In a rare act of bravery, 14-year-old Gunjan Sarmah volunteered to be kidnapped in order to save the lives of 10 other kids from their school van at Simaluguri in Sivasagar district of Assam on Wednesday, India.
And not just that, she lumbered through dense forest on Thursday along the Assam-Nagaland border, where she was left abandoned by her armed kidnapper, and reached the house of a tea garden worker who called the police. Her ordeal lasted around 14 hours.
“The kidnapper picked up a small girl in the school van who started crying. I volunteered to be kidnapped instead. He clutched my hand and ran with me towards the forests,” Gunjan told reporters at her home in Simaluguri.
“We crossed a river and walked through the forest for some time and stopped at one place. It was pitch dark and I couldn’t see a thing.
I didn’t eat anything all night. In the morning, I couldn’t see him and escaped to reach a village. The villagers called up police and I was brought home,” she added.
Sivasagar DSP Bijay Kuligam told TOI, “When I spoke to her this morning, she was very calm. She even referred to her kidnapper as ‘uncle’.” But for Gunjan’s father, Shankar, a small-time trader, it was a torrid time.
“I was despairing when she was kidnapped. I even thought I’d never send her to school again. She is safer at home,” he said.
The unidentified gunman had hijacked the entire van with 11 kids of Nazira Kendriya Vidyalaya from the heart of Simaluguri town in Sivasagar district on Wednesday when they were returning home.
The driver, who displayed presence of mind, immobilised the van after driving it into a drain in the Chantak tea estate to save the kids.
The kidnapper, who threatened all the kids to follow him and picked up one, was approached by Gunjan who asked him to leave him and take her instead.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi announced a reward of Rs 2 lakh for Gunjan for her bravery. Education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the government has asked Sivasagar deputy commissioner Meenakshi Sundaram to nominate Gunjan for the National Bravery Awards.
“The education department has announced a reward of Rs 25,000 (N64,388) for Gunjan and Rs 10,000 (N 25,755) for the driver,” Sarma said.
Gunjan told police there was just one kidnapper, who is still at large. He is an Assamese youth but spoke Hindi with the girl, a police source said.
“Our team found Gunjan at around 5.30am in the house of a tea garden worker near the Assam-Nagaland border. She was in sound health and we recorded her statement. Our search for the kidnapper is on,” he added.