May 13, 2018, is a date that Bhargsetu Sharma is unlikely to ever forget.
At the time, she was a 20-year-old NCC cadet and an Indian army aspirant.
Recalling the day in an exclusive interview with The Better India, Bhargsetu, a resident of Vadodara, Gujarat, says, “I had attended a training session for the Service Selection Board. Coincidentally, on the same day, we were also conducting a workshop for animal lovers.”
This workshop was being conducted by Humans with Humanity, an animal rescue and welfare community, that Bhargsetu had founded at the age of 16.
When the workshop came to an end, the volunteers decided to go for a picnic and urged Bhargsetu to join them. She agreed, and the group embarked on a trip to Mahi Sagar in Rasalpur.
“When we reached Mahi Sagar, I decided to swim in the deeper side of the river. Just when I was about to take the plunge, I heard screams. People were pointing out to the water and yelling, ‘Unko bacha lo’ (Save them).”
Two boys who had gone swimming into the deeper end were drowning. While one of the boys was rescued by a local, his friend was nowhere to be found.
Bhargsetu is an accomplished swimmer, so she took a split-second decision to help in the search.
“At first, I was standing at the highest point and tried searching for the boy. But, there was no movement or ripple in the water. As the crowd started panicking, I decided to dive into the river and continue the search. I swam for about 12 minutes, and as I neared the riverbed, I finally saw him. He was immobile, appeared lifeless. I couldn’t find a pulse and realised that he was going into cardiac arrest.”
Using her presence of mind, the young cadet administered CPR to the man. His jaws were locked, so she pushed her fingers into his mouth. She was careful as to not restrict his breathing and trying to get the water out.
Within minutes, his body went into a state of seizure, and he started biting Bhargsetu’s fingers.
“As an animal rescuer, I have been bitten several times, but none as painful as human bites. My hand started bleeding in his mouth. But I knew if I stopped, we would lose him. I had to keep slapping him so that he wouldn’t pass out.”
The painful ordeal lasted 21 minutes, and finally, a feeble voice said, “Aur mat maro, dard ho raha hai” (Don’t slap me anymore, it is hurting me.)
He had survived!
“My happiness knew no bounds. Had I not been able to save him, the guilt would have haunted me for the rest of my life.”
When he was taken to the ambulance, the medics added how his rescue was a close shave.
Today, the young man is pursuing his higher studies in Singapore.
Overnight, Bhargsetu’s bravery had become the talk of her town, and she would go on to win several awards at the state level including the Governor’s medal.
On a national level, she became the lone recipient of the prestigious Raksha Mantri Padak 2019. She was bestowed the honour by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the Republic Day NCC camp in Delhi Cantonment. The award is given to those cadets who go beyond their call of duty by displaying acts of bravery.
A ‘Real Hero’
If you look at Bhargsetu’s list of achievements, you perhaps wouldn’t believe that she struggled with keeping up with the other cadets when she first joined the National Cadet Corps.
“I still remember when I was struggling, my commanding officer told me, ‘Bhargsetu, you have to do it.’ I took it up as a challenge and enrolled for the All India Nau Sainik Camp 2016, and I emerged as Gujarat’s Best Cadet, Best Firer and Parade Commander.”
She completed her NCC A-certificate from the Army wing and later, her NCC-B certificate from the Naval wing while completing her graduation from Maharaja Sayajirao University.
“During the course of my NCC C-certificate, I scored the highest among all cadets and also emerged as the best cadet in 2017”
Bhargsetu who is now pursuing her Masters in Social Work gives us a glimpse of her journey into animal rescue and welfare.
“My family is full of animal lovers, and while growing up, I always felt a connection and affinity towards neglected strays. In 2012, my father and I used to feed the newborn pups of a stray dog. As they grew a little older, the pups would litter around the compound.”
Annoyed by this, their neighbours took away the puppies and abandoned them in different locations. The watchman who had pleaded with them to not take away the pups told Bhargsetu’s family about the incident.
“We remember pleading to our neighbours because the mother was in deep distress and wouldn’t stop crying. When they refused to divulge any details, we filed a police complaint and got in touch with animal welfare NGOs. We successfully managed to reunite the pups with their mother after eight long hours,” she remembers.
This was the beginning of Bhargsetu’s journey in animal rescue, and she claims that she has rescued close to 3,800 distressed strays and birds in six years.
During Uttarayan (the kite-flying festival) when she received multiple calls for rescue and couldn’t go to all the locations to save the injured birds, she started a Facebook page called ‘Humans with Humanity.’
Eight of her friends supported her and using their own funds; they continued the rescue work. Today, the community has over 82 volunteers.
Apart from her parents, family and friends, Bhargsetu credits her achievements to her partner, Shardul Dave.
While Humans with Humanity continued for a long time as a self-funded community, Bhargsetu and Shardul are now planning to extend the scale of operations.
“We want to register the community as an animal welfare NGO, and continue to impact the lives of many strays and distressed animals,” says the youngster.
The 21-year-old was back in the limelight after she became part of MTV’s popular show ‘Roadies Real Heroes.’ The newly-found fame has increased her fanbase, and several youngsters have been getting in touch with her to be a part of her cause.
Bhargsetu indeed proves that if you strongly believe in something and follow your heart, you can be a changemaker, no matter how young you are.
We wish this gritty young lady the very best. May her tribe grow!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)