Ram Pratap Rajak at RIMS in Ranchi on Friday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, April 25: Unlike eight of his co-passengers, veteran poll duty official Ram Pratap Rajak (58) survived yesterday’s Dumka Maoist ambush thanks to the sudden kindness of a rebel.
Admitted to RIMS, Ranchi, with fractured feet and left hand, face and body bloodied with splinter injuries, Dumka-based industries department official Rajak was part of the 20-member team returning from a Shikaripara booth yesterday when Maoists bombed and fired at the two-vehicle convoy of a bus and a van.
With stitches on his upper lip, Rajak, among the nine hospitalised in Ranchi, can barely speak, but when he does, he shudders to recall the woman Maoist who pointed a gun at him and kicked him.
“Chhod do, aise hi mara hai. Humara kaam hogaya. (Leave him, he is as good as dead. Our job is done),” he recalled hearing a male voice tell her.
He threw Rajak a water pouch and they left.
Rajak is the only one being treated at RIMS, the other eight injured are at Apollo Hospitals. The 58-year-old man knows he is lucky to be alive.
The mini bus with around 20 officials had half a dozen security personnel, he said. It had trundled for some 15 minutes from booth No. 38 of village Sarsajore in Shikaripara towards the strongroom 40km away in Dumka, when the attack happened.
“It must have been somewhere between 4.30-4.45pm when deafening gunshots rained on our bus from both sides of Pokhra hills,” Rajak whispered from his trauma centre bed at RIMS.
“I was on the middle seat above the wheel next to Balwant Singh, our presiding officer. Bullets hit the tyres to stop the bus and then whizzed from all sides. We were paralysed with fear, even armed guards could hardly react. People started falling in pools of blood as non-stop firing went on for 30 minutes followed by bombing,” he said.
“I don’t know how I am alive,” he said, voice barely audible. “I took cover under a seat, a couple of bullets whizzed by near my legs, people were yelling or falling.”
Rajak thinks there were around 65-70 armed Maoists. “Many entered the bus and wreaked havoc, snatching poll papers, taking whatever money or cellphones they found, burning EVMs. For two hours, I hid under the seat, bleeding badly and waiting for death.”
Somehow, in the darkness of the evening, Rajak finally gathered courage to take out his cellphone from his shirt pocket.
“Suddenly, I was dragged down by my collar from the bus by a couple of women Maoists. One of them aimed a pointed gun on me and was about to pull the trigger. I kept pleading no, I am on poll duty and have children. She kicked me viciously.”
It was then the male rebel forcibly stopped her.
Rajak said they had no inkling of danger on the third round of polls yesterday. “There was massive security cover. No violence occurred during 7am to 4pm. After polls, we were to walk back to the strongroom but after sometime were told to board a bus,” he said.
The remote place of attack delayed help for four hours. Rajak and some others were referred to Dumka sadar hospital at night and brought to RIMS by road around 7am today in an ambulance. “Mujhe har do minute mein lag raha tha fir attack hoga ambulance pe. (I dreaded another attack on the ambulance),” he said.
Rajak’s Dumka-based daughter Rekha reminisced about his harrowing phone call at 7pm. “My father kept crying they were bombed, said, ‘come soon’, and disconnected. My husband Keshav and I didn’t know what to do. After 8pm, someone from the rescue team phoned us, asking us to rush to Dumka sadar hospital. The injured reached there at 9pm. Two hours later we headed towards RIMS,” Rekha told The Telegraph at RIMS.
RIMS orthopaedic surgeon Ramesh Lal said the patient seemed out of danger. “Still, we will conduct a thorough examination as it is not a normal accident. He is getting trauma care now,” he said.