Around 1.30pm on Saturday, as Maoist bullets rained on security forces in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, Hemant Andrik met his elder brother, Kishore.

The siblings, both district reserve guard ( DRG) personnel, were exhausted. For 90 minutes, they had been firing relentlessly to break free from an U-shaped ambush that eventually killed 22 personnel.

Hemant and four members of his team had just shot their way from lower ground onto a hillock and were resting, when they saw Kishore and four members of his team approach from another direction. At the time, around 350 personnel were still trapped by the surprise attack at the borders of Sukma and Bijapur districts.

They stopped, greeted each other, and chatted for a few minutes. “We had broken the ambush…Kishore bhaiyya and his team were on the hilltop and firing to give us cover. Ten minutes later, Kishore bhaiyya came down with his team and we met near a rock. I told him to keep moving and meet me around 300 metres ahead,” Hemant said.

It was the last time they saw each other.

The brothers decided to rendezvous at a small hut nearby that soldiers frequented to drink water. But as Hemant advanced through the gunfire, he found it increasingly difficult to dodge bullets, and was separated from his team. “There was continuous firing from both sides. Maoists were using Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL) hence it was not easy to move ahead…I told my brother to move… It was sheer luck that I was not hit and managed to cross the ambush,” Hemant said. But in the frenzy, he could not stop at the hut, and moved ahead.

When Kishore reached the hut, he stopped for a sip of water, and asked the soldiers present if they had seen Hemant. When they replied in the negative, Kishore determined that his younger brother must have been hit by the Maoists, and decided to go back into the gunfire to rescue him. “The other soldiers requested him not to go in the ambush again, but he told them he has to save his brother,” Hemant said.

“I should have stopped at the hut, come what may,” he added, filled with regret.

Around 3pm, Hemant returned to the Terrem camp, where helicopters were rescuing the injured. He waited for his brother, but in vain. Eventually, he asked other soldiers if they had seen Kishore, but no one had. “They told me my brother might be with some other team because all teams were scattered after the ambush,” he said.

He waited until 9pm, when other soldiers told him that Kishore was asking for him at the hut, and had likely walked back into the attack. Hemant was still hopeful of his elder brother being alive, but on Sunday morning, Kishore’s body was discovered.

The brothers resided in Cherlapal village of Bijapur district; Hemant joined the DRG in 2012 while his brother was inducted about 18 months earlier. Kishore is survived by his wife, who is pregnant with their first child.

Senior officials confirmed the events. “Kishore was a brave jawan and was also with me for some time. He went inside the ambush again after not finding his brother and died. This is very painful,” said Abhishek Singh, a deputy superintendent of police in Bijapur district .

Since Saturday, Hemant hasn’t been able to sleep. “Kishore bhaiyya was brave and ultimate fighter. He loved me so much. I can’t believe he’s gone,” he said.

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