At 11am on Thursday, the moment finally lapsed. In the presence of relatives, neighbours, politicians, senior functionaries from his parent, Rajput regiment, and the army, Havaldar Gayaprasad’s mortal remains were consigned to flames by his only son Satish Singh. The family had awaited this day for nearly two decades, from 1996, to be precise, when the army informed them about his falling into a crevasse while on operational deployment in the northern region of the Siachen glacier.
They tried their best they said but could not even locate his body.
Earlier this week, a visitor, Gayaprasad’s colleague came home to ask his widow if she wanted the army to bring home the relatively well-preserved body that had miraculously showed up while a patrol was on its way on the glacier. Not for a moment was there a doubt.
“When they came to me in 1999 on declaring him dead, they promised me that some day his body will be brought home. That has been fulfilled today. I am not sad or unhappy. I am relieved,” said Gayaprasad’s widow Rama Devi. Her only regret of all these years is that her children had no father to guide them while growing up. Gayaprasad’s mother passed away few years ago, blinded, the family claimed from crying endlessly to see her deceased son’s body, whereas his father, still alive, is hard of hearing. Since his son’s body was not found, was he hoping his son would return alive someday? “No,” his father shot back. “My son has made us all very proud. Now that his body too has come, I have nothing more to ask from anyone,” he said.
The 15th battalion of the Rajput regiment, to which Havaldar Gayaprasad belonged, conducted the ceremony. Also present were troops from Parachute regiment based out of Agra and those from Rajput regiment’s regimental centre in Fatehabad alongwith senior officers.
The ceremony which was to begin at 9:30am could begin only an hour later given the never-ending queue of those wanting to ‘see a well-preserved, 18 year old body’. In fact, early morning onwards men and women from neighbouring villages were seen arriving in Kudharia. That the crops were standing and the fields needed minimal attention contributed in ensuring a big crowd which stayed right till the end. The army and local police deployed on crowd control duty had several run-ins with the curious locals.
A 30-minute ceremony concluded with all the wreaths laid and salutations done. The pyre was finally lit.
Earlier in the day, close to 1am, Havaldar Gayaprasad’s body arrived at his native Kudharia village, located 30km away from the district headquarters of Mainpuri in western Uttar Pradesh. For an agrarian village, which till date has not seen a single electricity connection in any of its 50-odd homes, it was an unusually late hour but nobody complained. It was here that Gayaprasad grew up. The family’s old, ramshackle home adjoining the lone road by the canal has now been replaced with pucca structure where Gayaprasad’s immediate and extended families live. Villagers claimed that youngsters from the village have been enlisting with the army for many years now. That has, however, not helped the village bag any attention towards its woes as it remains parched for development. “Saifai` is not too far from here,” said a villager indicating how former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh’s town which reportedly gets special attention by the administration. He added, “Since a very long time, the road has remained absent beyond Gayaprasad’s house. It becomes a dirt track. If we want to even light a bulb, we have to get a generator. Nobody cares for us,” said a youngster who agitated when the local Samajwadi Party (SP) MLA made an attempt to politicize the occasion.
Tired of the indifference, the villagers, it was learnt, had initially boycotted the General Elections earlier this year by hoisting black flags on the polling day. “A senior SP leader intervened and only then they relented,” said an insider.
However, the village is now hoping that all the attention following Gayaprasad’s death will contribute towards them getting electricity and other basic facilities. Shyam Singh, Gayaprasad’s younger brother said the family had indeed asked the administration to lay electricity supply lines in addition to seeking a memorial and a park for his late brother.
By-election for Mainpuri parliamentary seat is slated next month and thus any announcement on these demands could have turned into a political storm. However, the villagers are closely watching how develiopments unfold once the polling day is behind them.
Havaldar Gayaprasad may have laid down his life in guarding his colleagues and the nation but his death, atleast for his villagers, has some distance to go in achieving their well-being.