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Driver who saved 48 lives in Amarnath attack to get civilian gallantry award

Sheikh Saleem Gafur, the driver of the bus attacked by militants in Kashmir’s Anantnag that left eight pilgrims dead last year, will receive a bravery award from the President.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2018 23:16 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Amarnath attack,Amarnath attack Driver,Sheikh Saleem Gafur
Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani interacts with Sheikh Saleem Gafur, the driver of the bus, after the attack. (PTI file photo)

An annual bravery award by the President can be a reason for celebration for many, but not for Sheikh Saleem Gafur, the driver of the bus attacked by militants in Kashmir’s Anantnag that left eight pilgrims dead last year.

By maneuvering in the dark in mountainous terrain, Gafur kept his nerve and drove until they reached an army camp. He saved the lives of 48 on board.

For Gafur, the Uttam Jeevan Raksha Padak, the second highest honour given to civilians for gallantry, has, however, brought back memories of that fateful night. “I am not really happy to hear about the award. It just reminds me that eight among us could not be saved,” Gafur, a resident of Valsad, told HT.

As many as 21 other passengers, all from Gujarat and Maharashtra, were injured.

When HT contacted him on Wednesday afternoon, he was yet to receive any official communication from the government about the fact that he would be awarded on January 26.

Though the incident has left a deep scar on his mind, the father of three is eager to go back to Amarnath.

“Amarnath or any trip to Jammu and Kashmir happens annually. And, ever since coming back after the attack in last July, I have been waiting to go back.”

It was the fourth trip to Amarnath for this 37-year-old, who says the incident has only increased his zeal for the work.

In the past six months, Gafur, who earns Rs 1,000 per day from travel agency he is associated with , has been constantly on the move. “Since then I have taken tourists to many places across India such as Mahabaleshwar, Goa,” he said.

Gafur, however, gives much of the credit to Harsh Desai, the bus owner’s 24-year-old son who was giving him company in the driver’s cabin.

Harsh, who hails from Surat, runs the travel agency.

Recollecting the incident, Gafur said, “From nowhere , it started raining bullets… for a fraction of a second my mind went blank. It was Harsh who encouraged me and I kept driving.” Though Gafur escaped unscathed, Harsh suffered three bullet injuries.

First Published: Jan 24, 2018 23:16 IST