Salim Sheikh, the Gujarat bus driver who showed exemplary courage even risking his life, to save Amarnath Yatris in the face of brazen terrorist attack, deserves all praise as but for his timely action may more innocent lives would have been lost.
Salim, the Gujarati driver of the bus that was ferrying the passengers, has now emerged as a hero by saving so many innocent lives while risking his own.
According to reports, Salim drove the bus to safety amid continuous firing by a group of heavily armed terrorists who attacked the bus which was returning from the Amarnath Shrine.
Despite being reportedly hit by a bullet, Salim locked the door from inside, refraining terrorists from entering the bus. Neither did he stop the bus realising that the terrorist would kill many innocent Yatris.
Salim drove for nearly two kilometers before finally stopping near an army camp.
"I spoke to the passengers and they were all praises for the driver. He drove despite the firing and took them to safety. It made a lot of difference and lives were saved. He did not stop. Had he stopped, more lives could have been lost," Munir Khan, IG, Kashmir, told reporters.
One of the survivors of the attack also praised Salim for his bravery and said, ''We were asleep and were woken up by bullet sounds. He continued to drive and took us to safety. If not for him, it would have been worse."
"He called me at around 9.30 pm and said that there was firing. Salim did not stop when terrorists fired but only looked for a safer spot for the pilgrims. He could not save seven lives but managed to move over 50 people to a safe place. We are very proud of him," said Javed, Salim's cousin.
Later, speaking to reporters, Salim said, ''God gave me strength to keep moving, and I just did not stop.''
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijat Rupani, who announced ex-gratia of Rs10 lakh to the kin of victims and Rs2 lakh for injured, said that he will nominate driver Salim for bravery award.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police, meanwhile, rejected reports that the bus was not registered for the Amarnath Yatra and that the driver had committed some lapses on his part.
"The bus was very much registered for Amarnath Yatra and they were also in a convoy. "They had finished their darshan just two days ago and had plans of visiting a few tourist places. Yes, they were on a different route than the Yare route but the bus was registered and in a convoy," Munir Khan added.
The bus - GJ 09 Z 9976 - was registered in North Gujarat's Sabarkantha district, but the owner had sold the bus to one Jawahar Desai of Valsad, Gujarat.
Of the seven pilgrims - five women and two men - who lost their lives, two were from Valsad, two from Dharampur, two from Pardi and one from Vansda. Another fifteen sustained injuries, four of them serious wounds.