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Escape after woman rebel points a gun

Ranchi, April 25: A rebel’s sudden kindness spared the life of poll official Ram Pratap Rajak, 58, when a Maoist attack on a returning election party killed eight and injured 11 in Dumka yesterday.

The industries department official, lying in a Ranchi hospital with fractured feet and hand, his face and body covered in splinter injuries, today recalled how a woman Maoist had pointed a gun at him and kicked him hard.

Suddenly, a male voice said: “Chhod do, aise hi mara hai. Humara kaam ho gaya (Let him go, he’s as good as dead. Our job is done).”

The speaker threw Rajak a water pouch and the guerrillas left with their booty of Insas rifles and magazines.

Rajak had been part of a group of at least 21 people — 10 of them armed policemen — travelling in a minibus and a van from a polling station in village Sarsajore to Dumka town, 40km away. They had travelled just about 15 minutes when a group of “65 to 70” Maoists struck.

“Between 4.30pm and 4.45pm, bullets began raining from both sides of the Pokhra hills,” Rajak said, speaking in whispers because of stitches on his upper lip.

“We were paralysed with fear; even the armed guards could hardly react. People were yelling or falling in pools of blood. The firing went on for 30 minutes non-stop, followed by bombing.”

Rajak said he hid under a seat “for two hours, bleeding and waiting for death”. He heard a couple of bullets whiz past his legs.

“Many of the Maoists then entered the bus, snatched the poll papers, took whatever money and cellphones they found, and burnt the voting machines,” he said.

Eventually, as darkness descended, he gathered the courage to take out the 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 was about to shoot me. I kept pleading, ‘No, please, I’m on poll duty and have children.’ She kicked me viciously.”

Then a male rebel came to his rescue.

The dead — five policemen, two poll officials and the bus helper — were laid to rest with full honours in Dumka town today. The injured include five cops and six polling staff. Both drivers escaped injury.

Some of the injured said the tragedy could have been averted if the group had followed the CRPF advice of walking for the first 4-5km. They said a mid-level poll official had insisted they follow his van in the bus, and the attack started in just 15 minutes.

Jharkhand police chief Rajeev Kumar said: “We had decided not to use any four-wheelers in super-sensitive pockets. But, yesterday a section of security forces diverted from the prescribed strategy. This proved very costly.”

He said the “major strategic mistake” would be probed.