Hooked on to saving lives, Koli community rescuers step up to every river challenge in Pandharpur
The first responder to any disaster is the local community of the area and over the past decades, the Koli community (boatmen and fishermen) in Pandharpur has been safeguarding 14 ghats of the Chandrabhaga river flowing through the city.
It has been a routine exercise for 1,000 boatmen of the community to rescue people from the river. However, the floods of October 14 and 15 were tragic and this team of rescuers helped more than 8,000 residents from various parts of Pandharpur to safely move out from their houses. Due to heavy rainfall activity over the past week, many regions in western Maharashtra faced flood-like situation due to overflowing rivers. In Pandharpur tehsil alone, over 10,000 people from 46 flood-hit villages have been shifted to safer places.
“It is our ancestral work. We rescue people who are trapped, or by any other way fall into the river. This time, too, when the water level started rising, all our boys located at the 14 ghats started rescuing people, which included senior citizens, children, homeless and physically challenged individuals. Our swimmers are on alert 24 hours and there is no need to tell them to go rescue people. The flood-like situation was bad and if our boys didn’t work to save lives in time, then, more fatalities would have been registered,” said Ganesh Ankushrao, president of Pandharpur Boatmen (Koli community) community group.
There are 14 ghats on the banks of Chandrabhaga river and on each ghat there is team of 15-20 boatmen with on vigil with their boats. This riverside area is spread up to four kilometres starting from Gopalpura to Railway bridge to the other side.
Sachin Dhole, sub-divisional magistrate of Pandharpur, said, “The Koli community in Pandharpur has always provided a helping hand in times of need and has led from the front in rescue operations during Wari and during other emergency situations for us. We get a lot of help during floods or any other emergencies from the Koli community members. They are very sharp and alert all the time, till now they have rescued thousands of people from the Chandrabhaga river.”
Another boatman Ganesh Mahadev Tarapurkar, said, “We are risking our lives to save people over the past many years and this time also, we led from the front. I personally rescued hundreds of people from various parts of Pandharpur. Once such rescue was of 15 homeless and physical challenged people who were sleeping on the old Nagar Palika road at night. They got stuck in the floods and when we came to know about them, we immediately went in with our boat and rescued them safely.”