Sepoy Aswin, killed in Arunachal helicopter crash, cremated with state honours

Thousands throng Kizhakkemuri Public Library in Cheruvathur to pay homage to sepoy Aswin KV who was killed in the helicopter crash in Arunachal Pradesh last Friday. Photo: Special Arrangement

Kasaragod: Sepoy Aswin K V (24), who was among the five soldiers killed in the Army helicopter crash in Arunachal Pradesh, was cremated with state and military honours in his village in Kasaragod on Monday.

Around 5,000 mourners thronged his house and public library at Kizhakkemuri, a small village on the banks of Thejaswini river, in Cheruvathur panchayat to bid bye to the young soldier. They were standing in long queues that hardly moved. All the rooftops and balconies of neighbouring houses were packed.

Minister for ports Ahammad Devarkovil represented the state government at the funeral, and collector Bhandari Swagat Ranveerchand placed the wreath for the chief minister.

The Kerala Police officers and soldiers of the Army's Defence Security Corps from Kannur took turns to play the melancholic 'The Last Post' with bugles, and accorded the three-volley gun salute before Aswin's pyre was set on fire in the courtyard of his house. The pyre was lit by his two elder sisters' sons Aadhul (6) and Zian (3).

Aswin's mother KV Kaushalya and father MK Ashokan are left with the National Flag and the son's Army uniform as their son is cremated in their courtyard at Kizhakkemuri; a young Aswin with the cup he won for his club for Kabaddi. Photo: Special Arrangement

M K Ashokan (57) was left clutching the combat uniform of his only son. Mother K V Kaushalya (50) could not even hold the folded National Flag placed on their lap by the Army officers. His sisters Ashwathy (30) and Anaswara (27) lost their voices, crying. Aswin was the family's last hope.

Craftsman Aswin of the Aviation wing of the Indian Army's Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) was among the five soldiers killed Friday morning (October 21) when their weapons-fitted Advanced Light Helicopters crashed at Migging village in Arunachal Pradesh's Upper Siang district.

Those who died with Aswin are pilots Major Vikas Bhambhu and Mustafa Bohara, havildar Biresh Sinha (operator), and naik Rohitashva Kumar (operator). They took off from Likabali in Lower Siang district and were patrolling the forward area when the chopper crashed, said the Army.

Kerala Minister for Ports Ahammad Devarkovil represented the state government at the funeral. Photo: Special Arrangement

This is the second crash of an Army helicopter in Arunachal Pradesh this month. On October 5, A Cheetah helicopter crashed in Tawang district, killing Lt Col Saurabh Yadav, one of the two pilots.

After Chief of Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and 11 others were killed in a helicopter crash near Coonoor on December 10, 2021, the minister of state for defence Ajay Bhatt told the Lok Sabha that 15 military helicopters had crashed, killing 31 persons between March 2017 and December 2021.

The 15 helicopters included four Advanced Light Helicopters, four Cheetahs, two weapons-integrated Advanced Light Helicopters, three Mi-17V5, one Mi-17, and one Chetak.

'The family had pinned their hopes on Aswin'

After the cremation, Kasaragod Lok Sabha member Rajmohan Unnithan said at the condolence meeting that the helicopter accident closer to the Chinese border should be investigated for sabotage. "But importantly, this village should adopt Aswin's family," he said.

Trikaripur MLA M Rajagopal said he will take up the family's matter with the state government.

The debt-ridden family, with no other source of income, had their hopes pinned on Aswin, said their neighbour C V Rajan. "That's the reason why Aswin dropped out of college and joined the Army," he said.

Aswin's father Ashokan used to run a bakery at Madakara, a fishing village in Cheruvathur panchayat. His mother Kaushaliya used to roll beedis.

The couple borrowed money to build a house ahead of their daughters' wedding. The house did not have power supply till Aswin was in class 10, and even today, it does not have an access road. "The family did not recover from the debt after that," said a friend of Ashokan.

Aswin was a light-footed kabbadi player and performed Poorakkali, an acrobatic ritual group dance. He was also a bright student, spending hours in the Kizhakkemuri Public Library, where his body was kept today for the public to pay their last respect.

Though he studied using kerosene lamps, he scored well in the Class 10 exam. In Class 12, he got the top A+ grade in nine of 10 subjects and an A in one subject.

Union Minister of State for Tourism Shripad Naik calls on M K Ashokan, father of Aswin on Sunday. Photo: Special Arrangement

After his schooling at Government Fisheries Vocational Higher Secondary School, Cheruvathur, he took up BSc Physics at Kasaragod Government College. "But there was too much pressure on him to get a job," said Ashokan's friend.

Aswin then attended a recruitment rally of the Army. He cleared it in the first attempt and joined the Aviation wing of the EME Corps. He was 20 years old then. "They trained him to be a mechanic," said Balakrishnan K P, a fire officer and father of Vishnu K P, Aswin's colleague and close friend in the same Aviation unit in Arunachal Pradesh.

Balakrishnan and Vishnu's fiancée Anushree were by the side of Ashokan the whole day.

"He came home for Onam and stayed for 22 days," said Ashokan, breaking down.

Aswin called his father around 8.10 pm on October 20, the day before the crash. The next day, around 5.40 am, he left a WhatsApp message on his childhood friend Mithun's phone about sending his share for the club-run chit fund. He must have been in a hurry. What arrived home was a steel casket marked CAS-2.

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