Fresh snowfall only added to the prevailing deafening and eerie silence at Kulgam’s Batagund village, home to 38-year-old Nazir Ahmad Wani, the Kashmir valley’s first ever awardee of the Ashok Chakra — India’s highest peacetime military decoration. Ironically, the district also became a hotbed of militancy last year.Also Read Kashmir’s first Ashok Chakra for Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani Lance Naik Wani’s posthumous military decoration is least talked about in militancy-affected Kulgam, which saw 26 civilian deaths either near encounter sites or in street protests. At least 15 local militants were killed in more than 50 major operations conducted in the district.At the spare three-storey house of the Wanis, younger brother Mushtaq Ahmad is reticent and all guests are not welcome. “A few days ago, locals knocked on our door and broke the news about the award. The fact of the day is we lost him,” said the younger Wani, referring to his brother.Curious locals are keeping a tab on all guests visiting the house.“Kulgam has suffered the most in 2018,” said Majid Ganai, a local resident. “It was a year of funerals. We saw militants, informers, soldiers and policemen, all locals, returning home draped in coffins. Funerals were also only occasions of celebrations. Wani’s feat could hardly be discussed in these times,” he added.The Wanis’ neighbours said Wani had been shooed away by militant commander Mohammad Ayoub from nearby Bhan village, who had rejected his offer to join militancy. In 1992, Wani joined the Ikhwan, a local name for an irregular counter-insurgency force drawn from locals. Married to his school-time sweetheart Mahajabeen in 2002, Wani’s two children, Athar, a Class 10 student, and Shahid, a Class 8 student, would shuttle between Jammu and the Valley “to ensure their safety”. Wani would always drop by uninformed at home, as the militants stepped up attacks on local soldiers, killing at least three members of the armed forces in their houses.Regularised in the Army in 2004, his counter-insurgent colleague Mukhtar Ahmad Malik alias Mukhtar Gola’s killing saw Wani pledging to go after the killers. In September, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants shot Malik dead inside his house in Shurat village. The killing was filmed on a mobile phone by the militants, who fired from inside the pheran, a long woolen robe.One-and-half months later, Wani volunteered to take on the LeT’s Umar Ganai and his five associates, the main suspect behind Malik’s killing, on November 25 in Hirapur village in Shopian. Ganai and Wani shot each other dead in the encounter, said a police officer, declining to be identified.The citation for the award, issued by the Rashtrapati Bhawan, reads: “Lance Naik Wani epitomised qualities of a fine soldier. He always volunteered for challenging missions, displaying great courage under adverse circumstances, exposing himself to grave danger in the line of duty.”Meanwhile, Governor Satya Pal Malik said Wani would always be an inspiration for the generations to come and motivate them to work selflessly for the safety and security of the country.