Sunday, November 08, 2009
GANGTOK, November 8: He swam against a raging Teesta but has all but drowned in the harsh currents of a sustainable livelihood as even the people and State have forgotten their heroes.
‘Sarvottam Jewan Rakshak Padak’, the highest civilian bravery award of the country, has become a livelihood curse for 20- four-year old Pratap Rai who has given up all hopes of settling down into a sustainable and respectable trade.
Pratap, at the age of 21, had risked his own life and saved several people from drowning to their deaths when an over-packed SNT bus fell into the Teesta River on October 25, 2006. The mishap had taken place at 20th Mile, near Bageykhola on NH 31 A between Singtam and Rangpo where 22 passengers were killed and another 44 were injured.
During the time of the accident, Pratap a resident of Samardung busty across the River, with daunting courage risked his life and swam across the heavy current of the river and rescued three people from drowning. He also helped the rescue agencies in the evacuation of the injured persons to the local hospitals.
For the brave and courageous act, the 22 year old Rai had already received the State Jeewan Raksha puraskar during the State level Independence Day celebration in 2007. The award included a citation and Rs. 10, 000 cash reward.
Last year, the Centre awarded the Sarvottam Jewan Rakshak Padak’ to Pratap which included cash award of Rs. 75, 000 along with medallion and certificate as well as a miniature medal that can be worn at official ceremonies and State functions.
And this recognition and award has precisely morphed into a livelihood albatross for Pratap presently facing the prospect of a bleak future harbingered by an ungrateful society and pretentious government.
The hero-to-pauper story unfolds in Pratap’s own regretful introspection.
“I realize somewhere in the dim cavern of my mind that I have received the country’s highest civilian bravery award. I remember being felicitated and honoured at several places at that time”, says Pratap.
After a brief heady period of adulations and back slapping, Pratap now three years later, has been straitjacketed to find a sustainable means of income and is presently having trouble to arrange two square meals a day.
“I have ten years experience of driving a vehicle. I can drive any type of vehicle. But when I go asking for a driver’s job, the owners taunt me saying why such a big awardee has to ask for a job”, says Pratap.
“Whenever I go for labour work, the society here chaste me”, said the youth adding that though he had also wanted to work as a lifeguard in a raft, things did not worked out.
Pratap has already deposited the cash awards in a fixed deposit in the name of his daughter. He had also made frantic efforts to get a loan to buy a taxi but his dreams were cut short by the rules of the banks as he does not have land or other assets to mortgage.
The brave youth has faint memories of those early days of recognition and sabashis.
Today, Pratap sadly does not know where the ‘Birta ko Chino’ has dissipated. So much, that whenever the words ‘bravery award’ rings into his ears, the fear strikes an icy rod into his soul.
The forgotten hero is in more dire necessity of a sustainable means of income in the shape of a taxi vehicle for his family than awards.