As dozens of dreams died at Sainthia station on a dark Monday morning, some young hawkers whose lives revolve around train timetables resisted the urge to make a quick buck from the debris of the disaster.
Instead, without much fuss, they handed over lakhs of rupees and gold ornaments they found inside the compartment of the Vananchal Express while rescuing trapped victims, to railway police officials.
“I stumbled upon at least three bundles of notes kept inside a red polythene bag,” Sagar Sen, one of the rescuers said.
“While two bundles were of Rs 500 denomination, one was of Rs 1,000 denomination.” The 17-year-old earns less than Rs 100 per day by selling snacks and puffed rice to train passengers. “My mother is suffering from a lung disease and my sister will soon get married,” he said. “My family survives mainly on my earnings.”
The thought of pocketing the money, which would have helped Sen tide over some difficult days, did cross his mind, but he fought the temptation. “My mother’s face flashed before me, and I returned the money to railway police officials,” he said.
Sen’s teenage friend Kamal Das, who sells fruits on the railway platform, pulled out a body from the compartment that had gold bangles, earrings and a chain on it.
“I had decided not to touch the jewellery, but then thought someone else might take it,” said Das, his shirt soaked with bloodstains.
“So I took away all the jewellery from the dead woman and gave it to railway officials.”
Sen and Das hope the valuables are returned to the victims’ families.
“We asked the railway officials to give us some receipt so that there was proof that we had handed over the valuables,” Sen said. “But they pushed us away.”
Besides hawkers, locals near the station rushed to rescue the passengers as well.
Around 25 members of Subhas Sangha, a local club, were among the first to arrive at the scene. Shopkeepers, vendors and drivers waiting outside the station got into the rescue work as well.
“I heard a loud noise and rushed out of my home and came to the station,” said Sheikh Heera, an LIC agent. “I’ve dragged out more than a dozen bodies and limbs from the wreckage.”
Raj Kamal Ojha, one of the survivors, acknowledged the contributions of the locals and hawkers.
“They were the first to get inside the compartment and rescue us,” he said.