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Salute to fallen heroes

Srinagar, Aug. 14: For Indhu Rebecca Varghese, “there lived a man who never feigned to be a hero”.

The lines were a tribute to her husband Major Mukund Varadarajan, who died fighting militants in south Kashmir’s Shopian in April. He was 30.

Today, another tribute to the officer from Chennai came when he was named the recipient of the country’s highest peacetime gallantry award, the Ashoka Chakra.

Three suspected Hizb-ul militants and two soldiers were killed in the operation on April 25, a day after the parliamentary elections in the area. The insurgents had been blamed for a series of attacks earlier, instilling fear and partly causing a low turnout of 28 per cent. On voting day too, they were accused of killing an election official.

Major Mukund, of 44 Rashtriya Rifles, showed “raw courage” in fighting the militants, according to officers who were part of the operation.

Sepoy Vikram Singh, the other soldier killed, will get the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peacetime gallantry award.

The major and his team were up against formidable foes: the militants had turned down repeated offers of surrender and, according to police sources, were part of the only three dozen insurgents active in the belt.

There are conflicting accounts of how the major died. One report suggests he was killed by a militant who was presumed dead but rose from the debris of a house that had been razed during the gunfight.

A police officer who was part of the operation, however, said the trio were hiding in a house encircled by the forces.

“There was a fierce gunfight, after which the firing stopped for some time, prompting us to presume the militants were dead. It was then that he (Mukund) took a grenade in his hand and entered the house to lob it and ensure there are no militants alive. Suddenly, there was a burst of gunfire at him. One of the militants was hiding behind a tin sheet outside. Since it was pitch dark, he was not noticed. The militant was also killed subsequently,” the cop said.

Another army officer described the major as a “outstanding soldier and an exceptional human being”.

Mukund was commissioned into 22nd battalion of the Rajput Regiment in 2006 from the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai. He was on deputation to 44 Rashtriya Rifles. He is survived by Indhu and their three-year-old daughter Arshea.

Sepoy Vikram, who hailed from Haryana, is survived by his wife Sushila and son Abhishek.