December 2018 | 933 words | 3-minute read
Mazharul Bari is a man on a mission to save as many lives as he can. And he remembers the day it began: three boys had drowned near the meeting point of the rivers Kharkai and Subernarekha in Jamshedpur and their bodies could not be found.
Bari, a sub-inspector in Tata Steel’s security department, says, “Everyone was trying hard. Since I knew swimming, I decided to volunteer to look for the boys. Within two hours, we found all three bodies. I found two boys, and the search and rescue personnel found one.”
That was in 2008. The incident sparked in him the desire to do more; he decided to learn diving so that he could be of better help.
The search for an institute to learn scuba diving took Bari to the Sea Explorers Institute in Kolkata, which is known for training defence personnel. At first, the institute was reluctant to admit him, but he was adamant. Test me, he told them, intent on proving himself. Bari was pitted against applicants from the Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and challenged to swim a distance of 1km in the Subhas Sarovar. He was the first to complete the challenge, convincing them to accept him as a student.
Bari not only completed the gruelling 45-day course successfully — learning how to use the scuba gear, the best rescue techniques, and what changes occur in the body when one dives — he followed it up with four courses from Barefoot Scuba in the Andamans, India’s highest-rated diving instructors institute. He also learned first aid, to revive affected persons.
Back home, Bari maintains his readiness with a strict fitness regime of swimming and running through the week. He switches it up on Sundays with a trek through the Dalma Hills.
He has now set his sights on learning to dive in the sea, where the currents are stronger and the risks greater, making even the most accomplished swimmer vulnerable.
Tata Steel recognises the significance of Bari’s work and backs him in every way possible The company not only supported his efforts to get international certification, but it also procured scuba diving equipment for him from Italy. It constantly supports his endeavour to put in as many practice hours as he can. Bari even travels in a company vehicle whenever he needs to rush for a rescue mission.
He says, “Whenever my services are required, the district administration puts in a request to Tata Steel’s chief of security, who informs me. I go where I am needed.”
On Call 24x7
Bari is known to be on call day and night whether for Jamshedpur, or for the neighbouring districts of West Singhbhumor Saraikhela.
He is also quick to volunteer for the Tata Relief Committee’s relief and rehabilitation efforts; he has rendered services in Gujarat after the earthquake in 2001, in Tamil Nadu after the tsunami of 2004, in Jharkhand during the floods of 2008 and in Orissa during multiple floods and cyclone Phailin in 2013.
For Bari, the effort of saving a life is of utmost importance —making it in time is a constant prayer for him — but the effort of finding a dead body and restoring it to the family is no less significant. It is the final act of compassion towards a grieving family.
Why Not Me?
However, Bari’s own family was initially unhappy with him risking his life. But he told them, “If I don’t do it, somebody else will have to. Then, why not me? I am trained for this, and I am good at swimming, so why should I not do this?”
His conviction and witnessing the difference he was making slowly changed their minds. “In fact, now they pack something for me to eat or drink along the way,” Bari says. “They have understood that the person who is drowning or dead is someone’s brother or sister, father or mother, son or daughter.”
But Bari acknowledges that his family’s fears are not unjustified. He explains, “River water flows swiftly, making it difficult to hold another person and pull them to safety. Sometimes you can get caught up in the current in the water. If the river bed is rocky, it can cause injuries. Or there may be reeds that entangle you; sometimes the body is caught in the reeds, so it is hard to get it out. I always carry a knife to cut the reeds. Another challenge I face is when the water is so dirty and muddy that visibility is adversely affected.
In the winter months, the water is ice-cold, adding another layer of difficulty.
Such challenges scare off most people, Bari realised when he began efforts to train others in Jamshedpur. “If another person were to be trained, it would ease the pressure on me. Right now, I am the only rescue diver in these parts,” he says. “However, most of the students who seek training want to learn the skills only as a hobby. They are not willing to put their lives at risk, which is what a rescue diver needs to be prepared to do.”
So, for now, Bari continues to promptly answer calls for help, seeking no monetary compensation for his efforts. “I am only doing my duty,” he says.