24-year-old Mamta Rawat helped rescue hundreds of people from the 2013 floods which devastated Uttarakhand. More than 5,000 people are presumed to have died in the catastrophe which struck the state. The difficulty did not stop Mamta’s rescue work despite losing her own home in the disaster.
Mamta was at home in her village Bankholi, when she got a call on her mobile phone, saying that a group of school students trekking in the Himalayas were stranded amid torrential rains. A professional mountain guide, Mamta who had grown up around the mountains, was familiar with the terrain. Mamta was able to reach the stranded group quickly and escort them back to safety. However, by the time she returned, floods had begun to engulf the mountainous area and distress calls were coming in thick and fast.
Mamta told BBC that she was flooded with requests to rescue people trapped on various mountains, some 2,500 metres (7,500 feet) above sea level. So that’s exactly what she did, continued to help people in need, despite the fact that her own home had been destroyed, and many of the bridges and roads in the mountains had been washed away.
Col Ajay Kothiyal, principal of the defence ministry-run Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), said that they had asked Mamta to help with the rescue effort. “Mamta even carried an old woman 3km (1.8 miles) up a mountain so that she could be evacuated by helicopter. She also helped construct a makeshift rope bridge to get stranded people cross a river,” he said.
Mamta, a school dropout, is the sole breadwinner of her six-member family. A part-time trainer for the NIM, she supplements her income by working as a mountain guide for trekking groups. Her choice of profession however, came with a lot of criticism, especially from members of her community who felt that a woman should not be doing a “man’s job”. Mamta not only was undeterred by the attitude, she has gone on to train other young women to be mountain guides as well.