I’m ready to go on Amarnath Yatra again, says braveheart bus driver

india Updated: Jul 11, 2017 22:47 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times
Amarnath attack,Amarnath Yatra,Militant attack

Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani interacts with the driver (right) of the bus that was attacked by the militants in J-K.(PTI Photo)

“Given a chance, I will go back again on Amarnath Yatra,” said Saleem Sheikh Juhar, the driver of the bus attacked by militants in Kashmir’s Anantnag that left seven Amarnath pilgrims dead.

Hailed as a hero for having driven through the hail of bullets until the bus reached a military camp, the government of Jammu and Kashmir has announced a cash award of Rs 3 lakh for Saleem. Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said his government will recommend his name for a national bravery award.

“I just did my duty,” the 37-year-old braveheart driver hailing from Gujarat’s Valsad told HT on Wednesday.

Several survivors said the death toll could have been much higher had Saleem not shown exemplary courage and presence of mind. He was at the wheel of the bus (GJ9Z 9976) with 56 pilgrims on board when the militants opened fire. He kept his nerve and continued driving for another 1.5 km.

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

“Out of the blue, it started raining bullets…for a fraction of a second my mind went blank. But I heard Harsh yelling – Java do, Java do (keep moving, keep moving),” Saleem recounted. “I ducked and kept driving.”

Saleem escaped unscathed. But Harsh took three bullets and is now under treatment.

Engaged as a driver by the tour operator at a daily wage of Rs 1,000 for the 23-day trip, it was the fourth time he had gone for the Amarnath Yatra ferrying Gujrati pilgrims.

It turned out to be the most harrowing trip till date.

“But when it’s a question of life and death, it brings out the best in you,” said Saleem, who has driven tourists across the country. “I have been driving for long. I know nothing else.”

Saleem’s wife Sanjeeda along with his two sons and a daughter were at the Surat airport when he returned to a hero’s welcome.

But amid the adulation and praises showered on him, Saleem nursed one regret. “I could not save the seven pilgrims,” he sighed.

First Published: Jul 11, 2017 22:47 IST