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Cold shoulder worse than claws of bear

A bandaged Adhikari on April 12 and last week. Pictures by Biswarup Dutta

Borjora (Bankura), May 25: The wounds that cover Rashbehari Das Adhikari’s head, chest and legs may need several months and a few more lakhs to cure.

But all it may take to heal his mental scars is one phone call of appreciation that would cost the Election Commission just a few rupees.

The 57-year-old cop from Bengal is still waiting for the ring from Nirvachan Sadan, six weeks after fighting off a bear with his bare hands while on election duty in Sikkim.

As Delhi waits to welcome a new government and the poll panel pats itself for a job well done, few seem to remember a man who, for a daily allowance of Rs 170, put life and limb at risk to ensure a free and fair election.

“Everybody, right up to chief election commissioner V.S. Sampath, has access to my phone number,” says the Calcutta Armed Police assistant sub-inspector, referring to the commission’s database of all officials deployed on poll duty.

“Yet nobody even called to check whether I was alive or dead,” he adds, his voice betraying hurt and foreboding as he contemplates his future sitting on the first-floor balcony of his home in Borjora, 185km from Calcutta.

His wife Kalyani and son Ronny, 18, are nursing a pus-filled wound still festering with infection on his right thigh, where the bear had dug its nails on April 11 at a Gangtok polling station.

The five-foot-eight, 70kg cop survived by wrestling his five-foot-five, 700kg opponent to the ground and refusing to let go of its throat till it ran away — a feat that has turned him into a hero in his colleagues’ eyes.

But Das Adhikari is deeply worried. The 92 stitches on his face and head have been cut but a deep gash in the back of his head refuses to heal even after three rounds of surgery to remove infected blood and flesh.

Doctors at Calcutta’s CMRI hospital, which discharged him about 10 days ago, say he will need at least one more operation next month, followed by reconstructive surgery. He has difficulty speaking because his left cheek is disfigured from the attack.

The Calcutta police have covered his Rs 4.5-lakh medical bill so far and promised to continue to “do whatever we can” but Das Adhikari is fearful about how much the bill will eventually come to.

He yearns to rejoin work but the doctors have forbidden him to even think about it till he is fully fit, which could take months. If he can’t perform on-field duties after recovery, police sources said, he could be given a non-field posting.

Earlier this month, he was felicitated by Calcutta police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha, under whose instructions Calcutta Armed Police deputy commissioner Debashis Boral has been supervising Das Adhikari’s treatment.

“As soon as he has recovered fully, he will rejoin the service as one of our glorious heroes,” Boral said in Calcutta.

Under the Election Commission’s new rules on compensation for injuries suffered on poll duty, Das Adhikari is entitled to Rs 5 lakh.

A civil servant at the office of the Bengal chief electoral officer said Das Adhikari should have received the compensation within two weeks or less.

Boral said he had written to the Sikkim chief electoral officer, D. Anandan, in connection with Das Adhikari’s compensation but was yet to hear from him.

Anandan said from Gangtok that he was processing the application, which would soon be forwarded to the commission headquarters. He didn’t explain the delay.

A Nirvachan Sadan source said from New Delhi that the compensation should be sanctioned within a week of receiving the application. “The commission appreciates what he has done and honours his courage,” the source said.

But he could not say whether anyone from the commission headquarters would call Das Adhikari to express appreciation.

Anandan said the district election officer (East Sikkim), A.K. Singh, had been with Das Adhikari “every step of the way” till the Calcutta Armed Police brought him to Bengal after giving a written undertaking. Das Adhikari was brought to Bengal the day after the attack.

His initial treatment at a Sikkim hospital, Anandan said, took place under Singh’s “supervision and constant monitoring”.

“I am grateful for that. But is that where the commission’s responsibility ends?” Das Adhikari asked at his home.

Would the cop, who has been on poll duty in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Nagaland during his 35-year service, now think twice before accepting such assignments?

“No,” was his one-word answer, as his wife sighed and shook her head.