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Henna Bakshi. Age 12.
Ambala, Haryana

Geeta Chopra Award

'I jumped on him and caught him by his legs'

She is bubbly, vivacious and full of energy. A good dancer, she likes horse riding, basketball and swimming. She loves cartoons, movies, Hrithik Roshan and playing with her dogs -- but not necessarily in that order. She feels bad about those who have to work for a living and hence cannot go to school. In fact, in her school, they collect money and clothes to help such impoverished children. She strongly believes child labour should be banned. When she grows up, she would like to become a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force.

Henna Bakshi Meet 12-year-old Henna Bakshi, who has been awarded this year's Geeta Chopra award, the nation's highest award for bravery shown by girls.

I was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, since my father -- Lieutenant Colonel Bakshi -- was posted there at the time. At present, he is posted in Ambala; we live in the cantonment there now. I study in Class VI at the Convent of Jesus and Mary school in Ambala.

Why did I get this award? It all began when I got typhoid during the first week of August 1999. I was so ill that I could not go to school. Also, somehow, I would get sleep only during the day, so I would be wide awake at night. But I would remain as quiet as I could, since I did not want to disturb my younger brother who shared the room with me.

I was dozing on the night of August 3, when a noise woke me up. I saw a thin, tall man entering our room. It was obviously not Papa. I continued to pretend I was asleep as he latched the door from inside. He went straight to the steel wardrobe that was standing by the side of our bed. It contained my motherís jewellery. After staring at it for some time, he tried unsuccessfully to open it.

Then he went back to the door, unlatched it and crossed over to my father's bedroom, which is just next to our room. I followed him and saw him walk over to Papaís bed to check whether he was sleeping or not. As he bent over Papa, I started shouting for help. I think he got scared, because he rushed towards the door -- which is where I was standing -- and pushed me out of his way. I fell down, but I got up immediately and ran after him. Then I jumped on him and caught him by his legs.

We were just near the main door. I was holding his legs with all my strength; he was trying equally hard to wriggle out of my grip. Just then, Papa reached there and overpowered him by punching him on his nose. We handed him over to the police. His accomplices, who were waiting outside, ran away on hearing the commotion. But the police caught them later.

The burglar, the son of a maid servant working in the cantonment area, later confessed he had stolen cash from my house twice before that as well. He had even stolen some of Papaís official documents, which were recovered from him. It seems they were part of a gang of 31 robbers, who were involved in more than a hundred thefts.

On November 14, 1999, as I was celebrating Children's Day with the other kids in my school, my mother came to tell me I had been selected for this award. "What?" I asked her. That was the only thing I could say; I was so happy. I was even more happy when my principal announced the news that I had won this award (there is a huge smile on her face as she says this).

The award means a lot to me. All my friends and neighbours are very happy. So many people came to congratulate me. And I got a chance to meet the prime minister, to be a part of the Republic Day Parade... Also, this award is going to give me so many facilities. It makes me feel great.

Papa and Mummy, I guess, were happier than me about this award. However, my younger brother feels it was just a matter of chance. If he was not sleeping, he was sure he would have caught the thief!!

Her father, Lieutenant Colonel Bakshi, adds:

She could not really understand the importance of this award when we first heard about it, but I was quite overwhelmed with emotion. I immediately called all my friends and relatives to tell them about it.

In fact, I was the first person in the family to come to know that she had won the award. My driver, who had heard the news on television, was the first person to tell me about it. I confirmed it with my friends in the squadron, before going to my wife's school to tell her about it. She was the one who broke the news to Henna, while I was madly making phone calls. That evening, we had a wonderful get-together with our family and friends.

To tell you the truth, we had not done anything about this... The local press in Ambala wrote stories about how she caught the thief. That's how Bal Bhavan, an NGO working for the welfare of children, heard about her. With the help of the local administration, they processed and forwarded the application form for the National Bravery Award. We really did nothing about it.

Henna Bakshi and her father spoke to Basharat Peer.

Next: 'I want to fight the militants': Meet Mukesh Kumar, winner of the Bharat Award for bravery

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