While driving a DTC bus on the outer Mudrika route, Kuldeep Singh was alerted about a man leaving behind a bag that possibly contained a bomb near his driver’s seat. Almost instantly, he asked all the passengers - about 70-80 of them - to get out of the vehicle. He drove the bus to a less crowded corner of Govindpuri, jumped out holding the bag with a live bomb and threw it next to a tree. As he turned to run, the bomb went up. When he regained consciousness at the hospital, he had lost sight.
He has no regrets about what he did 12 years ago. “I am glad I could save so many lives even if it left me blind,” he said. But on Thursday, he could only express his frustration over the verdict pronounced in 2005 serial blasts case.
“Two men have been declared innocent after spending 11 years in jail. Either the police picked the wrong men and missed out on the actual culprits, or they failed to gather the necessary evidence,” Singh told HT.
He also feels Tariq Ahmad Dar, the alleged mastermind, deserved a death sentence, irrespective of the role he had in the blasts. “He (Dar) will walk out of jail now as he has already served the 10 years imprisonment he has been awarded. But the punishment he gave me for no fault of mine will continue forever,” he said.
Singh’s extraordinary presence of mind and bravery on that fateful day had turned him into an overnight hero. His love for action films never taught him how to dismantle explosives, but it had trained him enough to save lives if he spotted a bomb.
So, when Singh was alerted about a bomb being kept by a passenger under one of the seats of the bus, he knew exactly what to do. “I immediately stopped the bus and evacuated all the 70-80 passengers and drove the bus to a relatively isolated spot ahead of Kalkaji depot in Govindpuri,” he recounts.
He then checked under the bus seat to find a small side sling bag. He opened it to find an alarm clock inside. “It had no dial for seconds, but it was making the ticking sound. I could see three wires of red, green and yellow colour,” he says.
“I had watched enough films to immediately understand that it was an actual bomb. I immediately closed the bag and ran with it to discard it under a tree located some distance away,” Singh says. He had barely turned around to run away when the bomb went off, knocking him unconscious. The next thing Singh remembers is waking up at AIIMS later that night.
His right part of the body was badly damaged and he had lost three fingers of his right hand. He lost sight permanently and cannot hear from his right ear anymore.
When doctors asked him for his address, he provided his neighbour’s landline phone number. “My wife was eight-months pregnant at that time. I requested the doctors to tell my wife that I only had minor injuries to my hand. My wife wouldn’t have been able to take stress,” he remembers.
Turned into an overnight hero by the media, Singh had a stream of visitors ranging from top politicians and celebrities soon after the blasts. He did not have to pay for his treatment and was given Rs 2 lakh as compensation. The DTC gave him a permanent job and the Delhi government also allegedly promised him a house.
“But I was a hero only for a year. After that I have been turned into a zero,” rues Singh. The promised house never came. Instead, he was handed over a two-room set in the DTC Colony in Shadipur. For that, there is a monthly rental that is deducted from his salary.
Left blinded just days before his son’s birth, Singh was never able to see his son, Deepak. His wife, Nigam, now accompanies her husband to work and son to school and then bring them back.
The family had received a second jolt around five years ago when Deepak was diagnosed with Hepatitis B. The expenses incurred on the treatment on the father-son duo left the family in financial ruins.
“After deductions, I receive a monthly salary of Rs 20,000 in hand. But there is nothing I can save for my family’s future. The only thing I ask from the government is a house for the victims of terror attacks,” he says.