Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani said that he would recommend Saleem’s name for a bravery award
Andalib Akhter/ AMN
Sheikh Saleem Gafoor Bhai, the man who was driving the ill fated bus that was ferrying Amarnath pilgrims when it came under attack of terrorists’ bullets in Anantnag in Jamu and kashmir Monday evening.
Despite indiscriminate firing from terrorists driver Sheikh Saleem did not stop bus and kept driving. In the darkness, he drove on through the hail of bullets until he spotted an army camp.
Though seven pilgrims returning from the Amarnath shrine were killed and 20 wounded in the terror attack the other 53 could be saved by agility and bravery of saleem. It was one of the worst in the Kashmir Valley in recent years. Pilgrims on the bus were mainly from Gujarat and Maharashtra.
As the news of his bravery spread he is being hailed as a hero across the country for stepping on the accelerator as the bullets struck, stopping only after reaching an Army outpost in Anantnag, about 2 km from the site of the attack.
“God gave me strength to keep moving, and I just did not stop. The firing went on and on, so I didn’t stop. I kept driving,” said Saleem, who is being held up by many as an example of humanity beyond religion.
Had Saleem stopped or panicked, more lives would have been lost, believe those who survived the attack. Even a shattered windshield didn’t slow him down.
“My driver was so brave…he drove on,” said an injured woman at the Anantnag district hospital.
Soon after the attack, the driver, Saleem Sheikh, called up his cousin Javed Mirza in Gujarat’s Valsad and narrated to him how the terror strike took place.
Javed said he was proud of Saleem, who put up a brave front and drove the 49 passengers to safety despite the militants firing at the bus indiscriminately from three sides.
Javed said Saleem told him that when the militants attacked, all he was looking for was a safer spot to ferry the pilgrims.
Saleem called up Javed around 9.30 pm and informed him about the incident.
“I don’t know about that but driving is the only thing I know and only source of income for me. What else can I do. I will continue driving the bus. But now the scene keeps playing out in front of my eyes,” Saleem said when asked about his future plan.
Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani said that he would nominate Saleem’s name for a bravery award. “I want to thank the bus driver for saving lives of people even when there was firing going on. I will nominate his name for the bravery award” said Vijay Rupani, Gujarat Chief Minister.
The J&K government has also announced a cash reward of Rs 3 lakh.
Saleem, who hails from Jalgaon in Maharashtra and moved to Valsad at a young age on Tuesday reached home in an open jeep, amid a throng of family and neighbours, and was received by his wife Sajeeda, their two sons and a daughter. As soon as he stepped down, a weeping Sajeeda hugged him and kissed him on his forehead.
“I am so happy he is back. He had not planned to undertake this trip because our eldest son was supposed to undergo an ear surgery. However, we were a bit stretched financially, so he decided to drive the bus that left for the yatra on July 2. I am really proud that he saved so many people’s lives,” she said reported Indian Express.
Of those killed, five were from Gujarat and two from Maharashtra.
Police sources said the bus was without police escort. The attack is believed to be the worst of its kind on the annual pilgrimage since 2000.