Thousands of people attended the funeral for Chandrakanta Pradhan, one of 20 Indian soldiers killed in a clash with Chinese troops on June15.
Pradhan was a sepoy with the 16 Bihar Regiment when he was killed in the clash in the Galwan Valley which is part of the disputed Aksai Chin region in the Union Territory of Ladakh.
Soldiers brawled with clubs and rocks at more than 4,000 meters above sea level, but no shots were fired. Use of firearms are not allowed under a previous agreement in the border dispute.
A further 76 Indian soldiers were injured from the clash. Official Chinese casualties are not publicly known.
Pradhan was posted in Ladakh two years ago and was on duty along the so-called Line of Actual Control.
The 28-year-old Catholic was the eldest of four children of Karunakar Pradhan and Bilasini. He was a native of Bearpanga village in Kandhamal district of eastern Odisha state and a parishioner of Our Lady of Charity Church, Raikia, under the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese.
On June 19, Pradhan’s body was brought back to Raikia in Kandhamal district from Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar for burial.
Pradhan’s parents and siblings along with guests and dignitaries accompanied the cortege to his house in their home village.
After the relatives and villagers paid their respects, a concelebrated Mass was held in the courtyard of Pradhan’s house attended by a large group pf people.
The main celebrant was Father Prabodh Pradhan of neighboring Sukanada parish who knew the dead soldier from childhood.
“We live in deeds not in years. Chandrakanta sacrificed his life for the country’s safety and security,” Father Prabodh said in his homily. “But in this short life he taught us how to love people by his supreme sacrifice just as Jesus Christ sacrificed His life for us.”
A message from Bishop Niranjan Swalsingh of Sambalpur, secretary of the Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council, was read out during the Mass.
“Condolences and spiritual closeness to the parents and dear and near ones of martyred soldier. He made our Catholic Church proud for his profound faith in God and sacrificing love for India,” the bishop said on behalf of the council.
Father Prabodh said the homily and the Mass were short in length as per request of the police who were concerned about COVID-19 restrictions.
Father Trinath Kanhar, associate priest of St. Sebastian Parish, Kurtumgarh in the district, led the funeral rites.
The burial was carried out with full military honors in a special grave dug in the backyard of Pradhan’s house.
The coffin was draped in the Indian tricolor and carried by soldiers in full uniform. A gun salute was also performed.
Local and state politicians, police officials, representatives of the Indian Navy, and Bihar Regiment were among those present to pay their respects to the slain soldier.
Father Prabodh described Pradhan as being a very quiet and shy boy.
“He had a very helpful nature. Even now every time he came on leave he would visit all the villagers and was very friendly with them,” the priest said.
Father Prabodh said that Pradhan would tell the youth of the church to avoid alcohol and focus on their education.
Father Manoranjan Singh, parish priest of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal, Mondasoro in Kandhamal district, said Pradhan was over six feet tall and excelled in sports, especially volleyball.
Father Purshottam Nayak, assistant parish priest of Our Lady of Charity Church, Raikia, described Pradhan as a devout Catholic who wore a crucifix on his neck and came for Mass often whenever he was on vacation.
Father Nayak said that Pradhan spent Christmas with family and was planning to return for summer holidays. “His parents were planning to get him married this summer, but fate willed otherwise,” Father Nayak said.
“Pradhan was very endearing to everyone and was liked by all in the village. He was always willing to help others; be it a friend or a stranger. It was no wonder then that there was such a huge crowd at his funeral,” said Father Nayak.
“Not only Catholics but also tens of thousands of people of all faiths had gathered. He united people in death especially at a place like Kandhamal where the Hindu-Christian divide is so strong,” he said.
During anti-Christian violence in August 2008, 105 Christians were killed, and 300 churches were vandalized besides 6,000 houses were burnt, said Father Nayak who has been documenting the cases of each of the martyrs for presentation to the Vatican.