Two Indian Navy officers have earned laurels for the country as they have been chosen for the Straits Times Asian of the Year 2018 award for their death-defying rescue operations in Kerala floods. In addition to this, two men of courage and two disaster relief organisations were also selected for this award.
The winners were announced at the Straits Times Global Outlook Forum 2019.
Calling the winners as ‘First Responders’, Straits Times said, “This year, the editors chose ‘First Responders’ – the men and women of courage and commitment who stepped up in the moment of greatest need running towards disaster to help.”
“It is these people, together with the organisations that would arrive later, that The Straits Times would like to honour,” it added.
In its citation, The Straits Times said that the first responders put themselves in harm’s way turning many, certain defeats into stalemates, and stalemates into victories.
Indian Navy Commander (Pilot) Vijay Varma and Captain (Pilot) P. RajKumar played a pivotal role in the rescue operations during the Kerala floods which battered the Indian State during August. Dozens of navy helicopters embarked on high-risk missions and saved people from rooftops and isolated lands as floods devastated and crippled life in the Southern Indian State.
The Straits Times said, “Commander Vijay Verma, 42, who was widely praised for leading the rescue in a district of the state’s major port city Kochi, winched up a heavily pregnant woman who gave birth just after being airlifted to safety.”
The Indian Navy officer appeared as an angel for the pregnant woman Sajita Jabeel, 25 who later gave birth to a healthy baby boy in a hospital after being airlifted to safety.
Talking to an Indian TV channel, Commander Vijay Verma said, “The lady was in labour. We took a doctor along, we winched her up, it took some time though because we had to winch down two people to help her.”
While lauding the efforts of another naval officer, Strait Times said, “Captain P. Rajkumar, 54, winched 26 people up from a rooftop in Kochi while hovering between trees and other houses just two days after receiving a medal for saving a fisherman last year,”
It also mentioned the naval officer’s rescue of a wheelchair-bound pregnant woman with a Sea King helicopter that went viral on social media.
Speaking about the selection of the awardees, Warren Fernandez, Editor, Editor-in-Chief of the Singapore Press Holdings’ English, Malay, Tamil Media Group, and Editor of The Straits Times, said, “The First Responders were picked after the briefest of debates because theirs was a standout case of courage and selflessness. In an Asia witnessing disasters of increasing frequency and intensity, it is clear that there is nothing like ‘over there’ anymore – we all are equally affected. These men, and the two organisations we picked have taught us through personal example that at the end of the day security is indivisible.”
Jeremy Au Yong, Foreign Editor of The Straits Times, said, “In a year where personalities and egos often made the news for the wrong reasons, we could think of no more deserving candidates than the many people who behaved selflessly – for no reward other than simply knowing it was the right thing to do.
Other notable persons sharing the honour with the Indian Navy officers include Singaporean paraglider late Ng Kok Choong, individuals involved in the Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand, Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, Mercy Relief, and ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre).
Ng Kok Choong, the only person to be honoured posthumously, was a Singaporean paraglider who helped save lives in the September 28, 2018 earthquake and tsunami in Palu in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi. The 53-year-old, a former commando, lost his life in October in a paragliding accident in India.
Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who is the spokesman for Indonesia’s National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB), was recognised for acting as a face to the hundreds of government and military personnel involved in disaster relief efforts in Southeast Asia.
The two organisations that have been awarded Straits Times Asian of the Year 2018 include Mercy Relief and the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre).
Mercy Relief is a Singaporean NGO that has been instrumental in humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters while AHA Centre has been chosen for leading the region’s response to the various disasters that have struck South-east Asia this year – especially in the Philippines, Laos and Indonesia.
The annual awards are given by The Straits Times to a person, group or an institution that has significantly impacted the Asian continent in the past year.