|Rashbehari Das Adhikari, the Calcutta police officer who was mauled by a mountain bear in Gangtok on Thursday morning. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Rashbehari Das Adhikari’s name will not ring a bell amid an election booming with big guns. But it’s people like this 57-year-old Calcutta cop who are fanning across the country to ensure with their sweat — and sometimes blood — that people can vote without fear and the politician can win his seat. All for a daily allowance of Rs 170.
Early on Friday morning, the Calcutta Armed Police assistant sub-inspector was mauled by a mountain bear at a Gangtok polling station and survived only because the five-foot-eight Bengali, of average build, fought back bravely.
Das Adhikari, who has 90-odd stitches in the face and head and deep gashes in the chest and legs, described the most harrowing two minutes of his life to Devadeep Purohit of The Telegraph at Siliguri airport on Saturday afternoon. After reaching Calcutta, he has been admitted to the CMRI hospital.
I had come to Sikkim on election duty from my home at Barjora in Bankura, leaving behind my 18-year-old son Ronny and wife Kalyani.
By 5.15am on Friday, when the attack took place, I had been feeling pretty happy. There were just 45 minutes to go before the end of my assignment — supervising the security of electronic voting machines at Gangtok’s TN Academy, sandwiched between the chief minister’s bungalow and Sikkim High Court.
I remember standing near the sentry’s post and saying “Our job is almost over” before stepping out to relieve myself on the hillside.
Then I saw the bear.
I had just finished relieving myself and turned back —and there it was right before me, standing at least 5.5 feet tall, growling menacingly.
I hadn’t yet emerged out of the shock when the beast landed a kick on my chest, knocking me down.
The summer sun was rising and there was enough light for me to figure out that the black furry animal with smouldering eyes was too big for me. I later learnt that the bear weighed 250-300kg, against my weight of around 70kg.
Before I could get up, it pounced on me and began mauling me. The first few swats, around my face and head, hurt so much that I thought I was going to die.
But then, perhaps the survival instinct that lies deep within us all took over. I grabbed the animal by its throat, which somehow seemed to partially incapacitate its arms.
While the bear snarled in anger, I screamed for help.
As the security supervisor of a team that included five ASIs, one subedar, 18 sepoys, a cook and a sweeper, I had a 9mm pistol tucked in my holster. But to reach it, I would have had to take my hands off the bear’s throat — and it would have torn me to shreds.
My screams brought a few security men running. But they didn’t dare shoot lest they hit me as I wrestled with the bear on the ground.
But the fact that I had been able to hold the animal off for a few moments emboldened me and seemed to give me new strength. I dug my fingers harder into its throat. My colleagues too had started yelling at the bear.
The combined effect seemed to unnerve the beast and it ran away.
As far as I can recall, the duel lasted around two minutes. But those two minutes were the longest of my life.
In over 35 years of service, I have seen many difficult situations — I have travelled to the remotest corners of militancy-hit Assam and Chhattisgarh — but this was so different.
My faith in God was reinforced when doctors at (Gangtok’s) STM Hospital said they couldn’t believe that I had gone head-to-head with a bear for two minutes and survived.
I have been describing these two minutes, but let me also tell you that an experience like this cannot be described. My colleagues, who had seen the duel, are still in shock.
(Das Adhikari’s colleagues cannot stop talking about the mental strength he showed through the ordeal. He didn’t lose consciousness for a moment even after the assault, and carefully handed over his pistol and bullets to his colleagues before being wheeled into the hospital.
He hasn’t been told how long the government will pay for his treatment or whether or when he can go back to work. But he dodged a query about his future, merely saying: “The most important thing is that I am alive.”)