As nature's fury hit the north Indian state of Uttarakhand last week, thousands of pilgrims and locals who were left stranded in the flood-hit regions might have lost their hope after the routes connecting the areas of safety were destroyed by the flash floods, until they saw the men in uniform - Indian Army.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi hogged the limelight by visiting the flood-ravaged state, before war of words broke out between BJP and Congress over their much-publicised visits. As politicians were trying to politicize the whole crisis, the Indian Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Indian Air Force and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), have been risking their lives and working against all odds to save the flood victims.
The Indian armed forces were the first to reach the state. They formed human walls as they helped thousands of people pass through the rough mountainous areas and landslides during their rescue operation. They did all they could - be it helping people to cross the river with ropes or carrying the weak on their shoulders.
Over 800 people have been reported dead in the floods and over 97, 000 rescued. The death toll could rise as many are feared buried in the debris and about 5,000 people are still reported to be stranded in Badrinath and Harsil.
Despite continuing rain and danger posed by fog in the region, some 45 aircraft are being used in the rescue and relief operations. Some have even lost their lives while trying to save the victims but that's not going to stop the operation.
Just a few days after a private helicopter carrying relief material for the flood victims crashed near Gaurikund, leaving the pilot injured, an Mi-17 V5 chopper on a rescue mission for the flood victims crashed in Gaurikund on Tuesday, killing all 20 people on board - five crew members, nine NDRF personnel and six ITBP officials.
"Our forces are conducting a heroic task in rescue and relief work in Uttarakhand. The accident during relief operations has come as a huge shock to me. My heart goes out to the families of those who have lost their lives. The nation mourns with me the loss of our heroes whose selfless work has saved thousands of lives. Continuing their good work would be the best homage and tribute to these martyrs," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a statement.
IAF Chief Marshal NAK Browne, who visited the state in a Mi-17 chopper after the tragic accident, told reporters, "Oh I just told them that I want to see them smiling. I told them they need to keep moving forward." He added that the morale of his boys is high and carrying out rescue work with enthusiasm as the job is yet to be completed.
For the armed forces, taking the stranded to safer place is not their only duty. They have multiple things to do, like recovering dead bodies, identifying and arranging funerals. They have too much to do with no time for talk, unlike the politicians, and will be there till the last man is pulled to safety. They are the unsung heroes.