Amarnath attack: 'Saviour' driver Salim to be nominated for bravery award
SURAT: Manoeuvring a 56-seater bus in the dark in mountainous terrain is daunting enough. But Salim Shaikh, 37, drove at full tilt for more than 2 km, with a flat tyre and bullets whizzing by, and saved the lives of over 50 Amarnath pilgrims on Monday. The terror attack killed seven and injured 21.
“It was all due to Baba Amarnath’s blessings that I got the strength despite guns blazing around me,” said Shaikh. “The first bullet flew over my head and hit a passenger. The tyre burst, but I had no second thoughts in speeding away.”
Witnesses said the terrorists kept up the firing till the bus reached an Army camp. Shaikh said he realised it was a terrorist attack the moment a bullet pierced through the glass. “I slid down my seat and kept driving. I would see the road for a second or so and duck,” he said.
Applauding his courage, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said Shaikh would be nominated for the annual bravery award.
Shaikh was on his fourth trip of Amarnath in the past eight years. On Monday, the trip was delayed due to a flat tyre soon after leaving Srinagar, he said. At his house in Garib Nawaz Society in Valsad, his family members could scarcely believe that Shaikh’s bus was attacked by terrorists. “It was only around 11pm when Shaikh called that we breathed easy,” said his wife, Sanjeeda. “He said we must not discuss anything with our elder son Danish as he is undergoing treatment for an ear ailment,” she added, hugging her fouryear-old daughter Amrin and seven-year-old son Ayan.
Shaikh’s mother Raziya is proud of her son. “He did well, but we are extremely pained for those who died,” said Raziya, wiping her tears. Pallavi Abhyankar, 55, a lucky survivor from Maharashtra, said, “Had it not been for the driver, the toll would have been higher.”
Shaikh, who earns Rs 12,000 per month with Om Travels and takes trip-based assignments for other private bus operators, is being showered with cash rewards. The J&K government and Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board announced rewards totalling Rs 5 lakh. The government will give him Rs 3 lakh while governor NN Vohra, as chairman of Sri Amarnathji Shrine Board, announced a special reward of Rs 2 lakh.
Shaikh has four brothers and two sisters. His brothers Babu and Iqbal are also drivers and the former has been going to Amarnath for the past 15 years.