The residents of Kandani in Sivaganga district had never seen such a sight before. Uniformed men and district officials had descended upon their nondescript village ahead of Independence day. But it was for no celebration. Instead, wails of despair cut through the air, as soldiers carried the mortal remains of sepoy Ilayaraja, a resident of the village who was martyred while fighting terrorists in north Kashmir.
Amongst this shattered crowd stood his wife Selvi, who is four months pregnant and his aged parents who are daily wage labourers. For this family from Tamil Nadu, Ilayaraja was the only hope of a shot at a better life. Inconsolable, they stood near the coffin, even as the last rites were performed.
"He got married just 11 months back," said Senthil Kumar, Ilayaraja's brother-in-law to TNM. "His wife and mother are inconsolable," he added.
In 2013, the 24-year-old had attended a recruitment drive in Chennai and joined the army soon after. He was overjoyed after the selection process, his brother-in-law tells TNM.
"Ilayaraja was thrilled that he had an opportunity to serve the nation, he called India his first mother. From a very young age, he wanted to fight for the country," he says, his voice cracking. "This was also supposed to be his first step towards ensuring his family is economically stable," he adds.
The sepoy had visited his village just two months back when on holiday and the family had expressed alarm over his posting in Kashmir. "Everybody who resides here knew him. He was such a good man and would come forward and conduct functions here. The entire village is heartbroken," he says, crying. "We are proud that we died for the nation but this family will never get over this loss," he adds.
To complicate the matter further for the family, Ilayaraja's father has remained untraceable for a week. He had left the house to find some odd jobs to supplement the family's income and nobody has been able to contact him since. "They are a poor family and now even Selvi is pregnant. So his father did not want his son to bear the entire burden. But now...," he says, unable to finish the sentence.
The mortal remains were buried at Ilayaraja's agricultural land in the village. The Tamil Nadu Government has promised the family Rs.20 lakh as ex gratia. Ilayaraja was amongst the two soldiers who were martyred on Sunday during anti-militancy operations in Shopian's Awneera village. A joint team of police, army and the CRPF had a face-off with terrorists. The other soldier to be martyred was Gawai Sumedh Waman from Akola in Maharashtra.