On the morning of January 7, when Gormur village’s Bikas Das (20) and Surya Das (22) were out on a morning walk by the railway tracks, they noticed a crack — what in technical terms is called a ‘railway fracture’ — on one of the tracks.
The youths, neither of whom have been educated beyond Class 10, felt that this could be potentially dangerous. “So we rushed home, got my mother’s red petticoat, rushed back to the spot and started waving it wildly,” says Bikas, whose home is by the side of the tracks.
This action led the train — the Guwahati Silaghat Town Rajya Rani Express, a passenger car, that runs between the towns of Alipurduar and Silaghat — to halt, thereby saving at least 150 passengers on board.
“We were scared, yes — but we had no other choice,” says Bikas.
On Republic Day, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), will award the two boys for their “prompt action” and “alertness” in a special ceremony held in the Railway Stadium in Guwahati.
“This is a first for the NFR — in our Republic Day celebrations, we usually award internal employees. This is the first time we are awarding two civilians,” said Pranav Jyoti Sharma, Chief Public Relations Officer, NFR.
Bikas has studied up till Class 10 while Surya did not attend school beyond Class 8. The two are neighbours.
“We had actually gone to sun ourselves by the tracks for a while. It was a cold January morning,” says Surya, who works as driver on hire in his village. “When we saw the crack, we knew that the train would get derailed and lot of people would die — that is why we wasted no time in getting a red cloth.”
For the ceremony, Bikas is on his maiden trip to Guwahati. “This is the first time I am experiencing a big city. It feels very good. Everyone in our village is congratulating us,” he says. Back home, he works in a butcher’s shop, selling broiler chicken.
NFR’s Sharma says, “We have our guards (a key man during the day and a patrol man at night) patrolling the tracks all the time. But the bravery displayed by both of them was quite something.”
In July, in Ambassa, about 80 km from Agartala, Tripura’s capital, daily wage labourer Swapan Debbarma and his nine-year-old daughter Somati averted a similar train mishap. Later, Debbarma was offered a job by the Tripura government in the Department of Youth Affairs and Sports.
Bikas and Surya will receive a citation and award money of Rs 2,500 each. The duo admit that they are hopeful of better employment opportunities in the future.