Braveheart Saviours

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Four street vendors selling different items on Amira Kadal have saved scores from drowning. Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Four street vendors selling different items on Amira Kadal have saved scores from drowning. Pic: Bilal Bahadur

A group of roadside vendors say they are obliged to save lives because God gives them the chance. Shazia Khan reports about the foursome brave hearts whose efforts have saved many lives.

Off late the Amira Kadal Bridge in city centre has turned into a suicide point. Bogged down by problems varying from poverty to troubled relationships many individuals have used the bridge to jump to death.  But for the intervention of a few people selling their wares on the bridge, nothing would perhaps come between these jumps of life and death.

Manzoor Ahmad, Mehraj-ud-Din, Abdul Hameed and Farooq Ahmad, all roadside vendors on the Amira Kadal have no formal training to rescue drowning people, but they have saved more than a 100 lives in the last few years.

“The bridge has turned into suicide spot.  Fed up of life, people come here to commit suicide,” says 22-year-old-Hameed, who few days back saved a 36- year old woman.

The woman, according to eyewitnesses, jumped into the river and was being drifted away fast by the waves. Without thinking of his own safety, Hameed jumped in. In a few minutes she was invisible as the water seemed to have dragged her further. But Hameed, anticipating the speed of the river had jumped ahead to rescue her. Seeing the situation turn critical Manzoor, 33 also dived in and started searching for her.

In the meantime, Hameed surfaced with the woman in his arms. Manzoor swam swiftly to support him and they pulled out the woman to safety.

“A few more minutes in water and it would have been the end of her life,” remarks Manzoor. “A drowning person can float for five to ten minutes and within that time the rescue can be successful. After that it becomes difficult to save the person.”

On an average some 25 to 35 people attempt suicide from the spot every year.

“It is for the twentieth time this year that we have saved a person,” says 19 year old Mehraj-ud-Din who last month saved a lady doctor.

On that day he was busy with his work when a sudden commotion from the riverbanks caught his attention. A young lady had jumped into the water. He rushed to the spot in no time and dived in.

Similarly the fourth man Farooq Ahmad, 24, saved a 40 year old man.

Most of the people who attempt suicide from the bridge belong to Srinagar, but people from others districts use the spot as well. Poverty, unemployment, love affairs, are the main factors. By the timely action of these brave hearts, most of them are saved.

In the last few years, the group has foiled every attempt made in their presence. They have not been able to save others who jumped in their absence, like early in the morning or late in the evening.

“When we are around we try our best to save the people who attempt suicide but in our absence the Jehlum swallows many lives,” says Mehraj.

Last year a college going boy ended his life by jumping into river in early morning. In 2007, a 17-year-old girl and an 18-year-old boy committed suicide in the evening.

“Neither are we trained nor funded to save people but we cannot stop ourselves when someone is dying,” said Farooq.  At times they have to strive hard to rescue someone, but their courage and spirit sees them through.

“The upper surface of the river seems calm but while rescuing people our feet are swept by under water currents. Holding the person (victim) needs further efforts to remain afloat”.

Besides, rising water level poses another challenge. Jehlum is one of the deepest rivers of the valley. The non availability of boats to reach the spot adds to the danger.  “Many times we appealed to the authorities to grant emergency boats to Amira Kadal but they never paid attention to our plea,” complains the group.

In spite of these problems they have stood firm. Saving people has become their passion.   God gives them the opportunity to save lives, they say in unison.

The quartet prefers to call themselves volunteers and say they are obliged to do what they do.

It feels great to save a life but they also feel bad “to see people trying to end their precious lives”.

While their bravado makes them stand out, the authorities are yet to acknowledge their service. Instead of encouraging them, police often barrages them with an overdose of questions after every incident. “Not to fell in the rut of investigations, we remain away after saving the victims,” said the group.

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