When Major Aashish Dhonchak said his goodbyes to his family, including his two-year-old daughter, to resume his duties in Kashmir one and a half months ago, he promised to return to Haryana’s Panipat in October to help them move house. Weeks later, his body was being retrieved from the higher reaches of Anantnag’s Kokorenag area.
Colonel Manpreet Singh, 41, commanding officer of the 19 Rashtriya Rifles (19 RR) and a recipient of the prestigious Sena Medal (Gallantry), spoke to his family, including a six-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter in Chandigarh, just hours before dying of gunshot wounds.
Himayun Muzamil Bhat, son of retired Inspector General of J&K Police Ghulam Hassan Bhat, had become a father just a month ago. He was the third officer to die in an encounter with terrorists last night at Kokorenag.
On Tuesday night, the army and police had launched a joint operation in response to specific intelligence about terrorists in the area. The troops, led by the commanding officer and the deputy superintendent of police, came under heavy fire from the terrorists.
Three officers were critically injured in the gun battle. Reinforcements were sent to the scene, but the injured could not be immediately evacuated due to the terrorists’ well-entrenched position and heavy gunfire.
Himayun Bhat’s father Ghulam Hassan Bhat laid a wreath on his son’s body in Kashmir’s Budgam yesterday. His stoic demeanour did not betray his devastation.
In just five years of service with the J&K Police, Himayun Bhat handled extremely difficult tasks including his tenure in the Special Operations Group that deals exclusively with anti-terrorist operations.
Colonel Singh was awarded the Sena Medal (Gallantry) in 2021. His parent unit in the army was Sikh Light Infantry and was the Commanding Officer (CO) of 19 RR.
“We last spoke to him at 6:45 am. He said he would speak later. He was a good man. Last year, he was awarded the Sena Medal for his duty. I salute him,” Colonel Singh’s brother-in-law Virender Gill said.
At thirty-four-year-old Major Dhonchak’s home in Patiala, three sisters mourn their only brother.
“Last spoke to him on the telephone. He was home one and a half months ago and was supposed to return in October to shift houses,” said Major Dhonchak’s uncle, whose nephew was conferred with the Sena Medal (Gallantry) in August this year.
Tributes poured in for the three soldiers from across the country.
“Paid tributes to JKP’s DySP Humayun Bhat, who laid down his life in an anti-terror operation in Anantnag. I salute the indomitable courage and supreme sacrifice of Col Manpreet Singh & Major Aashish Dhonchak. Entire nation stands firmly with their families in this hour of grief,” the J&K Lieutenant Governor’s office said in a post on X.
“Our brave Army personnel and a DSP have made the supreme sacrifice fighting terrorists in an encounter at Anantnag in Jammu and Kashmir. We are extremely saddened by their loss. Our deepest condolences to the families of our bravehearts,” Congress president Malikarjun Kharge said.
India stands united against terrorism, the Congress chief added.