Sheikh Saleem Gafoor, a 38-year-old bus driver from Valsad who saved the life of 52 Amarnath pilgrims during a terrorist attack on the vehicle on the night of July 10, 2017, will be given a bravery award on this Republic Day.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, Gafoor said, “The passengers inside the bus were screaming at me for stopping the bus but I did not. I have been going for the Amarnath pilgrimage for past four years and had seen military camps at regular distance. I was looking for a nearby camp. Once I spotted the camp, I drove fast inside.”
“I was not expecting (an award). No one from the state government contacted me. I learnt about the award two hours back through television channels,” Gafoor said.
Officials said that soon after the attack, Gafoor emerged as a symbol of communal harmony as he showed exemplary bravery and did not panic while driving the bus to safety.
Seven pilgrims were killed and 19 injured in the attack.
Gafoor’s name was considered under the Uttam Jeevan Raksha Padak, which entitles a commendation from the President and a reward of Rs 60,000 on Republic Day.
Earlier, the J&K government announced a reward of Rs 3 lakh in recognition of his courage while the Amarnath Shrine Board had also announced an award of Rs 2 lakh. Gafoor has been a driver for 20 years and it was the 14th Amarnath Yatra for the Class IX dropout, who has three children and a wife in his family.
Twelve others were given the Uttam Jeevan Raksha Padak and seven were posthumously awarded the Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Padak, which includes a citation and reward of Rs 1 lakh. Twenty-four people were given the Jeevan Raksha Padak and will receive a reward of Rs 40,000.