Deepu Kumar (27) was expecting his first child in June but his life was cut short in a terror attack in south Kashmir's Anantnag district, leaving his poor family without its sole breadwinner.
Kumar, who worked at a circus in the district's Janglat Mandi area, was gunned down by Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorists in the latest incident of targeted killing when he had gone to the market to buy milk around 8.30 pm on Monday.
His body was on Tuesday moved to his remote Thial village in Udhampur district where, in a heart-wrenching gesture, locals came forward to help the Below Poverty Line-family perform his last rites.
"Kumar was the only earning hand in the family comprising his ailing father Mashu Ram, blind brother Raju and his wife, and their two minor children," local resident Shankar Dass told PTI.
He said the family moved to the remote village from Kathua district over a decade back. Kumar's mother died some time ago. His elder brother Raju lost his eyesight about four years ago while his father is hearing impaired.
"Over the past six years, he was in Kashmir and moving from place to place with his circus. We talked to him just before he was killed. He had transferred some money to meet the family's medical expenses," Raju said.
Devastated after hearing the news of Kumar's killing, his father asked, "What was his fault? He was there to earn a livelihood for the family."
The family, living in a single-storey mud-house on a hill slope and whose sole possessions are three goats, demanded justice for Kumar's murder.
Abhi Sharma, the circus owner, said they were in the Janglat Mandi area for the past two months and planned to move to another destination within a day or two when the incident occurred.
"He married Gudya about two years ago and the couple was expecting their first child around June 15," Sharma, who was among those accompanying the body in an ambulance, said.
He said they have been frequently organising shows in the Valley over the past few years but never faced such a situation.
"The incident happened outside our camping site, which was well protected. We have our own private security," Sharma said, demanding adequate compensation and a job for Kumar's wife.
Amid anti-Pakistan sloganeering, a large number of villagers turned up to receive Kumar's body around 1.30 pm despite a drizzle. The body had left Anantnag in an ambulance under police protection at 8 am.
According to the police, the victim had gone to a nearby marketplace when two motorcycle-borne men fired three bullets at him from close range. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead by doctors.
Additional director general of police (Kashmir zone) Vijay Kumar, who is closely monitoring the situation, directed the district police to intensify their search to nab the killers at the earliest.
A little-known outfit, Kashmir Freedom Fighter, believed to be a shadow outfit of the banned Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba, has claimed responsibility for the killing.
A BJP delegation led by spokesperson RS Pathania visited the family and assured all possible assistance.
A group of people also staged an anti-Pakistan protest following the killing and demanded security for members of the minority community working in the Valley.
Union Minister Jitendra Singh, who represents Udhampur in the Lok Sabha, condemned the terror attack and sought strict security measures to prevent such targeted killings in the Valley.
"While on a visit to Chennai, I was extremely shocked to learn about the brutal killing of young Deepu who hailed from Majalta, district Udhampur and was earning meagre livelihood in Anantnag. BJP karyakartas have already reached the house of the bereaved family to provide all possible help.
"While strongly condemning the killing of this youth from a poor family, it is strongly urged that strict security measures be enforced to prevent such target killings and also to act as deterrent against terror activities," the minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office wrote on Twitter.
Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor Manoj Sinha has also condemned the attack and said the government and the entire nation is standing shoulder to shoulder with the family.
"Our security forces remain committed in their resolve to thwart the designs of terrorists and all efforts will be made to bring the perpetrators to justice," he said.