Why life is not a beach for lifeguards

Feb 04, 2016, 09:24 IST | Maleeva Rebello

Lifeguards don't have it easy. They face verbal abuse and physical assault, as they try to stop people from wading into dangerously deep waters

In January this year, a woman who was taking selfies with friends died after drowing in the sea near Bandra Bandstand. a man who tried to save her, died too. Just two days ago, there was tragedy at Murud, where 14 students lost their lives at Murud beach. If the Murud tragedy has taught us one thing, it is to be extremely wary of waters because they may seem deceptively calm. While Murud locals claimed that they have been clamouring for professional lifeguards to man beaches, lifeguards in the city face huge hurdles when it comes to stopping people going into the water.

Clicking selfies at the beach has resulted in huge tragedies at times. Representational pic
Clicking selfies at the beach has resulted in huge tragedies at times. Representational pic

D Bunty Rao, lifeguard who mans the area at Juhu Beach remembers, “The recent Republic Day holiday was very challenging. . There were huge crowds at the beach. A group of college boys were clicking selfies in the sea. As they were passing the phone from one to the other, it fell in the water. Desperate to get their phone back, the boys kept going deeper in the water to retrieve it.” Lifeguards went into the water to stop the boys and an argument ensued. “Even though we appealed to them to come out as the sea was unsafe, they refused. We had to drag the quartet out,” he adds.

Swimming is better in pools than the sea
Swimming is better in pools than the sea

Lifeguards have been routinely heckled, harassed and even beaten by the people they are trying to save. The Baywatch Lifeguard Association, that takes care of Juhu Beach has a 24X7 job. Sayeed Umar Shama, president of the association says, “I have tried to save people and they have turned around and argued with me, even beaten me. Couples go deeper into the water for privacy at great risk of drowning. When we try to dissuade girls from going into deeper waters, they often accuse us of molesting them.”

Girgaum Chowpatty beach lifeguard Raghuram Naik, says people try to swim in jeans and regular clothes. These clothes weigh them down as they get heavy in the water. Impress-the-gals seems a common theme too. Naik explains, “Young boys try to swim in deeper waters to impress the girls.” Sometimes it is for love and other times, it is for a dare.

Naik adds, “Recently, a 20 year-old boy was saved by lifeguards here. He had a bet with a college friend and kept going deeper and was unable to handle the current. Thankfully, he was saved.” Yet it is not just youthful carelessness to blame. Families tend to throw caution to the wind too. Naik adds, “Families take small children into deep waters for selfies. This photo madness is crazy and dangerous too.”

Pawan Shetty, Madh Island lifeguard states, “The picnic crowd on weekends is very rowdy. They turn this beach haven into hell. They go swimming near the rocks and almost every Saturday-Sunday; there is a case of injury. Telling people not to do so is futile, they claim to be good swimmers. They threaten to complain to the police that we are intruding on their privacy. We are doing our job, but it is treated as a crime here.”

The rough sea may rage all around, but the lure of the selfie proves stronger than the currents. “So many mobile phones are lost in the process of taking selfies in the sea. Then we have to help the people find them.
When we tell people not to click selfies in the rough sea, no one listens,” signs off Atul Paigaonkar, Aksa Beach lifeguard, adding to the refrain.

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