October 2, 1957. The Ramlila ground, Delhi. Many dignitaries, including then prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, India's future prime minister Indira Gandhi, are watching the Ramlila performance when the shamiana suddenly catches fire. A 14-year-old boy scout exhibits great presence of mind, shinnies up a tall electric pole and uses his scout knife to rip apart the burning cloth. Thanks to him, no lives are lost, but his hands are badly burnt.
His brave act spurred Nehru to institute the National Bravery Awards for children who help others without considering the risk to their own lives. Avinash Kaur was honoured that year for her exemplary performance as a National Cadet Corps cadet.
Since then, 650 children have been honoured with this award, which includes a certificate, a cash prize and a scholarship for their education. Seats are reserved for them in government-run educational institutions.
Each year, the awardees participate in the Republic Day celebrations and salute the President, prime minister and other dignitaries on caparisoned elephants.
The special bravery awards include the Geeta Chopra Award and the Sanjay Chopra Award (instituted in 1978, these two awards honour the memory of the Chopra children who gave up their lives battling their kidnappers); the Bharat Award (instituted in 1987, this is considered the highest honour) and the Bapu Gayadhani Award (1988).
This year, the Bharat Award for exceptional bravery went posthumously to C Vanlalhruaia of Aizwal, Mizoram. Vanlalhruaia battled a masked robber who entered his house on September 3 and attacked his 13-year-old sister with a hammer. When Vanlalhruaia and his mother came to her rescue, the robber attacked Vanlalhruaia with a knife and stabbed him repeatedly. Meanwhile, his mother and sister raised an alarm and the robber was caught. Vanlalhruaia later succumbed to his injuries.
Click here to meet some of the brave children who were honoured with awards this year.
Text: Ehtasham Khan
Photographs: Sondeep Shankar
Children of Courage
The National Bravery Awards: A ready reckoner