No distress call was made to the police after the abduction, and nobody would say why. “What’s the use of discussing that now?” asked a neighbour when the question was posed to him. “The boy will not return.”
Another neighbour said “hundreds” of villagers had attended the funeral. However, no well-known politician or dignitary could be found at his house when HT dropped by. There were just some relatives mourning, and the slow humming of prayers for a braveheart who will be sorely missed.