Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, the commanding officer of 21 Rashtriya Rifles, who was killed in action on Sunday while fighting terrorists at Changimulla, in Handwara tehsil of Kupwara, was a man known to lead from the front always.
The 40-year-old officer, who was from Uttar Pradesh, had won the Sena medal twice – in 2018 and in 2019 – making him the only Colonel decorated for a second time while on duty in Kashmir. He is survived by his wife and daughter, who turned 12 on May 1.
He had served the nation for more than 20 years, and was the third CO of the 21 Rashtriya Rifles, a unit formed by the Army to fight militancy in the hinterland of Jammu and Kashmir, after he volunteered for the position.
He was remembered by his colleagues and seniors as the most jovial officer who liked to spend time with his jawans.
Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh said the Colonel and his team bravely rescued civilians held hostage by terrorists in Changimulla village. They gunned down the two terrorists in the encounter.
The Colonel, along with his team of four, had gone into a locality in Handwara to rescue some civilians being held hostage by four terrorists on Saturday.
The civilians were extricated and a gun battle ensued between the forces and terrorists. The five-member went incommunicado for almost four hours.
When Colonel Sharma's phone was dialled, the response was "Assalaam Alaikum".
Sensing that something had gone wrong, the Army inducted special forces but rains and darkness hampered the operations. At the break of dawn on Sunday, security forces entered the house and recovered the bodies of the five fallen soldiers.
In its three decades of combating terrorism, this was the second time that the 21 Rashtriya Rifles lost its Commanding Officer on the line of duty.
Comprising officers and men from the Brigade of Guards, the 21 Rashtriya Rifles (21-RR) has earned the distinction of being called "Triple Centurions" for having killed over 300 terrorists.
The battalion had lost its first Commanding Officer, Colonel Rajinder Chauhan, on August 21, 2000.
Both the Commanding Officers sacrificed their lives for the nation in the General Area of Rajwar forest, 80 kms from the summer capital of Srinagar, and a part of Handwara tehsil of Kupwara district in North Kashmir.
Col Chauhan was martyred in 2000, when he was accompanying Brigadier BS Sher Gill on an inspection tour of the units of his area.
Their vehicle was blown to pieces when terrorists triggered a remote-controlled Improvised Explosive Device near Zachaldara village. Both the officers were killed on the spot while five other army personnel suffered injuries.