They are graduates from St Xavier’s College, Ranchi. But, instead of job hunting in the city, they prefer staying in their village tucked away between dense forests and the Dassam Falls. Agriculture is their occupation. And in spare time, they save lives.
Salim Horo, a political science graduate; his partner Elias Tirkey, a BEd; and their 18-odd friends at Pansakam village, a stone’s throw from Dassam and 40km from the capital, are the only guardians for over-adventurous tourists at the waterfall in the absence of a government safety mechanism.
“My native village is beautiful, surrounded by forests and the falls. I could not make myself go away and make a living in the city. Farming is our ancestral job. Besides, we know people who visit Dassam will need us. The waterfall is both delightful and deadly, if precautions are not taken. The current is too strong,” said 25-year-old Salim.
In the past 13 years, the waters plunging 144ft from the Ranchi plateau have claimed not less than 20 lives. The Pansakam divers say most were young boys and couples who ventured too close to the waters for an adrenaline surge, slipped off the precarious boulders and got washed away.
BIT-Mesra student Abhishek Mishra was one of the victims (see box). He drowned in 2006.
“Every year, four or five young people fall into Kanchi River (the source of Dassam Falls). Since we are aware of the topography of the riverbed, we rush to help. We manage to save only a few because no one survives more than 10 minutes in the whirlpool,” Salim expressed a regret.
Elias couldn’t agree more.
“The place where the main streamlet dives off the plateau, the depth of the water is some 30ft. If one falls into this whirling vortex, one is churned rapidly — and vertically. The chance of survival is slimmer than we can imagine. Seconds count. If we happen to be nearby, the victim has some hope. Else, death is inevitable. Those who fall in smaller ditches at the falls are luckier,” the 26-year-old said.
Both Salim and Elias are expert divers as are their village friends, the rest not as educated as them. But then, noble birth is an accident of fortune; noble deeds characterise the great. All the 20-odd Pansakam youths have made saving tourists their purpose in life.
“I was in the divers team that was pressed into service in 2006 to search for a BIT student. It was an arduous task. The mission lasted two hours. Unfortunately, we only found the body of Abhishek Mishra,” said 30-year-old Kunwar Munda, another member of the group of voluntary divers who use only tree branches to save lives in the absence of funds to buy survival kits.
Elias said their services were requested at other water bodies too. “But, that job is risky without gear because we are not familiar with the topography. So, we use our discretion to decide whether we should take the plunge or not,” he added, admitting guilt pangs that followed.
What would they like the government to do?
“Well, for starters, providing life jackets to rescuers would be great,” said Mukta Horo, Salim’s mother and a social leader of Pansakam.
“Also, the administration can consider issuing identity cards to these selfless divers and float some kind of insurance policy for them,” she added.
Horo’s parting advice for the government was to form a village committee to boost tourism at the Dassam Falls. “The state makes arrangements, but fails in its upkeep. A local management is just the thing it needs.”