Bashir Ahmad, an expert swimmer, has so far saved scores of people from drowning in Sindh River and is the key help for people living between Sonamarg and Ganderbal, reports Saifullah Bashir
Twelve hours after the Kishtwar tragedy, in which part of the Honzer village with houses, inmates and cattle was washed away by flash floods, a major cloudburst took place near Amarnathji shrine cave. Mercifully, no loss of life or property took place. The cloudburst resulted in the increase of water level in river Sindh, which flows through Kangan and Gund before merging with Jhelum in Sonawari.
At Sathrun Ganderbal three youths were caught in the middle of the river. According to locals, they were collecting wood from the dried-up river up areas amid moderate rains. The glacial-fed river runs ferociously and washes down a lot many things from the forests including fuelwood, timber, carcases and the plastic bottles that tourists throw around.
Before the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and Jammu and Kashmir Police could reach the spot, Bashir Ahmed Mir, a local swimmer, had reached. He put his life at risk and finally three trapped boys were rescued from the muddy water.
“I received a call from locals at 5:10 PM and I immediately reached the spot,” Mir said.
Mir’s rescue video went viral on different social media platforms. In the video, Mir can be seen crossing the river amid strong currents without any safety gear. This, residents said, is his USP. He is not only a great swimmer but an extremely brave man and human as well.
Mir lives in Kangan. His skills have made him a prominent person in the Ganderbal district. Whenever any such tragedy happens it is Mir whom people call.
Mir earlier lived on the bank of Sindh. Since childhood, he used to take baths in the river and this eventually made him an experienced swimmer. He did not go anywhere to learn and had no teachers.
Mir’s first successful rescue operation was in 2001. Then a boy had got trapped in the river and authorities could not rescue him for two days.
“Police and NDRF called me for help and I did the job,” Mir said. “This was my first successful mission.”
According to Mir, his swimming skills have improved over time.
“So far I have helped authorities in recovering 51 bodies. I also have rescued more than 19 persons from drowning,” Mir said.
In 2014, when devastating floods hit Kashmir and the three boys were about to drown in water in his area, Mir saved the two but the third one died.
In order to swim properly, Mir has to keep himself fit and healthy. Overweight and weak muscles may turn out to be problematic.
“Swimming needs a lot of energy and fitness, particularly in Sindh, where speed of water is unpredictable,” he said.
For Mir, every rescue operation is unique and risky. Usually, the tourists move to Sonamarg during summertime and the area witnesses a heavy rush of people during Amarnath Yatra. The chances of such incidents also remain high.
“Whenever you jump into the wild water you put yourself at risk,” Mir said. “Some years back five yatris got stuck in the water and that was my most difficult experience.”
The parents of Mir remain concerned about him. So are his kids. Whenever he does any rescue operation he does not tell his parents.
“Most of the time I do not inform my parents about any rescue operation,” he said. “They obviously will be worried. But social media has revealed this mystery.”
Being a swimmer for the last 20 years Mir has now started imparting training to local youth, with an aim to save lives whenever needed. Mir is training his sons too.
“To save lives during natural calamities we need more people,” Mir said. “Today I am, tomorrow I may not be there.”
According to Mir most of the incidents which happen in Sindh are the result of the obsession with selfies and exhibition of undue excitement. He advised visitors to refrain from doing so.
“Sindh is not like a normal river. Everybody cannot swim here,” he said. “This river has a different flow and has big boulders inside which can prove fatal.”
Mir has swum in Pangong Lake in Ladakh. However, he said that swimming in Pangong is very easy compared to Sindh. “Swimming in Sindh requires experience and courage,” Mir said.
Whenever Mir saves any life it gives him inner peace and happiness. Interestingly, while he is a hero in his own way, his services have not been acknowledged so far. “Blessings of people are my biggest success and reward,” he said while sitting on the banks of roaring Sindh.
Mir has three sons and he wants them to be successful athletes.
Mir’s rescue missions have been recorded by thousands of people who watched it from the banks. “They later send me these clips that I store on my laptop,” Bashir said. “This has made him very popular.”
That is perhaps why he is in politics. After August 5, 2019, he was one of the many political workers who were jailed.