When 60 RAF Personnel Went Beyond the Call of Duty to Rescue 185 Mentally Challenged Women in Kerala
About 60 personnel of the RAF went out of their way to rescue 185 mentally challenged women who were stranded in a home for the elderly for nearly two days.
RAF personnel rescue the mentally challenged women stranded during the Kerala floods. (Image: News18)
On August 16, at the peak of the Kerala flood crisis, a battalion of Rapid Action Force (RAF) stationed in Coimbatore got an emergency call at 10.30pm.
Rising floodwaters had been destroying the state and, as the Pallakad district commissioner informed the RAF commandant over the phone line, lives of nearly 200 elderly, mentally challenged women were at risk.
In a small village, a few kilometres away from the district headquarters, 185 mentally challenged women had been stranded in a home for the elderly for nearly two days. The inmates could not help themselves and were help not to reach in time, either the lack of nutrition or the rising floodwaters, would consume all the lives. Some of them were also suffering from paralysis and could not move on their own even if they wanted.
“We were told that both the army units and local rescue and relief units had been moved away to other spots and no other paramilitary force was available for the operation. We were of course quite eager to come to their help. Our DG sought approval from the home ministry and it came immediately over the phone,” said B Jayakrishnan, commandant of the battalion.
The RAF lost little time in arranging boats for the rescue work — since it did not have boats of its own — and dispatching 60 members of a company to carry out the rescue work.
While the army, NDRF and other local units are trained to carry out such rescue operations, it was the first time for this unit of the RAF, which has been primarily constituted to quell riots and control crowds.
“Yes, you can say that this was the biggest natural disaster that we had come across, the circumstances were very challenging. This particular operation and some of the other rescue work we did in the seven days… taken collectively, it was one of the toughest jobs our boys had faced in some time,” Jayakrishnan added.
Daiva Sadan, the shelter home where the women were stranded, was located in Mangalam, about 1.5km away from the local RAF unit. This would have been a half-an-hour’s job over motorable road but the floodwaters had submerged roads, vehicles and even houses.
To reach the spot, the paramilitary unit had to row against strong currents in the dark while heavy rains lashed the rescuers. The entire operation took around four-and-a-half hours.
“When we reached the spot, we found many of them in a really bad shape. Those over the age of 70 had answered nature’s call in the clothes they were wearing. Some of the inmates had somehow moved to the second floor of the building but couldn’t move beyond it,” said G Dinesh, the deputy commandant.
Sixty CRPF men then went through the building and carried the women on their shoulders for around 150 metres to the rescue boats.
“We had brought all these women out safely but without any of their belongings so naturally the first concern was to provide them with new sets of dry clothes to keep them warm and provide them with some basic medication and food. This is exactly what we did on the night of the rescue,” said Dinesh.
The women are now safe in another shelter home, Dinesh added, recovering well from what may have been the scariest two days of their lives.
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