A pall of gloom descended on Vythiri village in Kerala’s Wayanad district on Thursday after news broke about the attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Jammu and Kashmir. The villagers spent many anxious hours trying to trace Vazhakkandiyil Vasanthakumar, 39, who they knew had just reached Kashmir. Their worst fears were confirmed late in the night when the CRPF released the list of 37 personnel killed in the attack. Vasanthakumar, their fellow villager, was on the list.

Forty CRPF men were killed when Adil Ahmed Dar, 19, a Jaish-e-Mohammad militant, drove a Scorpio car packed with explosives into a convoy of the paramilitary force in South Kashmir’s Pulwama on Thursday.

Vasanthakumar, who was from the Kuruma Adivasi community, had joined the CRPF nearly 18 years ago and served in Punjab before being transferred to Kashmir last month. He spent 10 days at home before leaving for his new posting on February 9.

His family and friends said they were proud of Vasanthakumar. “We are proud of him as he has sacrificed his life for his nation,” his cousin Sajeevan told Malayalam TV news channels. He added that Kumar was planning to retire from service in the next two years.

“We lost a braveheart,” lamented Ushakumari, head of the Vythiri gram panchayat who knew Kumar since childhood. “Yes, he sacrificed his life for the nation. But who will console his mother who lost her only son and his widow and two little children? What did the militants achieve by killing him and his fellow soldiers?”

Vasanthakumar is survived by his mother Shantha, wife Sheena, daughter Anamica, 9, and son Amardeep, 6. “His death has dealt yet another big blow to the family which is still grieving the loss of his father,” said Ushakumari. Vasanthakumar’s father died last year after a brief illness.

Vazhakkandiyil Vasanthakumar's children at their home in Vythiri village, Kerala. | Photo credit: Sayed Thalipuzha

The family will now be adopted by the Kerala government. “I have conveyed this decision to his relatives,” confirmed Additional District Magistrate Ajeesh Kumar.

His friends said Vasanthakumar had little difficulty qualifying the tough selection exercise for the CRPF. “He had a good physique and was the best football player in our neighborhood,” said his childhood friend Prajeesh. “He qualified the selection process easily to fulfil his dream of donning the uniform.

‘He is our role model’

Since Thursday night, posters paying tributes to Vasanthakumar have sprung up all over Vythiri. “They show how much we loved him,” said Prajeesh. “He is our role model.”

Ushakumari remembered Vasanthakumar as “a cordial person”. “He used to meet me whenever he came home on vacation. He always loved to talk about his job,” she said.

Prajeesh said the paramilitary soldier was quite enthusiastic about sports. “I used to send him short videos of the tug of war and football competitions in our village,” he said. “He promised to participate in the competitions the next time he came home.”

Vazhakkandiyil Vasanthakumar's widow at their home in Vythiri. Photo credit: Sayed Thalipuzha

Prajeesh recalled that when he received news of the Pulwama attack on WhatsApp, he thought “it was not big”. He only realised it was a major attack when he watched TV news at night. “I was worried,” he said. “So I checked his WhatsApp status. He had last checked it at 10.30 in the morning. I started praying for his safety.”

An hour later, a friend called to give him the tragic news. “He was my childhood hero,” Prajeesh said of his friend. “I wanted to be a sportsman like him when I was growing up. In his death, I lost a hero.”

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