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Driver Who Saved Lives in Amarnath Yatra Attack Wishes to Ferry Pilgrims Again, But Finds No Takers

Displaying bravery and grit, the driver Salim Shaikh Gafur of the ill-fated bus continued to drive the passengers to safety.

Meghdoot Sharon | News18.com

Updated:July 3, 2018, 5:01 PM IST
Driver Who Saved Lives in Amarnath Yatra Attack Wishes to Ferry Pilgrims Again, But Finds No Takers
File Photo of bus driver Sheikh Salim Gafur being felicitated by Sharad Pawar and Ajay Devgn.

Ahmadabad: Nearly a year ago, on July 10, 2017, terrorists tried to force their way into a bus full of Amarnath yatris near Batengoo in Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir. They then resorted to indiscriminate firing in which eight yatris were killed and 17 others were injured.

Displaying bravery and grit, the driver Salim Shaikh Gafur of the ill-fated bus continued to drive the passengers to safety. Earlier this year, he was conferred with the Uttam Jeevan Raksha Padak, the second highest civilian honour in the country.

Speaking to News18, the 38-year-old, who stays in South Gujarat’s Valsad town, says he wishes to drive pilgrims to Amarnath this year too, but unfortunately, there are not many takers for the pilgrimage this year.

Will you drive pilgrims again for the Amarnath Yatra this year too ?

I really wish to drive pilgrims again to Amarnath Yatra. I said this last year too. But unfortunately, people are not going for the yatra this year. I spoke to people, saying that I am willing to take people in my mini bus. I will incur a cost of around 50,000 rupees but I am willing to spend this amount . However, people are just not willing to undertake the pilgrimage this year. I feel they are scared about the situation prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir right now.

So, there is fear among the people about their safety ?

Yes, a lot of fear is there. If you check with the Valsad district RTO, every year, five or six luxury buses leave for the Amarnath Yatra. In addition, another six or seven mini buses, the 15-seater ones go for the Amarnath yatra. This time, there has not been one single permit of the Valsad RTO for the Amarnath yatra. They have made the whole process online too, but still, there has not been even one application for Amarnath yatra permit from the whole of Valsad district. This is so sad, but it is the reality.

For how long have you been driving pilgrims for the Amarnath yatra ?

I have been going for the Amarnath yatra for the past six years. This is the first time in six years that I will not be going. And its just because of the fear that people have about their safety.

Do you remember that fateful day ?Does it still haunt you?

Whenever people mention that incident, I feel really sad. I especially remember the two women who came along to make food for all the pilgrims. I do not eat rice while driving, because it makes me drowsy afterwards. Those ladies made rotis especially for me everyday. Moreover, I personally knew most of the pilgrims, because all of them were from Valsad and surrounding areas. I have said this earlier too. Although people praise me for saving 52 lives, I feel very sorry that I could not save the lives of eight pilgrims.

You received the Uttam Jeevan Rakshak medal for your bravery. A couple of state governments also felicitated you. What is your message for pilgrims ?

I have been trying to reason out with people that you must go. If you go, it will be a befitting answer for those who want to disrupt the yatra. I have full faith in the Indian armed forces. They hunted and shot down those who attacked our bus. The armed forces had called the owner of our bus and informed them that those who had attacked our bus had been killed. This time also, we got calls from Kashmir asking us to come, but who will convince the customers?

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| Edited by: Sana Fazili
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