In the face of terror, only a few dare to think beyond their own safety. And driver, Salim Gafur Sheikh was determined to save around 60 passengers aboard his bus when terror attacks struck 61 Amarnath Yatra pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir in July last year.
The attack near Batengoo in J&K’s Anantnag district claimed seven lives and injured 14 victims. But thanks to Salim, more than 50 lives were saved.
And to honour the display of bravery and courage by the 37-year-old driver displayed, he was conferred the Uttam Jeevan Raksha Padak on Wednesday. This is the second highest gallantry award for civilians.
Salim was one among 43 other awardees from across India to be honoured for the Jeevan Raksha Padak series of awards 2017, approved by the President.
Salim, who is a resident of the Valsad district of Gujarat, was lauded for his feat by the Chief Minister of Gujarat Vijay Rupani had announced last year, after he returned with the Amarnath pilgrims. It was at the time that the CM had said that the Gujarat government would recommend his name to the Centre for a bravery award.
What happened at the Amarnath Yatra in July 2017?
Around 8:30 pm on July 10, 2017, the day of the attack, Salim heard a barrage of bullets hit the side of the bus. Bravely, he decided to drive the vehicle at full speed, through the pitch dark and arduous mountain terrain with a flat tyre, to not let any more bullets in. He drove for over two kms non-stop till he spotted an army camp.
In an interview with ANI, he said, “God gave me strength to keep moving, and I just did not stop.”
Salim informed his cousin Javed about the attack in a phone call around 9:30 pm on Monday.
“He told me that he did not stop there when terrorists fired, only looked for a safer spot for pilgrims. He couldn’t save seven lives, but managed to move 50 people to a safe place, I’m proud of him,” said Javed, a resident of Valsad in Gujarat.
Praising Salim’s bravery, an injured woman at the Anantnag district hospital told NDTV, “My driver was so brave…he drove on.”
“There was firing from all three sides. Our driver managed to take the bus a few km ahead. He saved us,” said another injured pilgrim.
Jeevan Raksha Padak series of awards:
The Jeevan Raksha Padak series of awards encompassed seven Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Padak awarded posthumously, 13 Uttam Jeevan Raksha Padak and 24 Jeevan Raksha Padak.
The citation and cash reward for each of them are as follows:
A Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Padak award winner in addition to the citation, receives a cash reward of Rs 1 lakh. This is awarded to persons who, during their act of bravery, put their own lives at great risk.
Uttam Jeevan Raksha Padak award winners receive a citation and a cash reward of Rs 60,000. This award is bestowed upon civilians who save the life/lives of other persons despite the risk of a grave injury or even physical handicap.
A Jeevan Raksha Padak awardee is rewarded with a cash prize of Rs 40,000 for an act of bravery that involves risk of serious injury.
We salute people like Salim Sheikh who time and again reinstate our faith in the power of humanity!